Things to Do in Izmir
Before there was Izmir, there was Smyrna, an ancient Roman city on the Aegean coast of Anatolia (now Turkey). Evidence of this fact in modern-day Izmir is most apparent upon visiting ancient Agora, which was the name for a “public gathering place or market” in ancient Greek city-states.
The Agora of Smyrna is one of the best preserved ancient agoras in the world today, in large part due to its excellent open-air museum on site. Built by Alexander the Great and later rebuilt following an earthquake, the still-standing columns, archways and structures offer a glimpse into what a Roman bazaar must have looked like. But there’s more than just the remains of an ancient city here; on the edge of this ancient landmark lies the remains of a Muslim cemetery, with many gravestones dotting the perimeter. Walk through Colonnades of Corinthian columns and among statues of ancient Greek gods and goddesses to ponder the past.
This ancient medical center, honoring the Greek god of healing Asklepios, has existed since the 4th century BC. Built around a spring with waters that were believed to be sacred, the columns and walls still standing today once surrounded rooms for psychotherapy, massage, herbal remedies, baths, mud treatments and dream interpretation.
The Roman period brought the center its most notable patients, including emperors Marcus Aurelius and Hadrian. The influential physician Galen, who wrote about 500 works on medicine, practiced here in 2 AD. Enter the structure as health seekers once did through the Sacred Way, a path that connects to the Akropol. In the first courtyard there is an altar featuring a serpent, the emblem of modern medicine, and other structures include a small theater, a library and the circular domed Temple of Asklepios.
Pergamon is an ancient city dating as far back as the 5th century BC. Credited with the invention of parchment, this once great seat of learning and culture had a library with over 20,000 volumes and a medical center - the remains of which can still be seen today.
Listed in the Bible as one of the Seven Churches of Asia, Pergamon flourished until the 14th century when, under Ottoman rule, it was abandoned and left to decay. Today, much of the remains of this once magnificent city lie underneath the modern-day city of Bergama but, thanks to Pergamon’s hilltop position, the remains of its most important buildings are still visible. The Acropolis of Pergamon is clearly visible from anywhere in Bergama and closer inspection will reveal two partially reconstructed temples (Temple of Trajan and the Temple of Athena), ancient aqueducts and the incredible hillside theater, which is said to contain the steepest theater seating in the world.
Pre-Roman ancient ruins are just a day trip from Kusadasi in the ruined city of Sardis, the capital of the kingdom of Lydia from the 7th to 6th centuries BC.
For a time Sardis was renowned throughout classical antiquity as the richest city on the planet, known for its legendary supply of gold washed down from the Tumulus Mountains. The term ‘rich as Croesus’ refers to that gold and the last Lydian ruler, King Croesus, who is thought to have invented gold coins. In fact, settlement here dates back to Paleolithic times, but most of that history lies underground, destroyed by millennia of earthquake activity. Nowadays, the site is famous for its impressive Roman ruins, built hundreds of years after the city’s initial burst of fame, in around the 2nd century AD.
Saat Kulesi is a historic clock tower in Konak Square in the center of Izmir, Turkey. The Levantine French architect Raymond Charles Père designed the Izmir Clock Tower. It was built in 1901 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Abdülhamid II's accession to the throne. The sultan actually celebrated his 25th anniversary by having more than 100 clock towers built in public squares throughout the Ottoman Empire. The clock on the Izmir Clock Tower was a gift from German Emperor Wilhelm II.
The tower is 82 feet high and decorated in an Ottoman style. Four fountains with three water taps each are set around the base of the tower in a circular pattern, and the columns are inspired by Moorish designs. The clock tower has become the symbol of Izmir, and it appeared on the back of Turkish 500 lira banknotes from 1983 to 1989.
Kadifekale, also known as The Velvet Castle, presides over the town from its vantage point on top of Kadifekale hill.
Built by General Lysimachos, a successor of Alexander the Great, Kadifekale appears to have acted as both a castle and a fort, giving clear views over much of the city and across to the Gulf of Izmir.
Restoration work is underway at Kadifekale but you can see the castle gate, Roman cisterns, watch tower and some castle walls.
Sitting on the coast of the Aegean Sea, Izmir is Turkey’s third largest city and second largest port. Once known as Smyrna, its history goes back to around 3,000 B.C. Today, Izmir is a modern city with a European feel that serves as a jumping off point for visits to nearby Ephesus, Pergamum and Asclepion.
Arriving in Izmir, you’ll dock at Alcansak, about a 20 minute walk from Konak Square – the center of town. If you don’t feel like walking, taxis are also available outside the terminal. A one-way trip should cost around 12-15 Turkish lira. The terminal is also about a 5 minute walk from the upscale Alcansak neighborhood, which offers plenty of shopping and dining opportunities. .
Another option is to join the city’s hop-on hop-off bus sightseeing tour, which passes right in front of the port every thirty minutes. .
More Things to Do in Izmir
That photogenic stretch of hills providing a scenic backdrop en route to the ruins at Sardis is the Bozdag Mountain Range.
Capped with snow from December to March, the mountains rise 3,157 meters (10,355 feet) above sea level and are topped with a resort lake and the ski town of Bozdag. The ski runs range from 1,530 to 2,155 meters (5,018 to 7,068 feet), and the ski resort has a chair lift and T-bar.
Visit in winter to hire skis from the resort and glide down the slopes. In summer, the forest of chestnut, walnut and cedar trees provides a cool oasis from the heat of the surrounding plateau. You can also go hiking, mountain-biking and fishing on the mountain.
Facilities at the ski resort include cafes, Turkish restaurants, terrace bars and ski resort hotel, which is open year-round.
The Izmir Archaeology and Ethnography Museum are 2 separate museums located side by side on the hill at Bahribaba Park, just a short walk from Konak.
The Archaeology Museum is blessed with Greek and Roman relics taken from its neighbouring ancient cities. Here you’ll find elaborately decorated sarcophagi and tomb carvings, an extraordinarily well-preserved frieze depicting the 250BC funeral games at the Belevi mausoleum, and an enormous Domitian statue taken from Ephesus.
The Ethnography Museum next door eclipses this collection with a number of items originally belonging to Ataturk – Turkey’s founder. Set in a handsome stone building (1831) that began its life as a hospital, the museum exhibits and displays demonstrate local art, craft and customs such as pottery, jewelry, carpet and weapon making as well as the rather bizarre sport of camel wrestling.
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