World cultural heritage will grow along with the wonders of Izmir
The cultural, historical and natural assets of the western province of Izmir in Turkey make the city one of Turkey’s must-see destinations. The jewel of the Aegean Sea has two magnificent ancient cities on the UNESCO World Heritage List: Pergamon and Ephesus.
After Ephesus and Pergamon, different institutions in the city are working together to register four additional new sites in the city and make Izmir one of the cities with the most UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world. Four new areas that were previously on the Tentative List and expected to be on the World Heritage List are the Genoese Trade Route – which includes the Çandarlı, Çeşme and Foça castles, the historic port city of Izmir, the historic area of Birgi and Gediz Delta. Let’s explore the pearls of the city that contribute to the world cultural heritage with their history and nature.
On the World Heritage List
The ancient city of Ephesus in its heyday was a pioneer in the fields of philosophy, science, culture and art. Located in the Selçuk district of Izmir, the ruins of Ephesus are surrounded by four other important historical sites – the House of the Virgin Mary, Ayasuluk Hill, St. John’s Basilica, and Çukuriçi Höyük. The ancient settlement, one of the most important centers of the ancient period, was continuously inhabited for about 9000 years, starting from the prehistoric period and continuing through the Hellenistic, Roman, Eastern Roman, Beylikler (Principalities) and Ottoman. It was a very important port city and a cultural and commercial center at all stages of its history. Ephesus, home to symbols that highlight the upper urbanization and religious history of the Hellenistic and Roman periods, has some of the most notable architectural and town-planning examples from different periods. The Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, is also located in Ephesus. Another impressive structure in the ancient world is the Library of Celsus.
The other Izmir site on the UNESCO World Heritage List, Pergamon, was the administrative center of the Pergamon Kingdom. The ancient settlement, located just north of the modern city of Bergamo, was founded in the 3rd century BC as the capital of the Attalids. It has become an important educational center with its library, the second largest in the ancient world.
The Temple of Serapis, which is one of the greatest ancient artifacts of old Pergamon, is the closest ancient site to the entrance to Pergamon. The highlight of the site is the Acropolis, which is divided into the Upper Acropolis and the Lower Acropolis. The Acropolis is home to a huge theater, which is the steepest of all ancient theaters. The Pergamon Library, the Temple of Dionysus, the Sanctuary of Athena and Troy are ancient remains of the Upper Acropolis. The Lower Acropolis includes a three-level gymnasium, the Temple of Demeter and the House of Attalus.
Pergamon also attracts attention with its Asklepion. Asklepion is a renowned former medical center and is known as the world’s first mental hospital. The figure of the snake which is the symbol of medicine and pharmacy was born in this place and spread throughout the world.
Historic port city
The historic port city of Izmir on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List includes the districts of Kemeraltı, Kadifekale and Basmane. It is defined as a multi-level open-air museum that contains traces of the Hellenistic period, ancient Rome, Byzantines, Ottomans, and modern Turkey.
The district is home to important symbols of Izmir such as Konak Square, Clock Tower and Kemeraltı Bazaar. Konak Square is a place where visitors can learn the history of Ottoman modernization by observing the 19th century bureaucratic structuring in the region. Izmir Governorate, Izmir Metropolitan Municipality City Hall and Yalı Mosque occupy the square.
The four-storey, octagonal clock tower also adorns Konak Square. While built to mark the 25th anniversary of the enthronement of Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II, the tower clock was donated by German Emperor Wilhelm II, who sent such timely gifts to many cities from Anatolia.
Kemeraltı Bazaar, known as one of the largest and oldest outdoor shopping malls in the world, has a very colorful cultural structure with its mosques, churches and synagogues. The Agora of Smyrna, dating from the Hellenistic period, lies east of Kemeraltı on the outskirts of Mount Pagos, where the citadel currently known as Kadifekale is located.
Stone houses in the palm trees of nature
The historic town of Birgi, which stretches among lush palm trees, has retained its traditional and cultural architecture over the years. It is believed to be a residential area since 750 BC.
The impact of all these civilizations that the city has welcomed on its fertile lands is reflected in the architecture of the tombs, mosques, fountains, baths and libraries of the place. The houses built with natural stones and wood are the highlights of the city. One of the important architectural works of the city is, for example, the Great Mosque of Birgi. The mosque, with its rich woodwork and decorative tiles, was completed in 1312 by order of Mehmed Bey, the founder of the Aydınoğlu Sultanate.
The city has become in recent years an authentic setting for many television and film productions with its fascinating architecture, historic atmosphere and haunting nature.
Three castles: Foça, Çandarlı and Çeşme
The castles of Çandarlı, Çeşme and Foça are located on the Genoese trade route from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. While Foça and Çandarlı Castles were inscribed on the UNESCO Temporary List in 2013, Çeşme Castle was added to the list in 2020. Çandarlı Castle, located on the Izmir-Bergama Highway, still stands today in all its splendor. Çandarlı’s old name was Pitane after the queen of the Amazons. The construction of the castle in its current plan was carried out by them in the 14th century AD. The Genoese were able to increase their influence thanks to Çandarlı Castle, which then served as a safe trading port. The castle has a rectangular shape and is well preserved today with its five towers, gutters, gates and walls.
The castle of Foça is one of the important historical structures of the district. The Genoese took the castle, which was built in the 11th century, from the Eastern Roman Emperor Michael Paleologus and then repaired it. When Foça was captured by the Ottomans in 1455, the castle walls were repaired and towers were added.
Çeşme Castle, built by the Genoese in the 15th century for the security of maritime trade between Çeşme and Chios, took on its present form with additions made in 1508-1509 during the reign of Ottoman Sultan Beyazıd II. The rectangular-shaped castle offers a magnificent view with its six towers and moats on three sides.
Gediz Delta, haunt of flamingos
Located just outside Izmir, the Gediz Delta is one of the few wetlands of international significance that provides habitat for thousands of creatures. The delta, home to hundreds of birds and living species, is home to around 10% of the world’s flamingo population.
Bringing together about a third of the salt production in Turkey, it also establishes itself as a production area for the fishermen and farmers of Izmir. Last year, the Izmir Metropolitan Municipality submitted an official candidacy for the Gediz Delta to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List for its nature.