The second half of my vacation during Kurban Bayrami was spent primarily in Izmir, (formerly the ancient city of Smyrna, famous among other things for being the birthplace of Homer… but more on that later). See parts 1 and 2 of my vacation here and here.
Izmir is the 3rd largest city in Turkey (population-wise), a gorgeous coastal metropolis whose history as an urban center goes back at least 3,500 years (NBD). Everyone says Izmir is home to the most beautiful women in Turkey, though my sitemate and I have yet to be convinced. This pop song which is a big hit right now argues against us:
Judaism in Izmir
Of much more interest to me the religious studies major/advisee of Miriam Dean-Otting: Izmir is also well known for its historic Jewish population. There is a long history of primarily Sephardic Jewish residence in Izmir, dating at least to the time of Spanish expulsion. Izmir remains on of very few places where Ladino, (also called Judeo-Spanish, among other names) is still spoken, though unfortunately in diminishing numbers (there are only about 400,000 speakers of Ladino worldwide). Evidence of Jewish heritage in Izmir is hard to miss if one knows to look for it. One of the most popular tourist attractions in Izmir, the Asansor, or elevator, is located in a historically Jewish neighborhood, and its construction was financed by a wealthy Jewish businessman (see photos below). Around the corner is Dario Moreno Sokak (street), which has a bust and tribute of the famous Jewish musician, and his mother’s home which now serves as a museum.
The Asansor is an awesome place to take in a view of Izmir from above.
One of Dario Moreno’s most famous songs, quoted above, is “Izmir Canim (My Dear Izmir).” Here’s a clip of the ballad:
While in Izmir we stayed at a pension in Alsancak, just a few blocks away from the seaside Kordon and a number of monuments and attractions in the city center. Alsancak is maybe the best area to stay when visiting Izmir- we enjoyed Turkish breakfast two mornings (once seaside!), cafes, restaurants, pubs, nightclubs, hookah cafes, etc. One of our K-town colleagues/roomies is an Izmir native and was in town for a family event, so we were lucky to have him as a “tour guide” for much of our time in Izmir; we were able to see many of the major sites in record time, with local knowledge and plenty of sass.
Only in Turkey is this spread breakfast for two!
My guidebook describes the above statue, a monument to Izmir’s role in the Turkish Independence war, as “top-heavy.”
My sitemate and I completing our now compulsory picture with an Ataturk statue, near Konak Meydani.Konak clock tower (saat kulesi, pictured above) designed by the Levantine French architect Raymond Charles Pere. Behind it, the former governor’s mansion is visible, with an interesting blend of French and Ottoman architechtural styles, reminiscent of certain neighborhoods in Beirut I’ve seen. More info on the clock tower, etc. from Lonely Planet: “built in 1901 to mark the 25th anniversary of Sultan Abdul Hamit II’s coronation. Its ornate Orientalist style may have been meant to atone for Smyrna’s European ambiance. Beside it is the lovely Konak Camii, dating from 1755, which is covered in Kutahya tiles.”Pictured below:
Another interesting bit about Konak Camii, built in 1755, is that its architect was female: Ayse Hanim!
Izmir was also the site of my first ferry ride in Turkey- we had taken a bus around the harbor to see Karsiyaka, our friend’s old stomping grounds, and grabbed a ferry back to Alsancak at sunset. Beautiful.
A monument for world peace beside the water.
Ferry bromance 🙂
Side note: one night in Alsancak I got to see a former Palestinian student of mine from Lebanon, who, thanks to a scholarship furnished through a partnership between his university and the Unite Lebanon Youth Project is now studying medicine with instruction in English in Istanbul. Very cool, very rewarding, very proud of him and ULYP’s work in general… so awesome to see the fruits of his labor that summer paying off in real ways.
On our second day in Izmir we visited the Smyrna Agora. From Lonely Planet:
“The ancient Agora, built for Alexander the Great, was ruined in an earthquake in AD 178, but rebuilt by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. Colonnades of reconstructed Corinthian columns, vaulted chambers and arches give you a good idea of what a Roman bazaar must have looked like.”
The Agora is a fascinating place to visit. Remains of an ancient city are gated around one that, though now known by a different name, is bustling and thriving. When standing in the middle of the Agora, which is a gated site, the ancient columns are in plain view, but so too are industrial buildings, doner vendors, a photocopying store and other typical storefronts, and a public high school. I also found it fitting that this ancient market and gathering place is just steps away from modern-day Izmir’s Kemeralti Bazaar, a bustling, winding covered bazaar and marketplace.
So cool: the natural spring which ran through the basilica of the Agora at the time of its construction is still flowing.
The site also contains remnants of an Ottoman cemetery, which I would have loved to spend more time examining were it not for a torrential downpour of rain which curtailed our visit.
The Agora was wicked cool, and provided just enough of a taste of the ancient to prepare my friend and I for the penultimate experience of our Bayram journeys: a day trip from Izmir to the ruins of the great Biblical city of Ephesus on our last day! (Blog coming soon!)