Day Tripping İzmir: II
If youre heading north or south along Turkeys Aegean coast, theres no way that you can avoid having to transit İzmir without a lengthy diversion. But fear not — the city may be huge, but its also increasingly attractive as a tourist destination if you allow yourself enough time to get to grips with it. Whats more, it makes a great base for day tripping out to some of the many attractive archeological sites, towns and resorts in the vicinity.
Last week I suggested a number of places to visit that lie inland from İzmir, towns such as Tire, Bayındır and Ödemiş that are far more inviting than their low touristic profile might suggest. But most visitors will probably be keener to visit places that are by the sea or feature dramatic archeological remains.
Of course the single most important place that can be visited on a day trip from İzmir is Ephesus, the sprawling Roman settlement that is the main target of the cruise passengers who pour ashore here throughout the summer. But for my money Ephesus is better visited from smaller Selçuk, the medieval-to-modern town that grew up nearby, or from the cruise port-cum-holiday resort of Kuşadası, both places readily accessible from İzmir.
Bergama, however, is a place that you might easily choose to visit from İzmir since, unlike Selçuk and Kuşadası, it has a relatively small and unexciting choice of places in which to stay. Until recently, Bergama has always seemed a surprisingly under-visited town given the high quality of its historic attractions. This year, however, it was elevated to world heritage site status ahead of Ephesus and the authorities have been working hard to make it more inviting to visitors. In particular, the installation of a cable-car to get people up to the Acropolis has made Bergama a much more manageable town to get around than it used to be. Restoration work is also currently under way at the Kızıl Avlu (Red Basilica). Some may squirm at its brash new appearance, but the end result may be to turn what was very much an also-ran attraction into something far more interesting.
Bergama has three main points of interest: the Acropolis, which was once home to the incredible Altar of Zeus that now graces the Pergamum Museum in Berlin; the Asclepeion, which was once an ancient medical center; and the Bergama Museum, which houses some of the finds from the ancient spa center of Allianoi, lost beneath the waters of the Yortanlı Barajı (Dam) in 2011. The main sites aside, the older part of town is also well worth an hour or so of your time. Its the sort of place where youll come across a café where old men play backgammon in the sun seemingly oblivious of the fact that the tarpaulin above their heads is supported on columns removed from a lost Roman building. You may also stumble upon the old abandoned synagogue that was recently renovated. Even the Kurtuluş Cami is a find since the modern mosque is housed inside a medieval tower right beside the Kızıl Avlu.
Eski and Yeni Foça
Bergama may have the ruins, but it certainly doesnt have the sea. If thats what youre after, you may prefer to head north instead to the two Foças, once important Genoese trading centers and now flourishing seaside resorts. The larger of the two is Eski (Old) Foça, which mainly straddles the headland between two harbors. Here the remains of the Genoese castle are being slowly and lovingly restored while a number of small boutique hotels have opened both behind it and around the smaller of the two harbors. As yet, though, there isnt really enough accommodation to cater for the mid-summer rush, which is one good reason for visiting on a day trip from İzmir.
Yeni (New) Foça is easily accessible by bus from Eski Foça, although there are also direct buses from İzmir. Somewhat surprisingly, its Yeni Foça that retains more of its historic character with street after street of attractive Ottoman Greek houses running back from the small strip of sand that is its main drawcard. There are no specific attractions here, although for those who grow weary from the concrete that encases most Turkish towns this is a wonderfully relaxing and inspirational small town. You might even find yourself standing in front of the Griffin Boutique Hotel (tel: 0232-814 7777), housed in a redundant winery, and wishing that you hadnt booked that bus ticket back to İzmir.
Dikili and Çandarlı
North of the Foças is another small seaside resort that finds more favor with Turks than foreigners and that is Dikili, a pleasantly sleepy place that only really comes to life during the school summer holiday period. Theres nothing specific to draw you up here if history is your thing. However, just to the south Çandarlı is home to one of the finest castles surviving from the period when the Genoese had planted trading colonies round much of the Turkish coast. Despite recent claims that it would be opening to the public, the castle remained as firmly garrisoned against visitors as ever on my most recent visit.
History lovers might also like to hop on the bus (or the train) to Torbalı, south of İzmir, where the ruins of the ancient settlement of Metropolis survive on the outskirts. While by no means as impressive as the ruins at Bergama, those at Metropolis are nonetheless interesting, with the remains of a theater, a bathhouse and a communal latrine. Theres also a fine mosaic floor that the caretaker may be persuaded to soak for you so that you will be able to see how the colors would originally have glistened.
Akhisar and Alaşehir
For those with an interest in biblical history, İzmir, as Smyrna, was one of the Seven Churches mentioned by St. John of Patmos in the Book of Revelation. Today the ruins of Smyrna are more accessible than they used to be thanks to a handy new Metro station at Bayraklı. Sardis, too, is readily accessible by bus from İzmir. Far fewer people realize that two more of the “churches” (actually settlements) also lie in İzmirs backyard.
Akhisar was once Thyateira, although it has little to show for the fact beyond the ruins of a building with an apse whose use remains unclear and traces of a porticoed street. Alaşehir was the original Philadelphia (City of Brotherly Love). Here at least there are remains of a church, and one that was obviously of monumental size to judge from the surviving arches that must once have supported a central dome. Doesnt seem worth going so far just for that? Well, a lengthy stretch of the old city wall also survives here and you can have fun tracking its path as it wends its way through the houses and car parks near where the bus from İzmir drops you off.
Akhisar and Alaşehir are sites of relatively minor interest except to specialists. Ditto Kemalpaşa, one of the easiest places to get to from İzmir with minibuses departing every 20 minutes from the otogar. Kemalpaşa was the ancient Nif, a fact it seems to have been determined to forget in the rush to modernity. Just one major monument survives from the period that would be well worth going out of your way to visit were it not for the fact that it is currently hidden behind scaffolding. This monument was the Laskarisler Sarayı (palace, also known locally as Kız Kulesi, the Maidens Tower), the summer home of the Byzantine emperors living in exile in Nicaea (İznik) after the Crusaders drove them out of Constantinople (İstanbul) in 1204. The emperor responsible for its construction was actually buried in its grounds.
The scaffolding is due to come down any day soon according to the sign. Once that happens expect to see a newly restored building vaguely reminiscent of the better known Tekfur Sarayı in İstanbul.