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Izmir (Turkish spelling İzmir, contraction of its former name Smyrna), the second-largest port (after İstanbul) and the third most populous city of Turkey is located on the Aegean Sea near the Gulf of Izmir . It is the capital of the Izmir Province.



Ancient History

(More complete ancient history is at Smyrna.)

The original city was established in the third millennium BC (at present day Bayraklı), at which time it shared with Troy the most advanced culture in Anatolia. By 1500 BC it had fallen under the influence of Central Anatolian Hittite Empire. In the first millennium BC Izmir, then known as Smyrna, ranked as one of the most important cities of the Ionian Federation. During this period, one of the city's most brilliant, it is believed that Homer resided here. Lydian conquest of the city around 600 BC, brought this period to an end. Smyrna remained little more than a village throughout the Lydian and subsequent sixth century BC Persian rule. In the fourth century BC a new city was built on the slopes of Mt. Pagos (Kadifekale) during the reign of Alexander the Great. Smyrna's Roman period, beginning in the first century BC, was its second great era. Byzantine rule followed in the fourth century and lasted until the Seljuk conquest in 11th century. In 1415, under Sultan Mehmed «elebi, Smyrna became part of the Ottoman Empire.

The city earned its fame as one of the most important port-cities of the world during the 17th-19th centuries, while merchants from a variety of origins (especially French, Italian, Dutch, Armenian, Jewish, and Greek) transformed the city into a cosmopolitan portal of trade. During this period, the city was famous for its own brand of music (Smyrneika) as well as its wide range of products it exported to Europe (Smyrna/Sultana grapes, carpets, etc.)

The 5000 year-old city, is one of the oldest cities of the Mediterranean basin. According to the famous Greek historian Herodotus (from Halicarnassus, modern-day Bodrum) the city was first established by the Aeolia ns, but shortly thereafter seized by the Ionians who developed it into one of the world's largest cultural and commercial centers of that period. Smyrna later became known as one of the Seven Churches of Asia, to which the Book of Revelation was sent by John the Apostle.

The city has always been one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, with a large population of Turks, Greeks, Jews, Armenians and Levantines (Genoese Italians, Venetian Italians and Frenchmen). The current population is dominantly Turkish.

Events following World War I

After World War I, while the Paris Peace Conference was going on, the Greek army along with other Allied forces occupied the city in May 15th 1919. This lead to a great turmoil and an eventual state of war within city and the surrounding region. According to the report of the commission, investigating the claims of the Greek atrocities at Smyrna, which was completed on October 13 and presented to the Supreme Council on November 8 (from Helmreich 1974, "From Paris to Sevres", Ohio State University Press, Columbus, p.169):

Fears of the massacres of Christians were not justified.... The conditions of security in the Vilayet of Aidin and at Smyrna, in particular, did not at all justify the occupation of the Smyrna forts.... The internal situation in the Vilayet did not call for the landing of Allied troops at Smyrna. On the contrary, since the Greek landing, the situation is troubled because of the state of war existing between the Greek troops and the Turkish irregulars.

This landing highly stimulated the nationalist movement lead by Mustafa Kemal.

Treaty of SŤvres, signed on August 10th 1920, gave the administration of Symrna and its hitherland to Greece. This treaty although signed by a representative of the Ottoman Sultan, was never ratified by the Ottoman parliament, and was also rejected by Turkish nationalist movement in Ankara. According to Hughes and Seligmann (2002, in "Does Peace Lead to War?", Sutton Publishing, Phoenix Mill, p.72)

Greek control of Symrna ran counter to the notion of self-determination embodied in the Fourteen Points of America's President Woodrow Wilson. While Eleutherios Venizelos, the articulate Greek leader, based his claim to expand Greek territory around Smyrna on the principle of self determination, his population statistics for western Anatolia are contestable and open to the charge of manipulation. Venizelos established a marginal Greek majority by using pre-war statistics, and by including the Greek population on neighbouring Aegean islands.

In the final phase of the Greco-Turkish War (part of the struggle referred as Turkish War of Independence in Turkey) Turkish nationalist troops captured Izmir on September 9th 1922. As a result of the hatred that built up in the last years, many Greeks left behind by the escaping Greek army were killed. On September 13th, a fire that started in Punta (a part of Izmir which was predominantly non-muslim, current name Alsancak) destroyed 70% of the city. The source of the fire is in dispute. The Turks blame the Greeks, and the Greeks blame the Turks.

Treaty of Lausanne signed on July 24th 1923, gave Izmir to the newly founded Republic of Turkey. During the deliberations of this treaty, a population exchange convention was signed between Turkey and Greece, on January 30th 1923. By this convention, the Greeks living in Turkey went to Greece (with the exception of Greeks in İstanbul) and the Turks living in Greece (with the exception of Turks living in Western Thrace) went to Turkey and were largely settled in the areas around Izmir. In 1923 the name Izmir became official. After World War II (and the famous "Wealth Tax" of the 1940s) most Levantines went to Italy and France (with large numbers of Armenians also following the same route), while most of the Jews went to Israel after the foundation of this state in 1948. Even though members of these communities still exist, their numbers have fallen sharply since the late 1940s.

Further Events

From 1961 to 1963, «iğli Air Base near Izmir, hosted fifteen mobile U.S. Jupiter IRBM nuclear armed missiles. The fifteen missiles were spread among five launch sites in the mountains near Izmir, Turkey. The Turkish Air Force ultimately controlled the missiles, but U.S. Air Force personnel had control of the arming of the nuclear warheads. The deployment of these missiles in Turkey prompted the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1962. As part of the settlement of the crisis, they were removed in April 1963. The exact locations of the five sites with three missiles each, is still secret more than 40 years later.

Modern Izmir

The clock tower in Izmir's Konak Square
The clock tower in Izmir's Konak Square

Today, Izmir is Turkey's third largest city and is nicknamed "Occidental Izmir" or "The pearl of Aegean". It is widely regarded as the most Westernized city of Turkey in terms of values, ideology and lifestyle.

The city hosts an international arts festival during June/July, and an international fair during August/September every year.

Modern Izmir also incorporates world-famous ancient cities like Ephesus, Pergamon, and Sardis. Turkish Internet phenomenon Mahir Cagri is a resident.

Izmir will host UNIVERSIADE Summer Olympics in 2005.


  • "İzmir and the Aegean Region", a brochure prepared by Republic of Turkey, Ministry of Tourism, 2002, İstanbul.

Media mentioning Izmir

The novel/play Slow Train to Izmir by Mark Angus(?).

The book "Smyrna 1922 - The Destruction of a City" by Marjorie Housepian Dobkin.

External links

Last updated: 11-08-2004 00:09:47