The Pearl of the Aegean

By Ayşe Önal Zamboğlu – San Francisco
There are a couple of cities in every country with distinct characters. When you visit such a city, it tells a fairly different story than the rest. If you are planning to visit wonderful Turkey, İzmir will show you a different side of Turkish culture and heritage very well.
Many refer to Izmir as the pearl of the Aegean. It's located in the gulf of İzmir, by the Aegean Sea. The gulf itself is a big part of city's identity. It separates the two large districts of İzmir; Konak (on the southern shore of the Gulf of İzmir) and Karşıyaka (on the northern shore of the Gulf of İzmir).
Both districts take the gulf in between them quite seriously and believe having it in between makes them into two very different cities.  For instance, both districts have their own their soccer clubs, they are eternal rivals and their games are referred as the 3rd biggest city derby of Turkey.

Despite the rivalry, the people of the two districts do get along well. You see ferries going back and forth all day long from shore to shore in the gulf. Feeding the seagulls with gevrek (a specialty of İzmir, thinner and larger version of a sesame bagel) is customary as the ferry makes white bubbles in the sea. The people of İzmir are known to be laid back; they take the day one step at a time. The busy work schedules don't bother them as much; a walk along the Kordonboyu or Sahil bulvarı is all it takes to keep them sane and serene. They know how to greet their visitors , too. They have plenty to show them, especially if it’s their first time in the city. As a proud born and raised İzmir’li, let me greet you and take you to some of the must see places in the city. 

The clock tower located in Konak Square is the city’s landmark. It was built in 1901 to commemorate the enthronement of Sultan Abdulhamit I. Everybody who has visited İzmir has a picture taken right in front of it; don’t forget to take yours.

Try to make time to visit Asansör, the Elevator Tower, which was built in 1907 to provide easier access to the Halil Rıfat Paşa neighborhood (compared to the 155-step stairway). The street in which the elevator tower is located has restored old town houses and a fine restaurant at the top of the Asansör  with  a beautiful panorama of the city and the sea.

The Alsancak neighborhood offers a lot of choices for fine dining and shopping. You will see small streets made of cobblestone and many townhouses with distinct architecture in Alsancak; all of it will remind you of the Mediterranean. 

If you are into history, here are three must-see museums in İzmir.  All are open daily except for Mondays:
The Archaeological Museum in Konak offers more than 1500 sculptures and antiquities on display, many from the ancient city of Smyrna (the Greek name for Izmir) and surrounding sites dating back from the early ages till the end of the Byzantine Period.

The Ethnographical Museum is right next to the Archaeological museum; there you will find folklife artifacts (e.g. carpets, and carpet weaving equipment, pottery, and bead making).

The Atatürk Museum, which is located on Atatürk Avenue in Alsancak, was the mansion that Atatürk (the founder of the Republic of Turkey) stayed in when he visited Izmir. The building itself was built at the end of the 19th century and has the furniture and personal belongings of Atatürk on display.


The Narlıdere and İnciraltı neighborhoods offer good dining options for seafood lovers. You can also take long walks along the coastline in Narlıdere.

İzmir has a lot of sightseeing and is very close to seaside towns with nice beaches and a lot of historical sites. Çeşme, for instance, is about a 45 minute drive from İzmir. It is one of the best places for windsurfing in Europe (Alaçatı). There are many small bays with luxurious resorts (Ilıca, Ayayorgi koyu) and secluded coves that let you enjoy the Aegean Sea whether you choose to swim and rest on the beach, or snorkel and scuba dive. Kuşadası is another town definitely worth a visit. It is 55 miles south of İzmir and close to historic sites such as the ancient city of Ephesus (a must see), the House of Virgin Mary, Didyma, Priene and Miletos. Kuşadası has many beaches with calm clear waters like Çeşme. Both cities offer good shopping and dining options and a great nightlife.  

It is impossible to do justice to what all of the small towns and historic sites mentioned above have to offer in this short article; they all deserve their own. They are a big part of why the locals of İzmir don’t take life too seriously – life is a lot easier for those who have a place to escape the busy metropolitan life just with a half hour drive.

This might have very well been a quite biased article since İzmir is my beautiful, and very much missed hometown; but believe me, it's hard to be unbiased if you spend a fair amount of time in this Mediterranean-flavored seaside city. Even Victor Hugo agrees with me - he described İzmir as "a princess with a beautiful necklace on her neck.” I hope you get to meet this princess.
Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07