A Short Visit to Seaside Izmir

Apartments on Ataturk Street, facing the promenade called Kordonboyu and the Gulf of Izmir.

IZMIR, Turkey — My short visit to Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city, began brilliantly, with a tasty and relaxing lunch in the courtyard of a restaurant located within sight of the Aegean Sea.

The city has a spectacular location on Turkey’s west coast, sitting at the head the Bay of Izmir, a finger of the Aegean.

Entry to an open-air restaurant in Izmir that part of a group of Turkish restaurants called Meshur Tavaci Recep Usta.

I was with a small group of journalists on a cruise, which made calls at Greek and Turkish ports.

At Izmir (known as Smyrna until after World War I), we could have walked from the ship to our restaurant, but we rode over to save time.

The eatery, part of a group of Turkish restaurants called Meshur Tavaci Recep Usta, is located on Ataturk Street, which follows the arc of the Bay of Izmir.

On Ataturk, palm trees front a long line of buildings, most of them around eight stories high and studded with balconies. A seaside promenade and park area, called Kordonboyu, is across the street.

The setting has the feel of a resort (and the city is a resort destination), but our guide said most of the waterfront buildings where we were are apartments, consulates and some businesses, but few are hotels.

The businesses include restaurants, many with outdoor seating on Ataturk’s exceptionally wide sidewalk.

However, at our lunch site, outdoor meals are served in a courtyard off the sidewalk between a couple of 19th century houses. Our bus driver used the oversized sidewalk as his private parking lot.

After lunch, which was distinguished by a series of lamb dishes followed by baklava to die for, we headed to the Agora of

Smyrna, a Greco-Roman marketplace that is now an open-air museum.

View of columns in the ancient Agora of Smyrna, with modern Izmir buildings seen in the background.

There had been a Greek marketplace at the site dating from the fourth century B.C., but it was destroyed in an earthquake in 178 A.D. and rebuilt by the Romans.

Not a lot remains nowadays, in part because of later earthquakes in this quake-prone part of the world. We could see Corinthian columns, vaulted chambers below street level and a reconstructed arch — and a lot of open space bordered by modern city buildings. It requires a fair amount of imagination to get a handle on this place.

An archway seen in the historic Agora of Smyrna.

We could see remains of a hilltop fortress on ancient Mount Pagos (now called Kadifekale), also constructed in the fourth century B.C., but reworked over the centuries by the Byzantines and Ottomans.

Relatively new houses and apartment buildings cover much of the mountainside between the fortress and the agora. Printed materials distributed to passengers on our ship (Louis Cruises’ Louis Cristal) said “serious consideration” is being given to excavating the Smyrna theater, which is buried under those houses.

If the project is undertaken, an exposed ancient theater on the slope would produce a more dramatic and compelling scene.

We made one further stop — at the Ahmet Piristina City Archive and Museum — before heading back to Ataturk Street and

The Ataturk Museum in Izmir, housed in the 19th century home of a carpet merchant.

the seaside promenade.

The museum had been a fire station, converted in 2004. It comprises three buildings, one for “stone artifacts,” one for pottery and a third for valuables, which includes some jewelry and other gold items.

Each unit is small with modest-sized collections, but they are nicely laid out and their treasures well displayed. The collection of stone artifacts includes a couple of huge sarcophagi and some big statues, also some mosaics.

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