Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Izmir
Ephesus (Efes) is one of the greatest ancient sites in the Mediterranean. During its heyday in the first century BC, it was the second-largest city in the world, with only Rome commanding more power. Many reconstructed structures and ruins, including the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, can be seen here.
St. Mary’s House in Ephesus is believed by many to be the place where the mother of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, spent her final days, and has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors and pilgrims seeking the healing properties of the spring that runs beneath the stone home since its discovery in the 19th-century.
The magnificent hilltop city of Pergamon dates back to the 5th century BC and was once a hotbed for learning, culture, and invention, flourishing until the 14th century. Remnants of the city’s most important structures remain, such as the Acropolis, the Red Basilica, aqueducts, a major medical center, audaciously steep amphitheatre and a historically important library.
One of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the marble Temple of Artemis (Artemision or Artemisium at Ephesus once spanned more than 63,000 square feet (around 5,850 square meters. Today all that remains of 127 original columns plus countless frescoes and statues is a teetering pillar and some foundation fragments.
Dominating Izmir’s busy Konak Square, the Izmir Clock Tower (İzmir Saat Kulesi has been a city landmark since 1901. Standing 82 feet (25 meters tall, with a fountain on each corner, its lacy tower and Arabesque arches have a distinctively Ottoman feel. The German Emperor Wilhelm II gave the 4-faced clock to the sultan as a gift.
The Bergama Asklepion (Pergamon Asclepeion), an ancient medical center honoring the Greek god of healing Asklepios, has existed since the 4th century BC when it was built in the ancient city of Pergamon (now Bergama). 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 Asklepion 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.
The storied past of Izmir—once the ancient Greek city of Smyrna—takes center stage at the Agora Open Air Museum (Izmir Agora. Dating back to the fourth century BC and rebuilt by Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius in 178, the Agora is one of the best-preserved sites of its kind in Turkey.
Konak Square (Konak Meydanı) is in the center of Izmir, marked by its iconic clock tower that serves as a common meeting point for travelers and locals alike.
Since being built in 1901, the Izmir Clock Tower has become a symbol of the city. It stands in front of the Izmir governor’s official residence (konak) from which the governor oversees the province. Between the tower and the konak sits a small mosque, surrounded by the city hall and bus station. The eastern end of the square, when facing the water, is marked by Konak Pier, from where visitors can hop a ferry for a view of the coast and Izmir from the water.
Walking around Konak Square, the sights and sounds of nearby bustling cafes, restaurants and shops are hard to miss. The palm trees and waterfront give the area a distinctly Mediterranean feel, and from the center of the square, the shops and religious sites of Kermeralti Grand Bazaar are just a few steps away.
Just east of Izmir in Turkey, ruined Sardis—or Sardes—was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Lydia before falling to the Persians, Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines. Its ruins span everything from a Roman gymnasium to the relics of a nearby Greek temple, and the remains of the 5th church of the Bible’s Seven Churches of the Revelation.
One of Kusadasi’s best water parks, Adaland Aquapark boasts slides for every age and pace, from leisurely 6-person family jaunts through to freefall and boomerang rides. A wave pool, lazy river, jacuzzi, little kids’ zone, rafting course, and lively poolside disco make it a great space to while away the day.
More Things to Do in Izmir
A cluster of ancient 2-story homes spread across three tiers, the Ephesus Terrace Houses reveal how wealthy Romans lived during the city’s glory days. Glass floors let you admire geometric mosaics and still-colorful frescoes gleaming on the walls—it’s a small wonder some compare the site to Pompeii.
In Christian tradition, St. John the Apostle came to Ephesus after St. Paul and ministered to the Ephesians. The vast Basilica of St. John, built by the sixth-century emperor Justinian, houses a fourth-century tomb that drew pilgrims from across Europe in search of miracles. It is still one of the world’s largest cathedrals today.
A grand two-story facade adorned with statues of the four Virtues makes the Library of Celsus the most photographed and best-known monument in the Ephesus UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in AD 110 to honor Gaius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, it once held 12,000 scrolls, making it one of the largest libraries in the ancient world.
The Temple of Hadrian at Ephesus is one of the highlights of the ruins of Ephesus in Turkey. It was built around 118 AD and is actually more of a monument to Hadrian, Artemis, and the people of Ephesus. Hadrian's temple is small, but there is a beautiful arch on the outside, a porch, and a small main hall. The porch is supported by pillars and Corinthian columns. A statue of Hadrian once stood on a podium in the temple, but it has been lost. On the front of the porch are bases with the names of Galerius, Maximianus, Diocletianus, and Constantius Chlorus inscribed on them, indicating that the bases might have once held statues of these emperors.
Panel reliefs on the inside depict Medusa warding off the bad spirits, the mythological foundation of Ephesus, and various religious scenes. The reliefs seen today are plaster replicas, while the originals are protected in the Ephesus Museum.
On a hill with a strategic view of the Gulf of Izmir, the co-called Velvet Castle was built in the 4th century BC under Alexander the Great. Remnants of successive occupants, including Byzantines, Seljuks, and Ottomans, may be found though not much remains of the fortified castle, except for towering ramparts, ruins of a 14th-century mosque—and the wonderful vista.
The Izmir Archaeology Museum (İzmir Arkeoloji Müzesi) is located next to the Ethnography Museum, not far from the city’s Konak Square. It was first opened to the public in 1927, but found its place in its current location in 1984. Many of the museum’s rich and varied artifacts derive from the Bronze Age, or from the Greek and Roman periods.
This vast archaeological museum features various exhibition halls arranged across different floors, including laboratories, libraries, and conference halls, covering an area of some 5000 square meters.
It’s estimated that there are approximately 1500 artifacts on display here, with items from the ancient city of Smyrna, as well as from a number of other ancient sites in the area, including Ephesus, Pergamon, Miletus, Aphrodisias, and Iasos.
Şirince, a small village of just 600 inhabitants, has a long history that is intrinsically linked to Ephesus; indeed, rumor has it that it was founded by freed Greek slaves who named it “ugly” in Turkish to deter others from following them after the fall of Ephesus. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the name was changed to Şirince, which means ‘pleasant.’ Nowadays the mountainous village is mainly known for its many preserved whitewashed stucco homes, bucolic and lush setting, as well as its fruit-based wineries and olive groves. The Church of St John the Baptist, although neglected by Turkish authorities, still houses fantastic Byzantine frescoes. Most tourists tend to visit for one day as part of excursions to nearby Selçuk, but there’s a handful of guesthouses and cafés for overnight guests as well. Visitors should be aware that Sirince gets very crowded on the weekend.
Built in 1625, St. Polycarp Church is the oldest Christian house of worship in Izmir. Dedicated to St. Polycarp, who had been converted by John the Apostle and martyred by the Romans, the barrelled-shaped church features colorful murals, remarkably restored by a Frenchman who infamously inserted his likeness.
One of the greatest ancient Roman cities was Ephesus, and its ruins are located in Selcuk, Turkey. It is one of the most popular sites to visit in Turkey. Near the ancient Agora, visitors can see the remains of the Temple of Domitian and Domitian Square. The Temple of Domitian, formally known as the Temple of the Sebastoi, was built in honor of Emperor Domitian's family, and it is the first structure here known to be dedicated to an emperor. Though not much remains of the temple today, archaeologists have learned much about its structure.
Visitors can see the remaining foundation of the temple and imagine what it might have once looked like. It was approximately 165 feet by 330 feet and sat on vaulted foundations. The northern end was two stories tall and was accessed by stairs, which can still be seen today. There were also several columns on each side of the temple. Reliefs from some of the columns can still be seen here as well.
Izmir Ethnography Museum illustrates the history of how common people have lived in Izmir, through their daily arts, crafts, and customs. Interesting artifacts include weaponry, pottery, clothing, manuscripts, pottery, photographs, and a nice collection of Bergama and Gordes carpets. Displays and dioramas showcase various activities and pastimes such as glassblowing, blue bead and felt production, and camel wrestling.
The ruins of the ancient Roman city of Ephasus are located in Selcuk, Turkey. The city was the second most important city in the Roman empire during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. One of the popular sections of the ruins is the Public Latrine, next to the Hadrian Temple and the Bordello. The public latrines were the city's public toilets, and they were built in the 1st century AD as part of the Scholastica Baths. These baths were built to provide the city with the modern conveniences of public works, including 36 marble toilets.
Visitors can still see, but not use, the toilets that are lined up along the walls. There was an uncovered pool with columns surrounding it which supported a wooden ceiling. Underneath the latrines was a drainage system. There was also a trough with relatively clean water near where your feet would be. People who wanted to use the toilets had to pay an entrance fee.
The Baths of Varius was a bathhouse built in the 2nd century AD in Ephesus in present-day Turkey. The north and east walls of the original building were carved from natural outcroppings of rock. Several renovations over a few centuries gave the building a unique look, including the addition of a hallway that was 130 feet long and covered in mosaics from the 5th century. The baths covered a large area and had several different rooms, including separate rooms for cold, warm, and hot water. There were also private rooms for a few wealthy citizens of Ephesus. It is believed one section functioned as a gymnasium.
The Romans place a high value on personal cleanliness, so the Baths of Varius would have been an important building in ancient Ephesus. Most but not all sections of the baths have been excavated, and no restoration work has been done yet. Some sections are in decent shape, but it might take some creativity to imagine what other sections once looked like.
Running from east of Izmir to Turkey’s western Anatolian Plateau, the Boz Mountains (Bozdag) are one of the country’s most beautiful mountain ranges. Centered on the mountain town of Bozdag and capped with snow from December to March, the mountains are a year-round paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.
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