Izmir, “most beautiful city in Turkey” with its palm-lined thoroughfares and sweeping bay, serve as the gateway to civilizations past and present via an irresistible union of stunning scenery, extraordinary historical milestones, archeological marvels, natural wonders and cultural vibrancy. Whether the purpose is a business convention or vacation, exploration or repose, visitors can bathe in the area’s legendary thermal springs, relax on the beaches of Kusadasi and Çesme, thrill to the many festivals and visit the ancient cities of Western Anatolia all in the same day.
Most famous for the ancient city of Ephesus, the thriving capital of Asia Minor under the Roman Empire and site of the home where the Virgin Mary spent the last years of her life, the region safeguards the foundations of Western civilization’s political, philosophical and scientific discourse. Just an hour south of Izmir lie the remains of Priene, the first planned city of the ancient world, where visitors can see the Theatre, Temple of Athena, the Prytaneum, the Agora, Altar of Zeus and Cybele. The nearby, ancient port city of Miletus, one of the principal Ionian cities and twice visited by St. Paul, shared the spotlight with Troy as the chief intellectual and cultural center of Lydian and Hellenistic Western Anatolia. Visit the Byzantine fortress, the theatre, the Nymphoion, the Bouleterion, the Faustina Bath. Just minutes away in Didyma, the Temples of Apollo and Artemis and their oracle drew cult worshipers for centuries. Also the biggest yacht marina in Mediterrenan in here Didim town.
As Turkey’s third biggest city Izmir is known for its multicultural character and features a wealth of offerings – festivals, museums and art – that act as worldwide beacons for artists and audiences alike. The Izmir International Fair, the oldest tradeshow in Turkey, brings together a series of simultaneous festivals and musical and cultural events to the city’s Kültür Park – attracting visitors from all over the world.
Izmir’s harbor is home to the famous Clock Tower – a beautiful marble tower 82 ft in height designed by Levantine French architect Raymond Charles Pière in 1901. Near the slopes of Kadifekale, the Kemeralti Bazaar, set up by the Ottomans and combined with the Agora, is the shopping mecca popular among tourists and locals alike for its apparel, textiles and jewelry.
The downtown area is known for its nightlife, live music and seaside restaurants, as well as its important convention center and excellent hotels. As a family destination, Izmir and Kusadasi feature aquaparks, boat trips, beaches, water sports and plenty of archeological sites to explore.
Alacati, a village known for its architecture, vineyards and windmills, is also the Turkish center for windsurfing and kitesurfing due to its clear sea and consistent, strong winds throughout the year.
At the end of the day, all will want to partake in bounty of the region’s lush and fertile farmlands, sip wine made by locals up in the hills, enjoy the abundant local seafood and reflect upon the pivotal persons of yore that paved the way to the modern world.
As the birthplace of Homer and Herodotus and the adopted land of Aristides and Thales, the Aegean could easily be characterized as the gateway to Ancient Greece. Yet add to the stunning and fertile Mediterranean panoramas, two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, all seven of the Churches of the Revelation and a dose of Turkey’s celebrated hospitality and it becomes very clear that Turkey offers something completely different: a bit of the exotic yet familiar, where the ancient and the modern converge to form one, unique, monumental and irresistible cultural experience.
The most famous archeological site in the region is Ephesus. As the capital of Roman Asia Minor, Ephesus is still richly endowed with marble temples, mosaics and a 25,000-seat Great Theater. The city, whose wealth and patronage supported its splendid architectural program, was dedicated to the goddess Artemis, and her enormous temple was once considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. St. Paul spoke here, and later wrote his famous Epistle to the Ephesians. The ruins are less than 40 miles south of Izmir, and a short trip from one of the best harbors in all of Turkey, Kusadasi, which welcomes cruise ships throughout the year.
As custodian to the Seven Churches of Asia Minor, located in the ancient cities of Smyrna (Izmir), Pergamon (Bergama), Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea and Ephesus, the Aegean region played a central role in the evolution of Christianity, permanently altering the way an entire civilization perceived the faith. St. Peter’s sermon to the Ephesians took place in the Great Theater at Ephesus, while tradition holds that the Virgin Mary ascended to heaven upon her death from her final home at Ephesus. The tomb of St. John the Baptist is said to be on the site of the Basilica of St. John, also built in Ephesus by Justinian to honor the saint.
Pamukkale’s blinding white travertine pools, fed for millennia by calcium-rich underground springs, seduces prospective guests not only with thermal spas and soothing treatments, but with the outstanding ruins of Hierapolis, site of the martyrdom of St. Peter and home to the best-preserved ancient theater in Turkey.
In the nearby site of Aphrodisias, archaeologists have been working since 1961 to uncover a city that since has revealed extraordinary temples, amphitheatres, agoras, sculptures and a remarkably preserved stadium that rivals anything you will see at Ephesus.
It was in Pergamon, home of the original Great Library, where parchment was first created. Civilization’s first coins were minted in Sardis, and it was from this thriving city that the expression “Rich as Croesus,” was inspired.
As the gateway to the region and its defacto capital, Izmir took over where ancient Smyrna left off. Today, this sprawling city of palm-lined boulevards and waterfront promenades is a vital commercial and cultural center, proudly upholding its role as “Turkey’s Second City.” With nary a snap of the finger, you can find yourself relaxing in a thermal spring in Çesme, participating in one of the city’s celebrated international festivals, windsurfing on the Bay of Alaçati or conducting business at an industry congress.
To the south, past the bustling resort town and cruise ship port of Kusadasi, lie the impressive remains of Miletus, once a great center of commerce and thought in the ancient world, and birthplace to pre-Socratic philosophers such as Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes. The nearby site of Didyma served as the religious outpost for Miletus and is famous for its magnificent temple dedicated to Apollo.
For active pursuits, visitors can enjoy the Blue Voyage in a traditional broad-beamed wooden gulet or go scuba diving into the Aegean recesses of Çanakkale, Kusadasi or Bodrum to glimpse the watery graves of ancient and contemporary shipwrecks.
The ancient and the modern seem to fuse together perfectly in tanned and tony Bodrum, where the home of Halicarnassus of Herodotus resides together with Byzantine basilicas, Ottoman era cisterns, tranquil bays and purely cosmopolitan revelry. As Turkey’s own home-grown St. Tropez, Bodrum has become synonymous with the kind of get-away-from-it-all day and nightlife, that is sure to sooth all of your senses.
South of Edirne, in the province of Çanakkale, Turkey borders the Marmara Sea at the Gallipoli Peninsula, coveted throughout history as a strategic gateway into and out of the Mediterranean Sea. It was from Troy where Helen launched a thousand ships and at Gallipoli where ANZAC forces were defeated by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in Turkey’s first major victory against enemy forces in World War I. The war graves and battlegrounds of Gallipoli are visited by thousands of tourists every year on the fated anniversary of the landing of Australian and British forces at Anzac Cove.
Where the Marmara Region meets the Aegean are clusters of alluring offshore islands and typical seaside villages. The island of Bozcaada is an increasingly popular weekend getaway thanks to its pastoral landscapes, sweeping seaside vistas and long tradition of winemaking, for which the island celebrates an annual wine festival. Back on the mainland is the irresistible fishing enclave of Behramkale, which shares the rocky and mountainous seafront with the ancient remnants of the great Hellenistic city of Assos.