In Europe/ Travel

Izmir, Turkey | Exploring the Ancient World

Izmir is a city that serves as a gateway to the ancient world. It’s home to Ephesus, an ancient Greek city with ruins dating back to the 10th Century BCE. One of the most notable ruins is the Temple of Artemis, which is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Ephesus is a place of pilgrimage for Christians, as it is believed that John the Baptist hid the Virgin Mary here after the crucifixion of Jesus.

A Personal Connection

For my wife Melanie, Izmir holds a special significance. Her great grandmother, Vasilia Antoniadis, fled Izmir in 1922 following the Great Gire at the end of the Greco-Turkish War. This event in history is highly contentious, as it is viewed differently by Greeks and Turks. To the Greeks and Armenians, it was a genocide, while the Turks see it as the final victory in their war of independence.

Izmir was a multicultural and cosmopolitan center where Greeks, Turks, Jews, Armenians, and Levantines lived together in relative peace and harmony. Despite the differing views on its history, Izmir remains a place of great cultural significance and intrigue.

Smyrna and Turkish Cuisine

Our journey begins with a visit to Izmir’s ancient city of Smyrna, located just outside of the old town. Although not a major tourist destination, Smyrna is a treasure trove of ancient Greek ruins. One of the highlights is the Old Agora of Smyrna, a massive ancient marketplace that showcases the architectural grandeur of the past.

After arriving in Selçuk for the Ephesus Ultramarathon, we make a stop in Izmir to indulge in its culinary delights. Emin Bola, a local and founder of the Ephesian tourism agency, takes us to a nearby restaurant for a mouthwatering feast. The standout dish is the gözleme, a Turkish flatbread stuffed with charred eggplant, onion, and cheese. The freshness and quality of the food served leave a lasting impression, showcasing the rich culinary heritage of Izmir.

Discovering the Art of Turkish Carpets

Continuing our exploration of Izmir’s cultural heritage, we visit Nakkas Ephesus to learn about Turkish carpets. Jan, an expert in the carpet industry, explains that Turkish carpets have a history of over 3,000 years and are influenced by various cultures, including Armenian, Jewish, Greek, and Turkish. Despite the historical tensions between Greeks and Turks, Jan highlights the similarities between the two cultures and believes that they are bridges rather than dividers. Turkish carpets are not just beautiful works of art but also a reflection of the rich cultural diversity present in Izmir.

Exploring Ephesus: A Journey Through Time

No visit to Izmir is complete without exploring the ancient city of Ephesus outside of Selçuk. Walking through the ruins, one can sense the history and imagine the lives of the people who once inhabited this vibrant city. The Terrace Houses, where the wealthier residents of Ephesus lived, showcase the intricate designs that adorned their rooms. The Library of Celsus, built in the early 1st century CE, stands as a testament to the city’s grandeur. The ancient Greek Theater, with a capacity of about 25,000, provides a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of Ephesus.

The House of the Virgin Mary and the Temple of Artemis are two other sites that highlight Izmir’s cultural significance. The House of the Virgin Mary is a place of pilgrimage, while the Temple of Artemis, built in honor of the Greek goddess Artemis, was once a marvel of ancient architecture. Today, only a handful of ruins remain.

Medieval Alaçati

After the race, our journey takes us to Alaçati a charming medieval town with Greek roots. The stone houses and narrow streets showcase the town’s historical significance. Here, we have the opportunity to taste authentic Turkish cuisine at Salkım Söğüt, a restaurant run by a husband and wife duo. The menu features a delightful array of dishes, including hummus, artichokes with apples, and sarma, grape leaves stuffed with cherries and rice. The meal is a true celebration of Turkish flavors and traditions.

Understanding Izmir’s Unique Identity

Back in Izmir, Süleyman –– a local tour guide –– joins us for an afternoon stroll around the city. He says the city is known for its liberal and laid-back atmosphere, contrasting with the relative conservative politics and hustle and bustle of Istanbul.

All in all, Izmir is a city that beautifully blends the ancient world with modern life. Its rich history, cultural diversity, and culinary traditions make it a captivating destination for travelers seeking to immerse themselves in the wonders of the past. From exploring the ancient ruins of Ephesus to savoring the flavors of Turkish cuisine, Izmir offers a truly unique experience that should not be missed.

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