The grand port city of İzmir, the third largest in Turkey, is a proudly liberal, long-time centre of commerce that has emerged as a smart alternative base for travel in the west of the country. Formerly the Greek city of Smyrna, İzmir lives by its seafront kordon (promenade), which, especially around leafy Alsancak, is as fetching and lively as any in the world.
With its Levantine, Greek, Armenian and Jewish heritage, İzmir is quite distinct from the rest of Turkey; indeed, its fellow countrymen sometimes still regard İzmiris with a degree of suspicion and that’s nothing new: the Ottomans referred to the city as Gavur İzmir (Infidel Smyrna). Even today İzmir retains its liberal, laid-back feel. During Ramazan, when some bars in İstanbul and elsewhere close, it’s business as usual in the countless watering holes on the balmy kordon.
İzmir is also developing a reputation for its cultural and civic foresight. The International Arts Festival in June and July is adventurous and vast, while a number of decrepit industrial bulidings have found new life as communal and creative spaces.Although it has a dramatic setting around a bay backed by mountains, most of İzmir is modern, which makes it a hard city in which to fall in love at first sight. Give it a chance and you may find Turkey’s third-largest city growing on you.
İzmir owes a huge debt to the late, much-lamented mayor, Ahmet Piriştina, who saved it from potentially disastrous plans to run a motorway along the seafront and gave large parts of the centre back to the locals by overseeing pedestrianisation schemes. Nowadays the sea-facing Kordon is a great place for jogging, cycling, walking the dog and just plain lounging about, while the northern district of Alsancak is being steadily restored, its lovely old houses reminiscent of the Greek island of Chios, metamorphosing into inviting restaurants and bars.
With a day to spare, you can take in the few antiquities and museums, loiter in cafés along the waterfront, and enjoy the sweeping views from Kadifekale castle. The labyrinthine bazaar also remains a colourful area to get lost in.
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