Friday, 28 July 2017

Ten Plus Reasons to Love Izmir

Text and photographs by Albena Shkodrova   
Aquamarine sea, bone white ruins, the smell of tomato sauce in the air and laundry drying in the sun. Antique temples, horse-drawn carriages. A glass tulip, full of tea, in front of an open backgammon board. Breakfast with hard-boiled eggs and fresh tiny cucumbers, salted by the sea breeze. The horns of ships approaching the port. The sun, reflected by the restless water into the faces of the passers by. The charms of Smyrna, even though they have undergone transformations through the centuries, have always proved irresistible.

In Izmir craftsmen use a special decorative technique. Over a tray of water, they spray pigment. First one colour; then another, and another. The drops of paint, held on the surface by a jelly ingredient in the water, often fall over each other, making colourful rings. Dragging a tiny stick through them, you could shape them into rainbows, leaves, waves, butterflies, before transferring them on paper or stone. If the colours are few, the pattern could imitate marble. If they are more, then they resemble a kaleidoscope – half authored by the chance, half – by a human hand seeking symmetry.

Izmir itself seems to have been created in a similar way. Ethnic groups, religions, languages and empires have settled, one over the other, complementing earlier layers to shape the complex historic pattern of this area, one of the oldest populated in the world. Guided either by human will or by chance.

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Contemporary Izmir is surrounded by prehistoric, Lydian, Ionic, Dorian, Hittite, Roman and Byzantine ruins. The hill of its ancient Agora has overgrown with synagogues; the old Jewish quarter has merged with the Oriental marketplace. The number of mosques has exceeded that of the churches, while the colleges and universities are more numerous than the mosques. The town's symbol – the clock tower, is a trace, left by the Levantines – the Ottoman Empire’s Roman Catholic community.

Alive, alive, alive

On top of all this lays the freshest of Izmir’s colours – its modern face, consisting of an endless sea promenade, lush parks and crowded cafes, an expo centre, chic banks, lavish hotels and quiet neighbourhoods. And a network of pedestrian bridges, wide green boulevards, steep narrow streets and plenty of water. Over, under and along this network, there can be seen in motion any and all transportation means apart from spacecrafts: from horse-drawn carriages to metro trains, from ships to elevators between the upper and the lower worlds, from bicycles to airplanes.

The traffic is so intense that if you close your eyes, you see the clock tower in the town’s centre as a lighthouse around which,
Use BalkanTravellers' Route Planner to plan your trip to Izmir
like in one of those slow speed photographs, thousands of lines from the passing lights have intertwined.

Opening your eyes doesn't bring much peace either. To describe what people do at each moment around their town symbol, one needs several dozens of verbs. They sit on benches and watch the clock tower. They take pictures of themselves and use it as a background. They smoke, staring at the sea behind it. They lean their luggage against its stairs. They teach their children to walk. They chase the pigeons. Sell balloons. Wait to meet each other. Point at it to one another. They sunbathe, read chick lit, eat buns and seeds. They cool down at the fountains. They hope that someone will notice their polished shoes. They fix their headscarves, gossip and giggle. They squat, fall and read their palms. They sit in the grass, spreading the circles of their bright skirts. They hug. They complain from their husbands. Show each other their purchases. They wonder why are they still waiting. Lose patience. They write all what they see happening around the clock tower of Izmir.

And this is just a tiny fragment of the town's motions. Upwards, downwards, inwards, outwards, it pulsates, breathes, knocks, lets out steam, blows horns, shouts, stretches and hums. Four million people crawl up and down the hills of Izmir, as many generations and peoples have done for centuries before them. All equally enthusiastic that this town, and this life, belong to them.

Black&White, Passaport

Amongst all the paths, streets and roads of Izmir, Passaport is the one that a traveller would remember. Paved in a black and white pattern, the sea promenade in Konak was built in 1877. Leading to a pier, designed by Eiffel at the beginning of the last century, Passaport, it seems, was created to become Izmir’s public stage. The place where city life evolves and gets displayed. The clock's hands have made many circles since, and life in Izmir is profoundly different now, but here is where its charming antiquity can be seen. It's own, authentic face, which survived the city's modernity.

At eight in the morning the waiters already stand by the neat rows of tables, arranging trolleys with boiled eggs, olives, peeled cucumbers, cherry jam, honey and butter. Moments later their first customers – no-nonsense businessmen, come by, take off their jackets, roll up their sleeves and indulge. By noon women and men of all ages sit across from one another over a glass of tea or beer and play backgammon. Their faces ate lit by the sun reflected in the water, their hair flies this way and that in the breezy sea wind. As the night falls, men with trolleys start crawling, their lanterns casting light over heaps of black mussels with lemon, buns and buzlu badem – almonds in ice.

Now and then, customers from the tables approach them. They take their snacks, pay quietly, and walk away, as if shyly dissolving in the darkness.

Article Index
Ten Plus Reasons to Love Izmir
Ephesus and Pergamon
Cesme and Foca




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