“Ancient Smyrna”, “The Pearl of the Aegean”
With what is called in the UK the Spring Bank Holiday on the 25th of May, what was best than using this chance for a long weekend trip abroad without the need to take any extra holiday at work from the yearly allowance, which is already getting to an end almost entirely used spread across the whole of the year. It is quite incredible having to reach the point where I can only rely in the few weekends left this year where I have no trips booked yet to go anywhere abroad! This is the narrow barrier I am between being a “full time employee and part time traveler”, although my friends and colleagues at work prefer to joke in saying it’s the opposite way around, “full time traveler, part time job”.
This trip was anyway, planned a while ago in November last year, and the fact that the main flights were a return with BA to Istanbul was on purpose especially bearing in mind those were in Business Class. So what made the difference for us to get those flights and not any cheaper option?. Easy answer in this case: retaining the Silver membership status (Zephyr) with the One World Alliance for the entire next year 2016. Right until the 28th of April 2015 which is when they changed their terms and rules on how many tier points and Avios air miles you would collect by flying BA or Iberia, there are still 3 destinations having sort of a loophole in the amount of tier points and air miles you would collect, being Helsinki, Athens and Istanbul. So a flight to Istanbul in this case in Business Class was giving us the same miles and tier points as if it would be a long haul flight, double.
Since we’ve already been to Istanbul before, then we though this could be a great occasion to get to Izmir with the main idea of reaching the ancient city of Ephesus, (and Pergamon too as our original plans changed and we managed to squeeze it in too). The good side of it, the internal flight between Istanbul and Izmir with Pegasus Airlines was really cheap, balancing the total cost for all flights after all. And with so many frequencies between both cities and many competitors, flying is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to reach Izmir, unless you are in an overland tour or other cities nearby while in Turkey.
Izmir is the 3rd largest city in Turkey, after Istanbul and the capital, Ankara; yet remains as the largest seaport with the most traffic in the country; one of the most important in the entire Mediterranean being at the transit route between Europe and Asia.
The city itself has been continuously urbanized for the past 4000 years while the roots go even farther back. With so many civilizations and different empires taking over the city through history, the legacy is still visible and although it’s true there is not too much left from the ancient times, there is enough to keep you busy for a while enjoying the entire city, its architecture and history.
Of Greek origin, it was known as Smyrna. Housing only 1000 inhabitants within the walls, quickly expanding and growing to become the cultural and commercial canter leader of the Twelve Ionian Cities, reaching its peak between years 650 and 550 BC. After the Greek; Izmir was ruled by the Lydians and then by the Persians before Alexander the Great re-founded the city not far from the former one which was destroyed by the Persians. By year 133 BC it was annexed to the Roman Empire. Thereafter, the Turks took control, losing against the Byzantine Empire and thus becoming part of the Ottoman Empire ever since then until WWI. Although there was some dispute with Greece about whose sovereignty belonged to after WWI, it was the newly formed Republic of Turkey who gained the full control.
It is one of the Seven Churches of Asia, known also as the Seven Churches of Revelation or the Seven Churches of the Apocalypse. Mentioned in the New Testament Book of Revelation, it is where Jesus Christ from the Greek island of Patmos instructs his servant Jon of Patmost saying: “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, What thou seest, write in a book, and send it unto the seven churches which are in Asia; unto Ephesus, and unto Smyrna, and unto Pergamos, and unto Thyatira, and unto Sardis, and unto Philadelphia, and unto Laodicea.”
It’s not only about the city of Izmir, but the entire area and location. In fact, it’s hard to imagine how many places worth to visit are nearby. From the beautiful famed sandy beaches, villages and cities; to the countless first class ancient archaeological places such as Pergamum and Ephesus. You can easily spend over a week and be every day at a different place, all within 2 hours away maximum from Izmir.
Coming to the food subject, it is very hard to be wrong while in Turkey after all. They have great food everywhere. Of course, their famous kebabs are everywhere, but it’s not only about this. An Ishkender kebab if you find it, don’t hesitate in going for it. Local dishes include Tarhana soup (made of dried yogurt and tomatoes), Izmir Kofte (meatballs, usually lamb or beef), Yuvarlak köfte (meatballs in sauce) or Kumru sandwich (with cheese, tomato and sausage). Both the Izmir Kofte and Yuvarlak köfte are amazing and we ended up looking for those all the time.
For more information about Izmir check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Turkish currency is the Lira (TRY). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Izmir:
- Remains from the ancient times Izmir was one of the principal ancient Greek settlements in western Anatolia, then being re-founded by Alexander the Great. The importance and wealth can be still be seen at some of the archaeological areas.
-Agora of Smyrna What came to our date is mostly from the Roman era. Located on the northern side of the Pagos Hill is one of the largest and better preserved among the Ionian agoras.
-Stoa In ancient Greek architecture, this was the covered portico with a walkway and shops on it sides. Some columns remain from this once 2 stories.
-Basilica Built on top of a foundation of arches to protect it against earthquakes as the one that destroyed the entire city in the year 178 AD. The whole of the foundations are still in place and it’s a large complex of arched galleries. Current works are taking place that will further expand the musealised area.
- Konak District Although composed of more districts together, it is the oldest area and the current city center.
-Basmane Railway Terminal Opened in 1866 serving the north-eastern portion of Konak, major transit hub and interchange to the metro line. This is also the station from where trains to the airport depart/arrive.
-Kadifekale The Turkish name for The Velvet Castle is one of the major landmarks in the city, located on top of the hill with the same name, offers the best views of the bay and city below.
-Kızlarağası Han This caravanserai built in 1744 was the first construction that led to the expansion of the bazaar around it.
-Kemerakti Bazaar Built on land gained to the sea, grew around the Kızlarağası Han, gaining importance and size from the 1800 ongoing. Today is one of the principal sights in the city.
-Mosques There are few old mosques around the Bazaar, from the 15th and 16th centuries. Don’t be shy to approach them and admire their architecture. Of course you cannot enter while praying time, but at other times you can visit, and if they see you wandering around it is likely the people will tell you that you can come inside.
-Konak Square Is the largest and most popular square in the city where the majority of the modern sights are and around and in the nearby streets.
-Clock Tower Built in 1901 was designed in a mix of eclectic, neoclassical and Ottoman styles, was a gift from the German Emperor Wilhelm II.
-Governor’s Mansion Is the Governorate of İzmir.
-Hisar Mosque Built in 1592 is the oldest in the city and one of the most prominent landmark from the Ottoman era.
-Konak Pier Nowadays a shopping center is believed to have been designed by Gustave Eiffel and built in 1890.
-Ethnography Museum Originally built as an orphanage in the 19th century is a Levantine-European landmark of the city for its architecture. On the western side of the square.
-National Library On the streets nearby Konak Square is this beautiful Arabic style building, part of the network of the National Libraries of Turkey.
-Archaeological Museum South of Konak Square houses a vast collection or artifacts from the ancient times and origins of the city and nearby sites.
- Alsancak District One of the most up-scale neighborhoods in the city with luxurious apartments and shops; the heart of the business area.
-Kordon Is the name that receives the sea side promenade, align with hundreds of restaurants, bars and discos, not just along the promenade itself but also in the parallel streets at the very well preserved 1 and 2 stories traditional buildings.
-Alsancak Railway Terminal Is the second oldest railway station in Turkey (the oldest is also in Izmir, named Kemer). Built in 1585 for the Oriental Railway Company.
- Karataş District Has always been the Jewish quarter of the city and today continues to be where the majority of Jewish live.
-Beth Israel Is the largest synagogue in the city.
-Asansör Meaning elevator, is one of the symbols not only in the district but in Izmir overall. Built in 1907 to easy the access to the elevated areas of the hill separated from the coast.
The principal way of arrival in Izmir from abroad is by plane. Adnan Menderes Airport is located 18 kilometers to the south of the city and is very easy and quick to commute to/from the city center, either by bus (costing 10 TRY for one way) or a much faster way via commuter train (IZBAN) direct to the city center, either to Basmane terminus which is walking distance from the old town or Alsancak in the north of the city. Direct trains to Basmane are less frequent but you can take the first train that comes and change for the Metro at Hilal interchange. Every train runs through it.
Being the 3rd largest city in Turkey and of such importance for business and tourism, the amount of destinations served by plane is very wide, having also all the low cost carriers direct routes across Europe. Turkish low cost airline Pegasus, as example, flies everywhere within Turkey and countries nearby at really low prices. Landing in Istanbul and transiting onto a short flight to Izmir is also pretty straightforward, and this was in fact how we did it.
The city is served by 2 commuter railway lines, known as IZBAN and 1 metro line; although both systems are continuously expanding with new lines planned and to enter service soon. Other forms of public transportation include buses and trolleybuses covering the entire city and nearby districts. There is a magnetic transport card that costs 6 TRY that you can recharge as you need. Using this on any transport method will deduct 2 TRY and is valid for 90 minutes, time in which you can take as many other transports methods as you need, including ferries. On the other hand, for a more simplified way, at the automated vending machines you can get single tickets (sold always as 2) and are valid only for one access, no transfer on to other transport means. They cost 5.5 TRY, and unless you plan to stay long in Izmir and take often the transport, go for this second option.
Once you are in the old city center area, Konak, you will see there is no need to take any public transport to move around since all the sights are located quite near each other and are best accessible on foot. So unless you are staying somewhere farther from the city center, the good news are that you won’t need to think about how to move around.
I have to admit there is a great choice and large amount of hotels of any kind and class in Izmir, and finding a good deal was extremely easy too. Knowing even that we went at the end of May, with the high season just about to start, the prices were still really below expectations. Probably we were lucky on just matter of just. From mid-June and the summer months the situation might be totally different and therefore the deals as we got are highly likely to be double and more the price. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, Hotels Click, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We stated at the Ramada Plaza Izmir, at Number 12 Murselpasa Bulvari, Konak. Meters away from the Basmane train station and walking distance to the entire old town and the ancient Agora. Could not be better located in this sense, not only for this but for having the direct train to the airport and so to Selcuk for Ephesus, avoiding having to depend on public transportation or taxis to move to/from the hotel.
This nice 4* property had everything we needed and even more. Well maintained and clean, and very comfortable in all senses. Large room with nice queen size bed. After all, Ramada hotels have very good reputation everywhere in the world and the standards are well kept in here too. The staff were all very kind and nice when we checked in, but I must also say in here that in the evening when we returned to the hotel with water, coke and some baklava we bough at the kiosk next door, the security lady on duty rushed to the receptionist to apparently tell them that we were bringing our own drinks and food, and a not so friendly receptionist out of sudden told us that we cannot bring any drink/food from outside and that this time he is making an exception. Nothing that bothered us, we taught him a lesson! First of all, how dare him to tell me what I can and what I cannot bring to the room I paid for, and second, you are of course here and everywhere else in the world allowed to bring you own water, cake or whatever you please to your room and not forced to buy their horrific nonsense expensive mini bar/room service products.