Izmir is probably the most livable city in Turkey. Teachers at the Izmir American College are blessed with a laid-back local lifestyle, wonderful weather and numerous activities in and around the city.
Smyrna (as it was known for thousands of years) has always been a hub of civilization, trade, commerce, religion and the arts. But for people who call Izmir home, the greatest part of living in the city is not its historical and contemporary importance – it is rather the city’s seductive combination of livability and urban dynamism.
The sun in Izmir shines for 300 days a year, allowing for countless activities that are best enjoyed in the sun: Bike riding, hiking, water sports and other classics popular across the Mediterranean. The local Aegean-inflected cuisine is a particular delight.
Unlike other cities on the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts, Izmir is a vibrant economic hub. It is one of Turkey’s major ports and has a highly developed sea, air, land and rail transport system.
It is also possible to reach a global population of 1.5 billion within a three-hour flight from Izmir. Direct flights fly from Izmir to more than 34 countries and 86 destinations. From Istanbul, which is just an hour’s flight from Izmir, hundreds more destinations can be reached.
What’s more, a number of Greek islands can be reached within minutes from Izmir and its surrounding areas.
Located at a key juncture of East and West, Izmir has, over the millennia, hosted countless civilizations.
The first settlement of ancient Smyrna dates back to 3000 BC, and the city was founded for a second time at Kadifekale (Pagos) in the 4th century by one of the generals of Alexander the Great.
Countless historical sites adorn Izmir. In the ancient era, the agora was a meeting place for all commercial, political, and religious activities of local people, and today it is the best preserved and largest of all the Ionian agoras.
Pergamum, the capital of the Kingdom of Pergamon during the Hellenistic era, and Ephesus, one of the 12 cities of the Ionian League during the Classical Greek era, make the wider Izmir province a dream for any history buff. Ephesus is famed for the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and is also home to the Temple of Zeus.
Kemeraltı, the old bazaar in the city of Izmir, is filled with colorful knickknacks. The oldest meeting point and shopping center of the city, Kemeraltı is the busiest pedestrian district in Izmir. However, Asansör (Elevator) is probably the city’s most recognized landmark. Built by a Jewish banker, Nesim Levi, in 1907, Asansör is an elegant tower in the Karataş quarter. It has an upper balcony that provides excellent views of the entire Gulf of Izmir, and the restaurant in Asansör is today one of the most renowned dining spots in Izmir. Asansör is a well-known site, but the Clock Tower in the center of Izmir, built in 1901 by German architects to commemorate the reign of Ottoman Sultan Abdulhamit II, is the city’s unofficial symbol. Passport Pier, the Alsancak Train Station, the Stock Exchange Hall and the Old Ottoman Bank are among the other architectural structures worth seeing around Izmir.
A CITY OF OUTDOOR LIVING:
Izmir is perhaps Turkey’s most livable city for those who enjoy the great outdoors.
The city is surrounded by some of the region’s most spectacular mountains, plains, highlands, lakes, rivers, caves, fertile lands, Mediterranean climate flora, wildlife, bird sanctuaries, rich fauna, marshlands, swamps, bays and peninsulas.
Turning away from the city’s coast, you can grab your bike or set out hiking among olive groves and vineyard paths. By following the official “blue route,” you can experience the unique beauty of the peninsula, while also exploring the many Aegean islands nearby.
The many different villages and towns dotted around Izmir offer an equally rich variety of local produce, with plenty of friendly locals to talk to and dishes to discover.
Izmir is also an increasingly important eco-tourism destination, ideal for mountain climbing, trekking, cave tourism, orienteering, horseback riding, botanical tourism, highland tourism, bird watching, wildlife observation, aviation sports, agro tourism, camping and caravan tourism.
A CITY OF EVENTS:
Hosting numerous events throughout the year, Izmir is one of Turkey’s liveliest and most colorful cities. Music, food, flower and theater festivals held in the city center and the surrounding areas welcome tens of thousands of people.
A CITY OF BICYCLES
Unlike most other big cities in Turkey, Izmir is bike-friendly.
Renting a bike using the BİSİM system is easy and can be obtained from one of the 31 stations between İnciraltı Recreational Area and the Bird Paradise. Bikes can be returned to whichever of the 31 stations that is most convenient. Bikes can be taken onto all of Izmir’s rail systems.
Such is Izmir’s rising two-wheel pedigree, the city is now a candidate to become part of the European Cycle Route Network (EuroVelo).
A CITY OF ART AND CULTURE:Izmir is about more than just natural beauty and lifestyle. It is also full of museums and cultural centers, with a year-round cultural calendar packed with events, exhibitions and festivals.
Izmir’s Archeology Museum, just a short walk up the hill from Konak, contains a fine collection of Greek and Roman artifacts. Next door to the Archeology Museum is the Ethnography Museum, originally built in 1831 as the St. Roche Hospital. The lovely four-story stone building houses unique displays of local arts and crafts.
There are museums in Izmir that appeal to every interest and taste – from the Izmir Museum of History and Arts to the Izmir Museum of Painting and Sculpture, to niche museums like the Izmir Mask Museum, the Toy and Games Museum, the Railroad Museum and the İnciraltı Naval Museum. What’s more, dozens of gorgeous old renovated mansions in Izmir are now used as cultural centers hosting exhibitions, concerts and screenings.
The International Izmir Festival, the Izmir European Jazz Festival, the International Izmir Short Film Festival, the International Puppetry Festival, the (over 80-year-old) International Izmir Fair, the International Natural Stone and Technology Fair, and the Organic Products Fair are all events that welcome thousands of visitors every year.
FUN IN THE SUN
No matter what the season, in Izmir you don’t have to wait for the summer months to enjoy the sun. The beautiful Aegean climate means that the sun shines on the city for 300 days of the year.
Many of the beaches along Izmir’s 629-kilometer coastline are “Blue Flag” and attract visitors from around the world.
The world-famous holiday destination of Çeşme is particularly popular among both locals and foreign visitors during summer. Located on a peninsula where the north and south winds collide, Çeşme is a big draw for windsurfers from all over. Nearby Alaçatı on the Çeşme peninsula is also renowned for its colorful nightlife. Once a sleepy farming village, today’s Alaçatı welcomes visitors with dozens of inns and boutique hotels, attracting a particularly lively crowd from May to September with international windsurf competitions organized on its shallow waters.
Foça, about 70 kilometers northwest of Izmir city center, is another coastal town that attracts tourists every summer with sun, sea and sand. Elsewhere, the unique and authentic environments of Dikili, Karaburun, Menderes and Seferihisar add further richness to Izmir from north to south.
A CITY WITH WORLD HERITAGE SITES:
Izmir is a city that embraces its long history, protecting its cultural and historical assets to pass them on to the coming generations.
The UNESCO World Heritage List, determined by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, is made up of the world’s most important cultural heritage. Two of Turkey’s 15 UNESCO World Heritage List sites are located in Izmir: The ancient sites of Pergamon and Ephesus.
Located in the Ödemiş district, the historical city of Birgi is also on the UNESCO Temporary List of World Heritage.
A CITY OF FLAVORS:Izmir’s cuisine has been strongly affected by its multicultural history, giving it a remarkable wealth of different foods. The city’s food shows the influence of Cretan, Greek, Balkan and – of course – Turkish cuisine, reshaped according to the taste of the cosmopolitan Levantines who lived in Izmir during the Ottoman era.
Izmir’s fertile soil and surrounding Aegean Sea have long provided the city with an abundance of fresh vegetables and seafood. With the increasing demand for healthy food in recent decades, Aegean cuisine has become much more popular among global foodies.
Olive oil has been used in Aegean cooking for over 4,000 years, and there is an abundance of olive orchards and production plants in the region. Even the simplest grilled fish or blanched herbs find new heights once drizzled with this liquid of the Gods.
Izmir has two other trademark “must-tastes”: Boyoz and kumru. With Judeo-Spanish roots, boyoz, mainly a mixture of sunflower oil and flour with a little sesame paste, is a round pastry made either plain or with meat, spinach or cheese filling.
Kumru, meanwhile, is a special kind of sandwich, featuring kasseri cheese, sucuk (spicy sausage), and slices of tomato. With bakeries in much of Izmir open 24/7, kumru is the first choice of all who want a satisfying and fast bite to eat.
Without a doubt, another culinary highlight of the Aegean and Izmir is the wild greens and herbs, collected by villagers from gardens, fields, plains and farms – prepared and cooked in the simplest ways, slightly blanched or sautéed with olive oil. Meze platters (small appetizers) may seem fairly uniform at first glance, but they are often full of various different herbs taken from the surrounding region: Ivy, mallow, nettle, cabbage, radish, wild mustard, blessed thistle, chicory, glasswort, angel’s tears and watercress.
Seafood is another highlight, and countless fresh seafood restaurants border the seashore. The city is famous for salt-encrusted grouper, red mullet on vine leaves, fried or stuffed mussels, flounder fillets on skewers, gilthead seabream, grilled seabass, and fish in milk (a unique Izmir specialty).
IZMIR IS A CITY WITH ENDLESS HISTORICAL TALES:
Three of the “Seven Churches” mentioned in the Bible are located in Izmir.
The Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, is in Izmir.
Parchment paper was discovered in Izmir’s Bergama.
The first church, which was built for the Virgin Mary, is in Izmir’s Ephesus.
The snake figure, which has become the symbol of medicine, originated in Bergama.
The first ever healing temple (Asclepius) was built in Izmir, named after the God of Healing, Asclepius.
Homer, the author of the epics of Iliad and Odyssey, is thought to have come from Izmir. The ancient philosopher Heraclitus (BC 540-480), who famously observed that “You can never step in the same river twice,” lived in Izmir.
St. John, one of the writers of the Bible, passed away in Izmir. His tomb is still in the city.
Klazomenai, the world’s earliest oil workshop to yet be found, is in Izmir’s Urla.
The first temple in the name of the Goddess Athena was built in Izmir.
Herbal therapy, psychotherapy and natural therapy was first used in Izmir.
The famous ancient doctor Galen (AD 131-210) lived in Bergama.
Philosopher and poet Xenophanes lived in Kolofon in the 6th Century BC.
Philosopher Anaxagoras (BC 500-428) lived in Clazomente (today’s Urla).
The popular mid-20th century singer Dario Moreno was an “Izmirite.”
The first library in Asia was built in Izmir, at one point housing a total of 200,000 books.