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BLOG What is Izmir Famous For? Exploring Turkey’s Third Largest City

8 July 2020 / Travel


What is Izmir Famous For?

Learning about what is Izmir famous for is a journey into Turkey’s third-largest city. Everyone has heard of Izmir, but many tourists by-pass it in favour of Istanbul. We don’t blame them because Istanbul is an iconic city that, throughout history, has shaped world events. But if time allows, we recommend visiting Izmir as well.

Formerly known as Smyrna, and sitting on Turkey’s Aegean coast, the name Izmir refers to the city and surrounding coastal resorts. With a population of over 4 million people, of which a sizeable percentage are youngsters, throughout the last century, Izmir was always the leader in trends.

Turks used to say Izmir would westernise you because of the worldly influences that many of the younger generations embraced. Albeit, they also said the prettiest girls came from here. We don’t hear that saying so much these days, but other things still earn countrywide and worldly fame for their influences.

What is Izmir Famous For?

1: The Famous Konak Clock Tower

Look at any travel publication advertising the city and the leading picture will most likely be the clock tower. Known as Izmir’s mascot, and standing on Konak square, it is the tradition to have your picture taken next to it. Constructed in 1901, German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm the second gave the 25-metre-tall tower to Sultan Abdelhamid the second to symbolise their friendship. Despite being over 100 years old, the clock has never stopped, a beautiful reflection that life always goes on.

2: Levantine Mansions in Izmir

Izmir’s cosmopolitan history stretches back centuries. Even during the Ottoman era, Greeks, Christians, Armenians, Jews and Muslim lived side by side before the great fire of Smyrna in 1922 destroyed much of the city. One lesser talked group was the Levantines. Traditionally, these were westerners, who facilitated and kept trade going with the outside world. Many achieved prominent status, not only in Izmir but in Istanbul. Their mansions are an integral part of Izmir’s cultural identity, and some renovated houses still reflect their original appearance. Bornova, Buca and Karsikya are all places where the old Levantine mansions still stand.

3: Ephesus Ancient Ruins

Sitting on the outskirts of the Izmir region, the ancient ruins of Ephesus are one of Turkey’s top visited attractions. Known as one of the several churches of revelation, Saint John and Paul preached in the city. The Virgin Mary is said to have passed through, and the Virgin Mary’s house high in the hills of Selcuk, run by the Catholic church is said to be where she ascended. For decades, archaeologists have uncovered and reconstructed many major landmarks including the Roman terrace houses, public toilets, temples, agora, and the Celsius library, the ancient world’s third-largest collection of literature. The ruins of Ephesus are just 1 hour’s drive away, and you can combine it with a visit to Saint John’s Basilica in Selcuk at the same time.

4: Windsurfing and Traditional Houses in Alacati

The Cesme peninsula is home to Alacati, Turkey’s most famous windsurfing destination. Surfers come from all over the world to tap into the wind that circles the peninsula, and shallow waters make it ideal for beginners. Such is the popularity, many windsurfing schools have opened shop and specialise in kite boarding as well. When you are not trying your hand at windsurfing, explore Alacati’s streets and discover the famous whitewashed houses with blue shutters that everyone talks about. Alacati has long been a favourite of upmarket Turks for summer holiday homes, and albeit it is a little pricey but a day trip is worth it.

5: Smyrna: Church of Revelation

Many people have heard of the seven churches of revelation, as mentioned in the Bible, yet few know their ruins still exist today. Although called churches, they were cities that Saint John sent a letter to, both praising them for what they did well, or criticising them for their sins. Smyrna, Izmir, was the second church of revelation, and although many ancient structures don’t still stand, people can explore the history of that time by visiting the agora. Smyrna was one of the few churches not criticised by Saint John but sent praise for their unwavering faith during times of persecution.

6: Local Cuisine – Feast for a King

Naturally, being a cosmopolitan destination, you can find every type of food in Izmir. However, we recommend going traditional and opening your taste buds up to some new flavours specific to the region. Start the day off with Boyoz, a pastry eaten for breakfast with boiled eggs. For lunch, try kumru, a unique shaped bread with fillings of two types of cheese, tomatoes, peppers, grilled sausages, and salami. Top it off with tomato sauce or mayonnaise. For evening time, head to the Kordon part of the central city, to feast on traditional seafood, fish and mezes that are Turkey’s version of appetisers. Turkish tradition says when dining like this, enjoy a glass of raki, the country’s national alcoholic drink.

7: Seat of Satan: Ancient Pergamon

“I know your works and where you dwell... where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to my name, and did not deny my faith even in the days in which Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.” These were the words Saint John wrote to the city of Pergamon, another one of the seven churches of revelation. Pergamon was slightly different from other cities because they were forward-thinking leaders. They invented parchment paper, opened the world’s first mental hospital, and many political decisions affecting Asia minor at the time were made in the city. Many scholars believe the reference to Satan was because of three temples dedicated to Roman emperors, the goddess Athena, and the god Zeus. These days, Pergamon is a top visited attraction and more known for its steep amphitheatre nestled into the hillside.

8: Stunning Views from Kadifekale

On the hill of the same name, Kadifekale stands tall and proud. Although the remains of this ancient castle pale in comparison to such likes in France and England, most people visit for the stunning view it gives off over the Izmir Peninsula. Sitting 2 kilometres from the shoreline, it is a steep walk uphill so we recommend getting a taxi up. In 2020, Izmir applied to the UNESCO World Heritage site for its inclusion.

Also of Interest:

Things to do in Izmir: The above is just a shortlist of what Izmir is famous for. You can discover a lot more by getting around to see the major tourist attractions. From ancient ruins to wildlife parks, and just relaxing in the best spots, we give our recommendations in this article.

Izmir Area Guide: Listing shopping and nightlife hotspots and other helpful tips, this guide is a useful introduction for first-time visitors to the city and the surrounding coastal resorts.

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