Day Tripping İzmir
Lets face it — İzmir, right in the middle of Turkeys Aegean coast, is one hell of a big city. So if youre heading from north to south or vice versa youre going to have to decide what to do about it — factor in the time for a visit or give it a wide berth?
Personally, I think that its worth spending a few days in İzmir now that the Metro system makes getting about town so much easier than it used to be. Thats not only because İzmir itself has plenty of pleasant areas to explore if you allow enough time to get to grips with it but also because it makes a good base for exploring quite a lot of small towns, archaeological sites and resorts nearby, most of the onward transportation to the surrounding areas leaving from the upper floor of the same bus station that will have delivered you to İzmir. Which raises another interesting possibility — if you dont actually want to stay in a big city you could easily opt to overnight in one of these neighboring places and just hop in and out of İzmir Otogar to get to the others.
The Metro was recently extended to Üçkuyular, site of İzmirs second bus station serving Çeşme, Seferihisar and the Karaburun Peninsula. But lets start off by taking a look at some of the places you can reach from the main otogar.
One of my very favorite small towns has to be Tire, not so long ago an almost forgotten backwater known, if it was known at all, for its big Tuesday street market. Slowly but surely that is starting to change as the local authority wises up to what a treasure it has in its hands, as typified by the recent opening of a pleasing new Kent Müzesi (City Museum) with lots of information on the old handicrafts that are still being practised in the old part of town. The interviews with some of the workers — helpfully translated into English — make somewhat sobering reading. With the sole exception of the one with Arif Con, feltmaker extraordinaire, they tell a sad story of trades dying a death with no one to carry them on once the current practitioners are done.
After reading them, its well worth making a beeline for Cons shop, a buzzing hive of colorful activity where the old and somewhat tired art of feltmaking has been given a completely modern makeover. Out have gone the heavy, square-shouldered coats once made for shepherds. In have come gossamer-fine shawls it would be hard to believe had been made from felt if youd not seen the work in progress in the shop.
Tire is a place of small pleasures, with a myriad minor mosques, medreses and other monuments dating back to the Beylik period between the Selçuk supremacy and the Ottoman conquest. Some of the old Ottoman housing stock is also being spruced up, most conspicuously in the case of the Gülcüoğlu Konakları (tel: 0232-511 0614), which now serve as a very popular hotel (book ahead midweek). If you cant get in, no matter, because the high-rise Tirem Hotel (tel: 0232-511 0200) right beside the bus stop for İzmir has been given a colorful new look that makes it a decent alternative.
If Tire falls below most peoples radars, Bayındır is even less well known despite having a similar mix of attractions. Here, too, the authorities are belatedly waking up to what they have to offer and the old Tekel building was recently converted into another Kent Müzesi, albeit this time with no English translations. Come here to find out about the Efes, the local braves whose bloodthirsty exploits somewhat belie their showy costumes. Here, too, youll see photographs of local women wearing the siyah çizgi, a black shawl and headscarf combination with a white pattern around its edge. At the Friday market youll still see older women wearing it but within a generation it will be gone.
Bayındırs main claim to fame is that it lies at the heart of Turkeys flower-growing region. Every year at the end of April/start of May theres a lively flower festival to coincide with the time when the surrounding fields are full of vibrant color for kilometer after kilometer. Its a sight well worth seeing, especially now that the old local government building has been converted into the inviting Suotel (tel: 0232-581 5966).
Ödemiş and Birgi
The strange thing about the siyah çizgi is that although youll be able to see women wearing it in Bayındır you wont be to buy one there. Instead to buy one youll have to head for nearby Ödemiş whose Saturday market is almost a match for Tires Tuesday one, thrusting out tentacles into all the back streets in the center of town. Here, too, theres a fine Kent Müzesi. Its only labeled in Turkish but it wont take much imagination to realize that this was once an area known for its tobacco industry, with entire walls of houses hung with drying leaves in season.
The main reason to come to Ödemiş, however, will be to hop the bus to pretty little Birgi, surely one of Turkeys most delightful villages and where the environmental organization ÇEKÜL has done excellent work in encouraging sensitive signposting and discouraging concrete blight. Birgi is home to the finest Ottoman house open to the public in Turkey. The Çakırağa Konağı is an absolute delight, its front consisting of three floors of open verandahs that give it the strange appearance of a childs toy theater. Nor is that the only gem on offer here. The Ulu Cami is also worth going out of your way to see. Like the minor mosques of Tire, it, too, is a monument to the Beylik period with fine woodwork surviving and odd pieces of Roman masonry reused in the walls.
A stay at the Birgi Çınaraltı Pansiyon (tel: 0537-927 4217) is always a peaceful delight but Ödemiş also rises to a couple of decent options, including the Otel Güven (tel: 0232-509 0909).
Its proximity to İzmir means that people sometimes omit to visit Manisa, a town with an interesting history as one of the places where the early Ottoman princes were sent to learn statecraft. The palace in which they lived has vanished without trace but their presence in the town explains why theres a mosque by Sinan, the Muradiye Cami, in such a seemingly out of the way place.
The Sinan mosque is delightful, its rich tiled interior standing in stark contrast to the towns other splendid mosque, the more austere Ulu Cami, erected in the Beylik period and making copious use of marble columns and capitals filched from an older Roman building.
Manisa Museum should be a winner since it houses the finds from nearby Sardis. Unfortunately it has been closed for restoration for years. Instead you should consider whether you couldnt plan a trip to coincide with the end of March when the town bursts into celebration for the Manisa Mesir Festival, a centuries old commemoration of the day when a local man, Merkez Efendi, succeeded where other doctors had failed and cured Sultan Süleyman the Magnificents mother, Hafza Sultan, of debilitating illness with a mixture of 41 ingredients that are now ritually tossed to the waiting crowds from the roof of the Sultan Cami medrese by Ottoman costumed figures. Its a fun day out for all the family.
Manisa Museum may fail to deliver but the nearby archaeological site of Sardis, up the road at Sart, near Salihli, more than makes up for the disappointment. The main site showcases the splendid mosaic pavements of what must have been one of the largest synagogues in ancient Asia Minor, with right beside it, the reconstructed Court of the Hall of the Imperial Cult providing a slight echo of the Library of Celsus at Ephesus.
Up the road and easy to overlook are the romantic ruins of one of the largest temples in the ancient world, dedicated to Artemis and picturesquely set against a mountain backdrop. Theres an almost intact Byzantine church hunkered down amid the columns. (to be continued)