HallowIzmir and a Day-trip to Çeşme

Over Halloween 2014 weekend I traveled to the Aegean coast to celebrate the holiday and do some sightseeing.

I stayed with a friend in a unique area of Izmir called Bornova, which I had yet to visit. I had a great time spending a day wandering and site-seeking Bornova’s famous Levantine architecture. I’m always intrigued by that, but the Bornova one-two punch is that many of these structures are religious (churches, to be precise). Well riddle me nerdy.


The focal point of the city square in Bornova is the still-active Catholic Church. Ironically, we couldn’t find the entrance, not sure if we could’ve gotten in.


The side streets are full of hidden gems.


We were happy to come across the haunting St. Mary’s Magdalene Anglican Church and accompanying cemetery. Some sources online say that this church is still active, but there’s no way… I believe their services are held across town in Alsancak, but this building, based on the state of disrepair we witnessed, isn’t being used.


Some of the historic structures have been renovated into hotels or civic buildings, while others sit awaiting restoration.

My wanderings also led me to Çeşme, a tourist hub about an hour south of Izmir, along the Aegean coast. I had previously only been to the bus terminal /international port, for my trip to Chios, the Greek island, a few weeks prior. We rode the Izmir metro system to its last stop, and then boarded a bus bound for Çeşme.


Late October is admittedly not the best time to visit the city, which is known for its beaches. Nonetheless, we wandered the boardwalk/port area, sat in a handful of cafes, ate kumru, a sandwich famous from the area which is mostly comprised of highly processed bright pink “sosis” (sausage).


I was thrilled to stumble across the Orthodox Church of Ayios Haralambos, a 19th century church that Lonenly Planet calls “imposing but redundant.” I’m not sure what that means, but it certainly no longer operates as a church. The entire space was blanketed in the flags of the Kemalist CHP party, and there was a craft bazaar being held in the center of the space. Note the specific damage done to the iconography of the church… I still have a lot of lingering questions about this space.

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We then visited the city’s castle and accompanying museum, the major tourist attraction of the city.





The museum had both battle and historical artifacts and displays as well as archaeological and ethnographic (coins, pottery, glass, etc). A security guard even specifically led us to a room full of antique glass to make sure we didn’t skip it. Our day finished at a famous ice cream place called Rumeli Pastanesi, where I dove into a coffee and chocolate cone. In addition to its ice cream (dondurma) this place also sells famed jams and preserves, both if which often contain mastic, the famous sticky stuff in these parts.

In all, Çeşme made for a good day trip with a bit of history sprinkled alongside relaxing with friends.


For curious minds regarding the Halloween festivities, I was a blank attendance sheet one night, a poor attempt at Fulbright Turkey ETA humor, and Frida Kahlo the next, an easy costume for someone with a wardrobe and eyebrows like mine.


Bayram II- Bergama (Pergamum)

Kurban Bayrami 2014 Part 2. You can read part one, about my trip to Chios, here. For more on Izmir, click here.


Most people who spend a decent amount of time touring Turkey make a point of visiting Ephesus (Efes), the ancient Biblical city, as I have. Though they are almost equidistant, far fewer people make it to the city of Bergama, known in ancient times as Pergamum (or Pergamon… according to Wikipedia, both are correct).

This is unfortunate.


Bergama is located 100 km north of Izmir, today a city of about 60,000 people. Its current name in Turkish reflects its ancient stature. We went for an afternoon from Izmir and just barely had time to see three of the main attractions there: the Acropolis, the Asclepion, and the Red Basilica.

Having been a big fan of the Disney rendering of the story of the Greek god Hercules, I was fired up to visit the Acropolis; to climb up the mountain to have a chat with old man Zeus myself. Things in life never go exactly the way they do in the squeaky-clean animations though, and the climbing was mostly done in an old cab with a disgruntled but courteous driver blasting Turkish dance-pop music. In addition, my chat with Zeus in his altar is pending, as I’ll need to arrange a trip to Berlin to see the remains, thanks to the persuasiveness of some opportunistic German archeologists in the late 1800’s. I’ll also have to wait about 5 years, as the exhibit in Berlin undergoes renovations. Always, the renovations.


A consolation, though. The magnificent tree pictured above stands at the site of the foundations of the Altar of Zeus.


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Nevertheless, the site is stunning, and the vast majority of its structures remain, including an insane 10,000 seat theatre carved onto the side of a steep cliff. Significant portions of the Temple of Trajan also remain, pictured above. The view from the top of the site is breathtaking, a picturesque modern day Bergama with hillsides and red-tiled rooftops.




A more orientalizing blogger may suggest it’s as if one goes back in time, gazing over the landscape. Besides being silly, that would also be patently untrue as the cable car which can take visitors up and down the steepest part of the ascent to the site (dropping off right at the ticket booth) obstructs the pastoral in many directions.


You can make out a bit of history though, especially if it’s a clear day: a view of the pillars lining a walkway at the Asclepion, about 5 kilometers away as the crow flies.


For those of you who didn’t know (I didn’t), the Asclepion at Pergamum was a renowned ancient center of medicine. According to my Lonely Planet Guide, “Treatments included mud baths, the use of herbs and ointments, enemas, and sunbathing. Diagnosis was often by dream analysis.” That can’t have been all they were up to, because this was also the site where the great Galen was born and worked; his studies had a major impact on ‘western’ medicine for a good century and a half. Nice.


It was sunny and lovely, and my travel companions and I really enjoyed traipsing around the almost empty site. (Fellow visitors included two Turkish families, and two small tour groups, one geriatric group of Brits, and one with all members wearing matching “UPENN ALUMNI hats. That’s it!)


We wandered through the aforementioned bazaar street lined with Roman columns, looked at but didn’t drink from a sacred well (which was the same color as the now infamous algae blooms of Lake Erie this past summer, yum), and scaled and (I) sang in the very well restored theatre, which continues to host theatrical and musical performances in the summer.


I was also intrigued by signposts which advertised an app that allows users to visualize the way the site is presumed to have originally used, using 3D imaging technology. Sorry for the poor photo quality:


I enjoyed one of my favorite Turkish indulgences, freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, while perusing a gift shop chock full of replica parchment, echoing Pergamum’s fame as the site of the development of the stuff. My pride in the innovations of ancient Egypt instilled by my grandparents got the best of me, and a Google-search later permitted a not-fully-deserved “I told you so;” parchment for use in the famed library of Pergamum was developed beginning with a shortage of papyrus shipped from Alexandria.


Our cab ride back into town took us through a neighborhood teeming with traditional old houses, some of which have been carefully restored as boutique hotels.


It also led us to the Red Basilica; another reason for Pergamum’s fame.  It was originally a massive temple to some Egyptian Gods, and Christians who later acquired the building actually just built their basilica inside the structure. The Book of Revelations lists this site as one of the Seven Churches of Asia Minor, specifically as the throne of the devil. To be honest though, all I saw was a whole lot of renovation and not a lot of Basilica.

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Though the archaeological museum was closed, we were able to walk through the historic covered bazaar, and we also spotted an old hamam, which is still operational.


Our day ended with some piyaz (white bean salad) and “Bergama koftesi,” the defining trait of which seemed to be copious amounts of cumin.

As my travel companions from last year would say, “On to the next adventure!”

Kurban Bayrami Part 3: Izmir

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

This converted synagogue is now a live theatre venue

This converted synagogue is now a live theatre venue

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.

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The Asansor is an awesome place to take in a view of Izmir from above.

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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.

IMG_0818Konak 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:

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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.

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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.

Smyrna Agora

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!)

29 Ekim: Cumhuriyet Bayramı

Cumhurriet Bayramı, celebrated on 29 October, is the date celebrating the founding of the Republic of Turkey, the day the state was declared by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. It is a national holiday, the equivalent of the 4th of July, Independence Day in America. As such, we had a half day of work the Monday prior, and classes were cancelled and the university closed in observance of the holiday on Tuesday. In my classes the week before I discussed the similarities in the commemoration of the two days between America and Turkey, including the presence of parades, fireworks, the hanging of flags, and speeches by politicians. Some may argue that both celebrations, aside from their obvious nationalism, can perhaps be seen by their celebrants as inherently anti-colonial as well.

A display in Eskisehir

A display in Eskisehir

In the morning I went with my roommate to purchase a flag for us to display from our balcony- it was important for her to express her pride in the Republic through this gesture. Though flags and Ataturk’s image are displayed throughout the year in some/many places (particularly at government establishments, like my public university, where Ataturk’s image is displayed in each classroom, my office, at the entrance to the building, in a statue outside the building, at the university gates, etc.) on Republic Day a Turkish flag was hung at the entrance of nearly every shop in the city center, from windows and apartment balconies as well.

flags on display in K Town

flags on display in K Town

For many complicated political and social reasons, celebrations in Kırıkkale, to my knowledge, were primarily limited to these displays, though there was a small gathering in the city square in the evening. However, my roommate and I followed observances of the holiday across the country via news on TV. In the morning, we watched commemorative celebrations in the capital city of Ankara, where the Prime Minister and President were present. An elaborate parade was held that included Ankara sword dancers in traditional costumes, a symphonic marching band, and flanks of costumed marchers imitating Ottoman battle marches, in full regalia. The colors and types of their costumes including symbolic representations of Islam, the former provinces of the Ottoman empire (intended to symbolize the unity of the Turkish nation) and more. IMG_1171

My roommate and I took advantage of the day off by hosting my fellow K-Town Fulbrighters and their Turkish roommates for a veritable Turkish smorgasbord. The meal included my first attempts (in Turkey at least) of two classic traditional foods: milföy and sarma dolma, with the necessary accompanying cecik (pronounced jeh-jik). Incidentally, those familiar with the food of the region in general, and/or my cooking may be aware that these foods have cousins if not twins in Arab cuisine: Milfoy is like börek (another Turkish food), which is similar to fatayer (stuffed, flaky, savory pastries, i.e. the popular spinach pie often known in the States by its Greek name, spanakopita); mine were stuffed with a mixture of beyaz peynir, a soft, sour white cheese, paprika, and finely chopped parsley.


Sarma dolma and cecik are simply the Turkish names for my favorite food combo: warak ‘einab wa laban wa kheir, stuffed grape leaves and a yogurt sauce (which includes cucumber, garlic, salt, and when I make it, more akin to the Turkish variety, lemon juice, dill, mint and sumac).



Later in the day we watched new coverage of the grand opening of the Marmaray in Istanbul, which runs underneath the Bosphorus, connecting the European and Asian continents via standard gauge rail for the first time. It is also the world’s deepest immersed tube tunnel. The political and symbolic significance of the choice to debut this incredible technological achievement on the date of the 90th anniversary of the Republic couldn’t be missed—in a speech President R.T. Erdogan said, in effect, even if you don’t like me, please be proud of this achievement. The vision of progress with which the Republic and its founder began, the message is sent, continues today.

a flier announcing the opening of the Marmaray at the train station in Ankara

a flier announcing the opening of the Marmaray at the train station in Ankara

Later, we watched gatherings in Izmir, where massive throngs of people stood chanting the equivalent of the Turkish pledge of allegiance, which was recently made non-mandatory in a package of ‘democratization’ reforms Back in Ankara, many marched with candles, symbolizing their individual roles in Turkish democracy. As is tradition, thousands visited Anitkabir, the final resting place of M.K. Ataturk as a commemorative act as well. In the evening, Istanbul had a fantastic fireworks display along the Bosphorus river, which was shown live on national news networks. A friend with whom I watched the display very genuinely remarked: “I hope Ataturk can see us now. I wonder what he would think.”