Things to Do in Izmir
Ephesus (Efes) is one of the greatest ancient sites in the Mediterranean. During its heyday in the first century BC, it was the second-largest city in the world, with only Rome commanding more power. Many reconstructed structures and ruins, including the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, can be seen here.
The magnificent hilltop city of Pergamon dates back to the 5th century BC and was once a hotbed for learning, culture, and invention, flourishing until the 14th century. Remnants of the city’s most important structures remain, such as the Acropolis, the Red Basilica, aqueducts, a major medical center, audaciously steep amphitheatre and a historically important library.
The Bergama Asklepion (Pergamon Asclepeion), an ancient medical center honoring the Greek god of healing Asklepios, has existed since the 4th century BC when it was built in the ancient city of Pergamon (now Bergama). Built around a spring with waters that were believed to be sacred, the columns and walls still standing today once surrounded rooms for psychotherapy, massage, herbal remedies, baths, mud treatments and dream interpretation.
The Roman period brought the Asklepion its most notable patients, including emperors Marcus Aurelius and Hadrian. The influential physician Galen, who wrote about 500 works on medicine, practiced here in 2 AD.
Enter the structure as health seekers once did through the Sacred Way, a path that connects to the Akropol. In the first courtyard there is an altar featuring a serpent, the emblem of modern medicine, and other structures include a small theater, a library and the circular domed Temple of Asklepios.
Before there was Izmir, there was Smyrna, an ancient Roman city on the Aegean coast of Anatolia (now Turkey). Evidence of this fact in modern-day Izmir is most apparent upon visiting the ancient Agora Open Air Museum (also known as Izmir Agora or Smyrna Agora). Agora was the name for a “public gathering place or market” in ancient Greek city-states.
The Agora of Smyrna is one of the best preserved ancient agoras in the world today, in large part due to the excellent Agora Open Air Museum on site. Built by Alexander the Great and later rebuilt following an earthquake, the still-standing columns, archways and structures offer a glimpse into what a Roman bazaar must have looked like.
But there’s more than just the remains of an ancient city here; on the edge of the ancient agora lie the remains of a Muslim cemetery, with many gravestones dotting the perimeter. Walk through Colonnades of Corinthian columns and among statues of ancient Greek gods and goddesses to ponder the past.
St. Mary’s House in Ephesus is believed by many to be the place where the mother of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, spent her final days, and has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors and pilgrims seeking the healing properties of the spring that runs beneath the stone home since its discovery in the 19th-century.
The Temple of Artemis, or Artemision, was a Greek temple in present-day Turkey dedicated to the goddess Artemis. It was one of the original seven wonders of the ancient world. It was built not far from Ephesus just outside the present-day town of Selcuk. The temple was completely rebuilt several times throughout history after being destroyed on multiple occasions by both nature and human factors. Little remains of the temple in its original location today since archeologists brought much of the ruins to the British Museum.
The Temple of Artemis is only a couple of miles from Ephesus, making it an easy attraction to visit. Visitors can still see one tall column and a handful of marble pieces from the foundations of the structure, and the historical location is fascinating. From the site, you can also see the ruins of St. John's Basilica, located on a hill in Selcuk.
Izmir Clock Tower ( İzmir Saat Kulesi) is a historic clock tower in Konak Square in the center of Izmir, Turkey. The Levantine French architect Raymond Charles Père designed the Izmir Clock Tower. It was built in 1901 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Abdülhamid II's accession to the throne. The sultan actually celebrated his 25th anniversary by having more than 100 clock towers built in public squares throughout the Ottoman Empire. The clock on the Izmir Clock Tower was a gift from German Emperor Wilhelm II.
The tower is 82 feet high and decorated in an Ottoman style. Four fountains with three water taps each are set around the base of the tower in a circular pattern, and the columns are inspired by Moorish designs. The clock tower has become the symbol of Izmir, and it appeared on the back of Turkish 500 lira banknotes from 1983 to 1989.
Pre-Roman ancient ruins are just a day trip from Kusadasi in the ruined city of Sardis, the capital of the kingdom of Lydia from the 7th to 6th centuries BC.
For a time Sardis (Sart, today) was renowned throughout classical antiquity as the richest city on the planet, known for its legendary supply of gold washed down from the Tumulus Mountains. The term ‘rich as Croesus’ refers to that gold and the last Lydian ruler, King Croesus, who is thought to have invented gold coins.
In fact, settlement here dates back to Paleolithic times, but most of that history lies underground, destroyed by millennia of earthquake activity. Nowadays, the site is famous for its impressive Roman ruins, built hundreds of years after the city’s initial burst of fame, in around the 2nd century AD.
On a visit to the site you’ll see a grand double-story framework of columns and architraves outlining the extent of the Roman-era gymnasium. The baths here date from the 3rd century AD, and shops once lined the nearby street of marble stone. Fine capitals carved with acanthus leaves and classical curlicues have survived, along with mosaic tiled floors and statues.
You’ll also see the Synagogue with its marble court and mosaics, the acropolis and the celebrated Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Don’t miss the example of the Romans’ communal toilets, with a shared row of seating suspended over a latrine. The town’s arena was destroyed by an earthquake nearly 2,000 years ago, and there are more recent ruins dating from the Byzantine period.
Adaland Aquapark is a water park in Kusadasi, Turkey on the country's west coast. In the past it has been named one of the best water parks in the world. The park has a wide variety of water slides including a head first slide, a freefall slide, loop slides, body slides, tube slides, speedy slides, slope slides, dark tunnel slides, and the world's longest family slide with tubes for two to six people. There's also a big fountain with water shooting out of the ground set to music in an area called Rain Dance where you can dance and enjoy the water. The water park has an elliptical shaped track for rafting and is the only place in Kusadasi where you can go rafting.
Adaland Aquapark also has a jacuzzi with warm bubbly water, a lazy river, a wave pool, and a pool for children. There's an activity pool where you can go swimming or sunbathing. When you're ready to take a break, there are several restaurants and bars offering hamburgers, pizza, Turkish food, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages and more.
The ruins of the ancient city of Ephasus are located in Selcuk, Turkey. The city was a major port city in its time, but the port has since silted over and the shoreline is quite a distance away. One of the important sections of the ruins are the Ephesus Terrace Houses, which are on a hill across from the Hadrian Temple. There are six units on three terraces, the oldest dating back to the 1st century BC. It was used as a residence until the 7th century AD.
Two of the houses are now open as a museum, and they give visitors a glimpse at what family life might have been like during the Roman Period. The houses contained mosaics on the floors and frescoes on the walls, which are now protected. They had central interior courtyards, and although most of the houses were two stories tall, the second levels have collapsed over time.
More Things to Do in Izmir
On a hill with a strategic view of the Gulf of Izmir, the co-called Velvet Castle was built in the 4th century BC under Alexander the Great. Remnants of successive occupants, including Byzantines, Seljuks, and Ottomans, may be found though not much remains of the fortified castle, except for towering ramparts, ruins of a 14th-century mosque—and the wonderful vista.
The Temple of Hadrian at Ephesus is one of the highlights of the ruins of Ephesus in Turkey. It was built around 118 AD and is actually more of a monument to Hadrian, Artemis, and the people of Ephesus. Hadrian's temple is small, but there is a beautiful arch on the outside, a porch, and a small main hall. The porch is supported by pillars and Corinthian columns. A statue of Hadrian once stood on a podium in the temple, but it has been lost. On the front of the porch are bases with the names of Galerius, Maximianus, Diocletianus, and Constantius Chlorus inscribed on them, indicating that the bases might have once held statues of these emperors.
Panel reliefs on the inside depict Medusa warding off the bad spirits, the mythological foundation of Ephesus, and various religious scenes. The reliefs seen today are plaster replicas, while the originals are protected in the Ephesus Museum.
The Izmir Archaeology Museum (İzmir Arkeoloji Müzesi) is located next to the Ethnography Museum, not far from the city’s Konak Square. It was first opened to the public in 1927, but found its place in its current location in 1984. Many of the museum’s rich and varied artifacts derive from the Bronze Age, or from the Greek and Roman periods.
This vast archaeological museum features various exhibition halls arranged across different floors, including laboratories, libraries, and conference halls, covering an area of some 5000 square meters.
It’s estimated that there are approximately 1500 artifacts on display here, with items from the ancient city of Smyrna, as well as from a number of other ancient sites in the area, including Ephesus, Pergamon, Miletus, Aphrodisias, and Iasos.
A visit to St. John’s Basilica allows a glimpse into the history of this ancient site, built by Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the sixth century. It is believed that the church sits on the burial grounds of John the Apostle and was designed in the shape of a cross. At its completion, it was covered by six domes, with many of the walls presumably once covered in frescoes.
As nearby Ephesus began to lose significance, the Basilica of St. John was converted into a mosque, hit by an earthquake and completely destroyed by a Mongol army in 1402. All that remains today are various bricks and stones alongside the marble columns that once held up the structure, but recent restoration gives visitors the context to visualize and understand its former status and significance.
Many combine their visit with a walk to the nearby Ayasuluk Fortress atop Ayasuluk Hill, where St. John is said to have written his gospel. A climb up offers great views of the surrounding area.
The Library of Celsus is the most famous part of the ruins of Ephesus in Turkey. It was built between 110 and 135 AD by Gaius Julius Aquila in honor of his father, Celsus Polemaeanus. Unfortunately his father died before the Celsus Library was completed, and his tomb was placed in a special room beneath the ground level of the building. A statue of Athena was placed at the entrance to the tomb because Athena was the goddess of wisdom.
The Library of Celsus was two stories high and had three entrances in the front. The entrances were designed with exaggerated height in order to give the building the overall appearance of being bigger than it was. The building faces east which allowed plenty of morning light to shine into the reading rooms. The Celsus Library was once the third largest library in the ancient world, after Alexandra and Pergamum, and could hold more than 12,000 scrolls.
Şirince, a small village of just 600 inhabitants, has a long history that is intrinsically linked to Ephesus; indeed, rumor has it that it was founded by freed Greek slaves who named it “ugly” in Turkish to deter others from following them after the fall of Ephesus. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the name was changed to Şirince, which means ‘pleasant.’ Nowadays the mountainous village is mainly known for its many preserved whitewashed stucco homes, bucolic and lush setting, as well as its fruit-based wineries and olive groves. The Church of St John the Baptist, although neglected by Turkish authorities, still houses fantastic Byzantine frescoes. Most tourists tend to visit for one day as part of excursions to nearby Selçuk, but there’s a handful of guesthouses and cafés for overnight guests as well. Visitors should be aware that Sirince gets very crowded on the weekend.
Konak Square (Konak Meydanı) is in the center of Izmir, marked by its iconic clock tower that serves as a common meeting point for travelers and locals alike.
Since being built in 1901, the Izmir Clock Tower has become a symbol of the city. It stands in front of the Izmir governor’s official residence (konak) from which the governor oversees the province. Between the tower and the konak sits a small mosque, surrounded by the city hall and bus station. The eastern end of the square, when facing the water, is marked by Konak Pier, from where visitors can hop a ferry for a view of the coast and Izmir from the water.
Walking around Konak Square, the sights and sounds of nearby bustling cafes, restaurants and shops are hard to miss. The palm trees and waterfront give the area a distinctly Mediterranean feel, and from the center of the square, the shops and religious sites of Kermeralti Grand Bazaar are just a few steps away.
The ruins of the ancient Roman city of Ephasus are located in Selcuk, Turkey. The city was the second most important city in the Roman empire during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. One of the popular sections of the ruins is the Public Latrine, next to the Hadrian Temple and the Bordello. The public latrines were the city's public toilets, and they were built in the 1st century AD as part of the Scholastica Baths. These baths were built to provide the city with the modern conveniences of public works, including 36 marble toilets.
Visitors can still see, but not use, the toilets that are lined up along the walls. There was an uncovered pool with columns surrounding it which supported a wooden ceiling. Underneath the latrines was a drainage system. There was also a trough with relatively clean water near where your feet would be. People who wanted to use the toilets had to pay an entrance fee.
Built in 1625, St. Polycarp Church is the oldest Christian house of worship in Izmir. Dedicated to St. Polycarp, who had been converted by John the Apostle and martyred by the Romans, the barrelled-shaped church features colorful murals, remarkably restored by a Frenchman who infamously inserted his likeness.
One of the greatest ancient Roman cities was Ephesus, and its ruins are located in Selcuk, Turkey. It is one of the most popular sites to visit in Turkey. Near the ancient Agora, visitors can see the remains of the Temple of Domitian and Domitian Square. The Temple of Domitian, formally known as the Temple of the Sebastoi, was built in honor of Emperor Domitian's family, and it is the first structure here known to be dedicated to an emperor. Though not much remains of the temple today, archaeologists have learned much about its structure.
Visitors can see the remaining foundation of the temple and imagine what it might have once looked like. It was approximately 165 feet by 330 feet and sat on vaulted foundations. The northern end was two stories tall and was accessed by stairs, which can still be seen today. There were also several columns on each side of the temple. Reliefs from some of the columns can still be seen here as well.
Izmir Ethnography Museum illustrates the history of how common people have lived in Izmir, through their daily arts, crafts, and customs. Interesting artifacts include weaponry, pottery, clothing, manuscripts, pottery, photographs, and a nice collection of Bergama and Gordes carpets. Displays and dioramas showcase various activities and pastimes such as glassblowing, blue bead and felt production, and camel wrestling.
The Baths of Varius was a bathhouse built in the 2nd century AD in Ephesus in present-day Turkey. The north and east walls of the original building were carved from natural outcroppings of rock. Several renovations over a few centuries gave the building a unique look, including the addition of a hallway that was 130 feet long and covered in mosaics from the 5th century. The baths covered a large area and had several different rooms, including separate rooms for cold, warm, and hot water. There were also private rooms for a few wealthy citizens of Ephesus. It is believed one section functioned as a gymnasium.
The Romans place a high value on personal cleanliness, so the Baths of Varius would have been an important building in ancient Ephesus. Most but not all sections of the baths have been excavated, and no restoration work has been done yet. Some sections are in decent shape, but it might take some creativity to imagine what other sections once looked like.
Running from east of Izmir to Turkey’s western Anatolian Plateau, the Boz Mountains (Bozdag) are one of the country’s most beautiful mountain ranges. Centered on the mountain town of Bozdag and capped with snow from December to March, the mountains are a year-round paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.
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