Sights & Attractions in The Central and Southern Aegean Coast

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The Central and Southern Aegean Coast Sights

Turkey's third-largest city, with a population of 2 million, İzmir was called Smyrna until 1923. A vital trading port, though one often ravaged by wars and earthquakes, it also had its share of glory. Many believe that Homer was born in Old Smyrna sometime around 850 BC. Alexander the Great favored this city with a citadel atop its highest hill.

İzmir fell into assorted hands after the Romans, starting with the Byzantines and Arabs. From 1097 on, it was a battlefield in the Crusades, passing back and forth between Muslims and Christians. Destroyed and restored successively by Byzantines and Seljuks, Smyrna was held by the Knights of Rhodes in 1402 when the Mongol raider Tamerlane came along, sacked it yet again, and slaughtered its inhabitants. Thirteen years later Sultan Mehmet I Çelebi incorporated it into the Ottoman Empire.

Toward the end of the 15th century, Jews driven from Spain settled in Smyrna, forming a lasting Sephardic community. By the 18th and 19th centuries Smyrna had become a successful, sophisticated commercial port with an international flavor. Its business community included a sizable number of Jews, Italians, Greeks, Armenians, British, and French. This era came to an end with World War I, when Ottoman Turkey allied itself with Germany. In 1918 the Greek army, encouraged by the British and French, landed at the harbor and claimed the city. The occupation lasted until 1922, when Turkish troops under Atatürk defeated the Greek forces and forced them to evacuate. On September 9, 1922, Atatürk made a triumphant entry into the port. The joy of the local Turks was short-lived; a fire shortly thereafter blazed through the city. Fanned by the wind, it burned wooden houses like matches while hidden stores of munitions exploded.

The city was quickly rebuilt—and given the Turkish name İzmir. Like the name, much of the city dates from the '20s, from its wide boulevards to the office buildings and apartment houses painted in bright white or soft pastels. This important industrial center is not particularly pretty, though it has a harbor-front promenade and peaceful green Kültür Parkı at its center.

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