Izmir, the ancient town vying to become global destination

The “pearl of the Aegean” bets on multi-faceted tour

22 May, 18:30

    The wine-maker Urla The wine-maker Urla

        SMIRNE (TURKEY) - Tourists come out in droves from the coaches that loaded them in the port of Izmir as soon as they disembarked from their cruisers.

    It is a scorchingly hot day of May but the programme both this season and during the winter months is always the same: Ephesus and its unbelievable archaeological area. Some tourists venture further, until Pergamon, north of the city, but few choose not to return to the liner and opt to remain in Izmir, a city of almost 4 million people, a cosmopolitan centre with a an ancient history (the first humanan settlements date back to 8,500 years ago). However, 'the pearl of the Aegean' as the Turks call it has lots to offer: history, gastronomy, a wealth of events, night-life, archaeology, beaches and even wines which are steadily gaining ground.

    "It's true, tourists don't stop here, they just stay for the time needed to reach the archaeological areas - Murat Yilmazcoban, secretary general of the Agency for the development of Izmir - but the Expo candidacy (Izmir was beaten by Milan as a venue for the 2015 world fair and was not chosen for the following edition either) has changed perceptions towards our city. Before Antalya dominated tourism in Turkey, but now Izmir is on the map too although lots remains to be done. We need better infrastructure to welcome tourists and we need better promotion. We have to restore many historical buildings in the centre of town and make sure this 'melting pot' becomes more attractive with the help of different events and activities. We are determined to get there". Yilmazcoban stresses that Izmir is the third city in Turkey and it also boasts a modern international aiport. Direct flights link Milan and Rome to Izmir with the airline Sun Express from the beginning of May.

    Re-founded by Alexander the Great, home to Homer and to a wealth of different communities - including a notable Italian presence - that established diverse businesses and commercial activities here, Izmir has lots to offer visitors choosing to elect the city as their basis for an exploration of the Turkish Aegean region. There are already 15,000 certified hotel rooms in Izmir (2013 data), an impressive promenade running for miles along a bay boasting an extremely long cycling lane (bike sharing is also going strong in the city) and lots of green spots to practice sports.

    Izmir hosts a beautiful Turkish carpet museum (Turkey has one of the most important carpet traditions), and its mayor Aziz Kocaoglu, has been named amongst the ten best mayors in the world by the London City Mayors foundation. The Kemeralti market offers visitors all sorts of wares and culinary specialities and the city is also graced with a Greek-Roman agora of very high archaelogical value.

    Close to the city, apart from the extraordinary sites of Ephesus, Pergamon and Asklepion, the ancient centre where psychological and psycho-somatic diseases were cured, the visitor may embark on an a religious itinerary.

    The area is home to the most ancient churches of Christianity and the 'House of Mary' where, according to the Scriptures, Mary arrived with Saint John to live the last years of her life, a place of pilgrimage also for Muslims. For those seeking fun and relaxation, Cesme and Alacati, situated on a peninsula south of the city, offer the typical beaches, taverns and bars of the Aegean coast and in the case of Alacati in particular, also an area with ideal conditions for windsurfers.

    Last but not least, the wine-maker Urla, producing 200,000 bottles a year which are starting to make a name for themselves in the US, Great Britain and China. There is also a taste of Italy here as fermentation structures come from Italy as well as the Nero d'Avola vine variety featuring in some of their most prized wines. 

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