Tour to Izmir 17 to 18 November 2011

The tour

Twelve members of H3A set off from Bodrum bus station on a Pamukkale regular bus service at 09:00, collecting two more at Guvercinlik.  The trip was organised by the academy’s vice president Semih Adıyaman who met us at Izmir bus station where we arrived promptly at 12:30.  From there we were taken by mini bus to the Forum shopping centre in Bornova where we had two hours free time.  From there we checked in to our hotel in the Alsancak area close to the sea.  Again there was free time for an early supper before making our way to the opera and ballet house ousHto see the Izmir State Opera and Ballet Company perform Don Quixote.

On Friday morning after breakfast we departed for the Jewish Quarter where we were met by Sara Pardo,a  passionate and knowledgeable speaker, who showed us three synagogues and gave us a very interesting talk about the Jews who originally came from Cordoba in Spain have being exiled during the time of the Spanish Inquisition and were invited by the Sultan to come to Turkey.  The Jewish population has dwindled as the young people leave Izmir.  Thus, there are a very few old rabbis left and no-one to take their place.  So the services are now led by cantors whose music is being recorded to preserve it.  For further information visit…Izmir.

Later we went to the Kemeralti shopping district followed by a splendid lunch at the Izmir Chamber of Commerce, a visit to the excavated agora and the local history museum before returning home on the bus.


Historical background

‘Izmir is vast.  It is Turkey’s third largest city, the second port (after Istanbul), with a population of over two million, and a harsh approach through long stretches of tough industrial dockland.  Little remains of the old city apart from an area of busy streets around the bazaar at Konak, yet this was the foremost Greek colony after Troy, originally built on the suburb of Bayraklı where people lived 3,000 years ago, and rebuilt as Smyrna by Alexander’s general, Lysimachus.  This meant that it came under the jurisdiction of Pergamom, benefiting equally when the district was ruled from Rome. 

‘The Romans were followed by the musical chairs:  Arabs, Seljuks and Crusaders.  When Tamerlane occupied the city in 1402 he destroyed most of it, but when the Ottomans succeeded in 1415 their tolerance brought a new prosperity.  The Greek population was joined by Jews escaping from persecution in Spain, and the treaty with France arranged by Süleyman the Magnificent turned Smyrna into an international commercial port, trading throughout Europe and acquiring some of the western veneer.  All nationalities and faiths were welcome.

‘This happy relationship endured for centuries until it was shattered after the First World War when the Greeks seized Smyrna as part of their reward for supporting the Allies, and even advanced on Ankara.  This was the crucial turning-point for the new Turkish leader, Kemal Atatürk, but his strength was shown again as his army forced the Greeks back to Smyrna where they were defeated in a battle on 9 September 1922 which left the population devastated and the old city in flames.  ‘This is the end of an era’ said Atatürk, and Smyrna was reborn under the Turkish name of Izmir.  This is why so little of the former city remains to be seen today.  It explains, also, those curious ghost cities further south where the Greek population was evacuated following the agreement ratified at the Lausanne Conference in 1922-3, when 1,300,000 Greeks (as against 40,000 Turks) were exchanged.’ 

Daniel Farson 1988

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