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Echoes of the Ottomans: Ephesus and Izmir

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Ephesus and Pamukkale were on the first draft of our Türkiye itinerary but were eventually sacrificed for a more focused circuit along the Aegean coast. It was difficult to forgo such fascinating places but I consoled myself with visions of an even more ambitious road trip through those locations and many others in the future. Forgoing our second day in Chios had now reopened our opportunity to see Ephesus on this trip although Pamukkale was still too much of a stretch. Ephesus was another easy exception to our rule against visiting archaeological sites as it contains some of the most famous Roman ruins outside of Italy. To reach Ephesus we drove through the modern town of Selçuk but had no reason to stop. There were two entrances to Ephesus and we drove to the Upper Entrance Gate even though it has the reputation of being the busiest. Kiosks packed with tourist goods lined the road outside the entrance. At least they were honest about what they were selling.

Ephesus was founded in the tenth century BC by Ionian Greeks but few remnants of Greek civilization remain. An exhibit just beyond the gates informed us of the legend of Androclos, the reputed founder of the city. Androclos sought guidance from the Oracle of Delphi who told him that a fish and a boar would show him the way. One day during his travels Androclos was frying a fish when a spark set a nearby bush aflame. A boar ran out of the burning bush and Androclos realized that the prophecy was telling him to build his city in this very spot. Almost a thousand years later Ephesus fell into the hands of the Romans who built the structures that comprise the present day ruins. Soon after passing through the entrance we found ourselves in the remains of the Agora, the main marketplace of the city.

The advantage of the upper entrance was that it allowed us to walk down the Street of the Curetes towards the most famous ruin of Ephesus, the Library of Celsus. The marble pavement of this avenue has been reconstructed to allow visitors to appreciate the former majesty of this important Roman city. The lines of fractured columns on either side conveyed the importance of this particular road and the library to the layout of the city. The facade of the library has likewise been beautifully reconstructed from rubble and represents an iconic image of Roman civilization. One can only wonder where the human race might be today had the Romans not fallen into decay and allowed themselves to be overrun by barbarians.

After spending some time soaking in the magnificence of the library facade we headed towards the Lower Entrance Gate. The remaining major ruin was the Great Theatre which could once accommodate twenty-five thousand spectators. We exited Ephesus less than an hour and a half after we had entered, a heretically short time for a site of such worldwide renown yet enough to absorb its major features.

We now had to get back to our car at the upper gate and chose the traditional form of transportation between the two gates, a horse-drawn carriage. Spenser was overjoyed when our driver let him ride up in the front and then dismayed when he realized this meant he had a front row seat to the horses' excretory activities. At one point we took a detour through an orchard and the driver picked us some peaches, explaining that these were his own trees. Providing carriage rides at Ephesus was just a side gig. I'm allergic to horse dander and I was starting to cough and feel quite uncomfortable when the ride mercifully came to an end. We piled back into our car and set a course for our apartment in Izmir.

Izmir is the third largest city in Türkiye which meant we had now visited three of the country's four largest cities in a week. Arriving by highway Izmir seemed like the most modern city we had seen yet because in Istanbul the skyscrapers are sparse and far from the center. Here they seemed to be everywhere. Dense conglomerations of apartment buildings crept up the hillsides that surrounded the city.

Our apartment was within walking distance of the central bazaar area so it wasn't surprising that there was no street parking to be found. There was a parking lot a block further down and the attendant had me park so close to the wall that Mei Ling had to clamber out the driver's side. Our host was a typically friendly and accommodating Turk with a three-legged cat called Tripod, which the kids found inordinately funny.

After dropping off our bags we set off immediately towards the bazaar. Once we had passed a roundabout with an interesting metal globe sculpture we found ourselves in a much older neighborhood with a lot of fruit vendors. Beautiful pears and plums in vivid colors were piled high on carts and displayed artistically in storefronts. This was Anafartalar Caddesi, one of Izmir's oldest and most famous shopping streets.

Close to the end of Anafartalar Caddesi we came to the an entrance to the ancient Agora of Smyrna. Izmir was founded as Smyrna around 340 BC by Alexander the Great, who conquered a small Persian hilltop city in the area and re-sited it on lower ground closer the shores of the Gulf of Izmir. Smyrna became an important international port and grew to surround the entire end of the gulf, currently extending several miles inland with a population of about three million. The city continued to be known as Smyrna into the early twentieth century until its name was officially changed to Izmir as part of Ataturk's policy of Turkification.

The Agora is a well-preserved archaeological site right in the center of Izmir's market area, somewhat reminiscent of the sites that remain scattered around the center of Rome. In fact the Agora is a Roman reconstruction of the original Greek agora that was destroyed in an earthquake, although I have no idea to what extent its builders were faithful to the original design. The city has made a decent effort to enhance the experience of visitors to the ruins, recently completing a boardwalk that facilitates a close approach to all the different sections of the Agora. Atop the hill that forms a backdrop to the ruins we could see the Kadifekale castle on the site of Smyrna's predecessor.

Continuing from the Agora towards the water we quickly found ourselves in the tumult of the Kemeraltı Bazaar. This was the most dynamic and authentic Turkish bazaar we had experienced on the trip. A limitless variety of goods were on display in alluring storefronts with eager merchants always ready to address a prospective customer. In the heart of the bazaar was the food street Havra Sokak which was crowded with shoppers stocking up on their fresh food supplies for the week. The butchers were particularly impressive here with mouthwatering tableaus of beef quarters and hunks of glistening viscera.

There were so many food options inside the bazaar that it was overwhelming. One common sight was the stalls which offered a choice of dozens of different freshly squeezed fruit juices. There was always one more that we had never tried. After some time we came across a small square with a cluster of seafood restaurants that were irresistible. We got a mixed grill of seafood which we supplemented with mussels from the midye dolma guy next to the restaurant.

Eventually we spilled out of the bazaar into the harborside area. Konak Meydanı was a wide open square dominated by an ornate marble clock tower. The octagonal tower was built in 1901 to commemorate twenty-five years of rule by the sultan of the time and was decorated with symbols of the Ottoman Empire. These engravings had to be redone after the declaration of the Turkish Republic just twenty years later. An old man was selling packages of bird seed and some children were feeding the birds while others chased them.

On the other side of a sunken highway from Konak Meydanı is Izmir's seaside promenade, known as Kordon. The atmosphere reminded me a lot of the promenade in Üsküdar, Istanbul although without the dancers and street performers. The section closest to the water was paved with flagstones that gave it the incongruous appearance of desiccated earth. Adding to the illusion of a parched landscape was a metal sculpture of a ship's skeleton that kids were using as a play structure. Mei Ling and I gazed out at the silhouettes of cargo ships motionless in the sunset while the kids fought for dominance on the ribs of the ship.

We made sure that our route back to the apartment took us through Kemeraltı Bazaar again. Most of the stores had closed with the setting sun and just a few blocks with restaurants and cafes maintained the area's former vitality.

In the morning there was a sour smell in the hallway and dirt scattered on the floor. Tripod had defecated in one of the potted plants and buried it, perhaps in feline protest against an unjust world that had deprived him of a leg. I interrupted our host's cleaning activities to enlist his assistance in reserving a ferry for Bozcaada that evening. This time we would be taking our car and I didn't feel confident that there would be tickets available at the terminal. I had found the website and translated the instructions into English but I was hung up on the mandatory requirement for a Turkish ID. Our host peered at my phone and shrugged, entered his own ID, and handed it back to me. Problem solved. Yet another example of Turkish people going an extra mile to help a foreigner. We loaded up our bags but we weren't done with Izmir yet. Our first stop was the Asansör, an outdoor elevator that was constructed in the early twentieth century to make life easier for the people living and working at the top of the steep hill close to the shoreline of the Karataş neighborhood south of the city center. Karataş has historically been one of the primary areas where Jews lived in Izmir, such as the singer and artist Darío Moreno. One might wonder how a Turkish Jew came to have an Italian name and the reason is that it was a stage name. Moreno was born David Arugete in a family of Italian Jewish origin and became known as an accomplished singer in multiple languages. Moreno tragically died at the age of forty-seven from a heart attack brought on by a heated argument about a missed plane flight. His former home in Izmir houses a small museum dedicated to his accomplishments and a colorful mural of his face adorns a cafe on the same street.

The Asansör was a beautiful tower with a lower level of white masonry and upper levels of red brick. The elevator whisked us up quickly to a platform which provided sweeping views over the ground level apartment buildings and the gulf beyond. The hill continued to ascend behind the platform and we climbed a few staircases to get a sense of the neighborhood. Aside from a couple of souvenir shops and local artisans there wasn't much worth exploring.

We weren't going to leave Izmir without another walk through Kemeraltı Bazaar. We drove through some unnervingly narrow streets to get to a parking lot within close walking distance of the shops. If anything the bazaar was busier in the morning than it had been the previous afternoon. We made sure to savor all the vivid colors and smells around us knowing that this would probably be the best market of the trip.

By now Mei Ling was totally addicted to kokoreç, the spit-grilled lamb intestine served with spices as a sandwich. The owner of the restaurant that was serving us found us interesting and we had a long conversation with him about our experiences in Türkiye. Afterwards we found a place we could sit down and have some dishes made with ground meat and vegetables. Mei Ling dispatched me to another cafe to buy the fresh-brewed Turkish coffee she had come to love. The only downside was that no one was serving beer since there was a mosque in the center of the market.

Kemeraltı had several hans tucked away within the labyrinthine streets and we decided to duck into one to compare it with Koza Han in Bursa. This han was clearly a modern renovation that seemed like a pleasant place to grab a coffee but lacked any historic atmosphere. This would be our final experience in Izmir. We returned to the car and commenced the long drive north to the Bozcaada ferry.

Posted by zzlangerhans 18:50 Archived in Turkey Tagged road_trip family family_travel travel_blog tony_friedman family_travel_blog asansor kemeraltı_bazaar

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