İzmir in 6 Hours

İzmir in 6 Hours.

Cumhuriyet Square

To grasp Izmir as a harbour city, stand at Cumhuriyet Square, give a look first at Aegean Sea and then Karşıyaka. Then turn with the sun by 180 degrees… You’ll see that Izmir is a Harbour city. (See also the below note titled ‘Izmir 400 years ago’.)

The Seafarers’ Church

The beautiful decorative figures in Saint Mary’s Church will give you the opportunity to see a work of the renowned architect Gustave Eiffell in İzmir. As the basis of Christian faith depends on the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the interior walls of Saint Mary’s Church are adorned with figures depicting stories from these books. The roof of this Franciscan Catholic church was reconstructed by Gustave Eiffel, and the organ in it which was one of the most imposing instruments of its time is still in service.


Leave the church and walk along Gaziosmanpaşa Boulevard, you’ll get to Smyrna Agora. During Roman Era As İzmir become an important commercial centre during Roman Era, several buildings were erected in the city and consequently the Roman Architectural Style prevailed in the city’s outlook. But unfortunately most of these buildings could not survive. The ruins of some of these Roman Era buildings are fairly the traces of Izmir’s longstanding history, with Agora in the first place. Despite being neglected and damaged over time, most parts of Agora have survived until today. It is one of the most remarkable Roman Era buildings in Izmir. Today, some parts of Agora which was devastated by an earthquake in 178 and reconstructed, lies under the surrounding buildings. You should have at least an hour for Agora, and 1,5 hour is ideal for a good tour. Agora means gathering place, town square or marketplace. It is known that, agoras in ancient times served as the centre of a city where commercial, political and religious gatherings as well as artistic and social events took place. Each ancient city had at least one Agora. In some larger cities, there were two agoras, one a governmental agora where political gatherings were held with public buildings around, and second a civil one where commercial activities centred. Agora that was initially built during Hellenistic period but it was devastated by an earthquake in 178. During Roman era it was reconstructed with the support of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. The ruins today are from this second construction. Smyrna Agora consists of a large rectangular court and stoas surrounding it. Archaeological excavations have revealed that northern and western stoas stood on basements. Northern stoa is a basilica in terms of its plan layout.


Basilicas are buildings that consist of interior colonnades that divided the space, giving aisles or arcaded spaces on both sides. Predecessor of Christian churches, Roman basilicas were kind of courthouses where civil legal affairs were handled. They also hosted, in some instances, commercial and financial businesses that dominated the city economy. The cross vaults on east and west ends of the striking basement floor that reached today are among the best examples of roman architecture. Of the two monumental gates opening to the basement floor at the northern part of basilica, the one on the west has been brought to light completely. The vaulted row of shops which shows that the government agora gradually became a commercial space on the north wing of the basilica has been unearthed as well.

Westside Stoa

The Westside stoa consisting of aisles divided by three colonnades also stood on a basement floor like the basilica. Although the arched basement floor is mainly in sight today, it was a two storey building in ancient times. The ground floor three steps above the courtyard and wooden first floor provided protection from rain and sun for people walking up and down. The cisterns that were built in the basement floors probably around the end of Roman era, have also survived until today and are worth seeing.

Faustina Gate and the Ancient Street

In grid planned Smyrna, one of the parallel east-west streets ran through agora, probably dividing it into two. At the entrance of this street into Agora stands an impressive gate. At the centre of the north side arch of this double gate, you can see the relief portrait of Faustina wife of Marcus Aurelius whose own portrait was probably on the second arch which could not survive until today. These two were the patrons of reconstruction of Smyrna after the earthquake, and people of Smyrna must have placed these portraits on the gate with a view to express their gratitude. The gate that had been restored faultily in 1940’s, was reconstructed faithfully in 2004.

"Have a nice working day"

One of the features that make İzmir’s Agora unique is the graffiti found by Akın Ersoy short time ago. These Roman era graffiti on the basement walls and abutments consist of writings and drawings, some painted with kind of an ink made of iron and some scratched on the surface. These graffiti provide important information on everyday life in Izmir of Roman era. They include various things from love to gladiator fights, sex to sailboats, names of lovers and birds, ships, riddles and so on. Slogans among the graffiti also reveal how the competition between Pergamum, Ephesus and Smyrna, three shining cities of Western Anatolia echoed among ordinary people. The graffiti found at the basement of Smyrna Agora are unique on several counts. First of all, they are the World’s oldest drawings made with a material consisting of iron and oak root. Also, written sources that were found so far within Ancient Age studies feature mainly political and religious characters while Smyrna Agora graffiti, written in Greek, reflect everyday life of the time. One of these graffiti reads, for example, "Have a nice working day" in Greek probably written by shopkeepers. The graffiti also say a lot about early times of Christianity. Another feature of them to note is that they are the most extensive with regard to the scope of presentation. For all these reasons, the graffiti have unique place in archaeological literature.

Namazgah - Dönertaş - Tilkilik

Leaving the Agora, give a look at the tombstones that signify the Muslim face of the city. They will take you back to pre-Ottoman period of principalities. The area is named as "Namazgah" (place for prayer) because it was a spot where mass Friday prayers took place after the Turkization of Izmir. Walk along the back streets and you’ll see Dönertaş fountain. Built in the early 19th century, this square planned single domed building is famous for its adornments on its two Anafartalar Street. The column-like round stone with an adorned heading on the corner of the two facades is actually a rotating one that serves as a balance, that’s why the building is named as Dönertaş Public fountain which means ‘rotating stone fountain’. Along with the plant figures, the main feature of its adornments is the relief landscape figures including mosques one on the wall and the other over the tap on its two facades. The fact that this style of adornments that can also be seen on several building and tombstones in Izmir, Aydin and Afyon, built in early 19th century share a great similarity with those on another fountain at the right side of seaward gate of Çakaloğlu Inn in Izmir dated 1805 brings to mind that they were made by the same craftsman. Some resources suggest that Dönertaş Fountain poured sherbet instead of water during Ramadan. Now have a lunch break at one of the tradesmen’s restaurants on Tilkilik Street. Then you can see the ruins of a Roman bath which was in use during Ottoman times too.

Family Houses

The family houses where impoverished Jewish families lived all together in large numbers, namely Kortejos (or Jews’ houses as Muslims named them) are notable examples of civil architecture. Some of the Jews who were forced to leave Spain in 1492 had come and settled in Izmir. They lived in İkiçeşmelik, Agora, Tilkilik and Basmane quarters for 500 years. They had to keep together due to economic and political reasons; they had to keep together in enclosed environments. Finally the State of Israel was founded in 1948 to where most of them migrated. And the remaining small number of Jews moved to central quarters of İzmir. Etymologically, Kortejo means courtyard. It is kind of a communal house with a courtyard in the centre and rooms around. It is accessed through a single door that opens to the courtyard also with a common water tap. When the main door was closed, the families living in a kortejo were isolated from the outer world, which provided safety and promoted solidarity within. Jews lived in tiny rooms of kortejos for long years.

Basmane Railway Station

One of the three buildings that bear G. Eiffel's signature is Basmane Railway Station. Located at the spot where the ancient city wall ends was built 15 years later than the one in Alsancak. The construction of the station was funded by British SCR Company which was granted an imperial prerogative to construct and operate the 93 kilometres İzmir-Kasaba line in 1863 and taken into operation in 1866. Later in 1872 the line was extended up until Alaşehir. Basmane Railway Station building was designed by renowned French architect Eiffel in classical style and built by the French company Regie Generale. It is a twin design with Lyon Railway Station, which features Eiffel design. Although their facades are no longer twins because Lyon Railway Station’s façade was reconstructed in 1912 in art noveau style, the interior designs are still similar. The rectangular planned and ashlar built station is three storeyed in the centre. This part is the main passenger hall. It is covered with a hipped roof. There are triangular pediments between two edges giving a sense of movement to the flat façade. Basmane Railway station was seriously damaged during the fire in 1922 and was restored after 1926 when TCDD (Turkish State Railways) was established.

Kültürpark – Museum of History and Art

The last stop of your six hours tour is Kulturpark. It was set on the areas burnt down during 1922 fire with an eye to turn the fire area into a green space and opened to public during İzmir İnternational Fair in 1936. A 420 thousand square meters green space in the very centre of İzmir, Kültürpark includes Ismet İnönü Art Centre, an open air theatre with 3000 seats, İzmir Art Building and Museum of History and Art as well as social and sports facilities such as indoor and outdoor swimming pools and tennis courts, an indoor sports hall and a tartan track. The Museum of Art and History within Kültürpark is one of Turkey’s most important archaeological museums. The one museum consists of three main sections which are the Section of Stone Works, the Section of Ceramic Works and the Section of Precious Works. In the "Section of Stone Works", which has two floors, the sculpturing works from the Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman Periods and the plastic works of architecture from archaeological sites in and around İzmir are exhibited. In the first floor, the stone works of the Archaic Period, particularly large Kore and Kouros sculptures erected as votive offerings or as stele for the sacred sites. The only sculpture in the museum dating back to the Classical Period is the Sculpture of Homer. Among other Works exhibited in this section are the sculpture group of Demeter, Poseidon and Artemis, which has been revealed in Agora, the sculpture of Kaystros the River God, epitaphs found during excavations of Basmane station of İzmir Subway, several sculptures, round and rectangular altars and the Metropolis Hall from Metropolis excavations, friezes from Dionysus Temple of Teos, reliefs from Miletus Theatre, Roman and Hellenistic Period bust sculptures, reliefs from Belevi Mausoleum, and many other busts and steles. The section of ceramic Works, which has two floors, it is possible to see the most beautiful examples of the ceramic works from the Prehistorical Period to the end of the Byzantine Period. On the first floor, the outstanding ceramic works brought from Baklatepe, Limantepe, Kocabaştepe and Panaztepe, which were the prehistorical settlements in the vicinity of İzmir. There are also various ceramic works brought from Phocaea (Foça), Iasos (Güllük), Klazomenai (Urla), Kyme (Aliağa), Erythrai (Ildırı) and Pitane (Çandarlı) as well as various findings of Roman and Byzantine Periods from Smyrna Agora. And in the section of precious works, you can see oil lamps, figurines, glass works, bronze works, the treasure room and coins. That’s the end of six hours. You should have devoted more time!


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