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Izmir, a Turkish princess with the most beautiful hat

Marla Martin |
French poet Victor Hugo once said: "Izmir is like a princess with the most beautiful hat." And indeed, its beautiful hills hidden among the clouds give it a special charm. This birthplace of Homer and many markets that seem to sit on every corner, make it one of the most interesting Turkish cities.

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Formerly known as Smyrna, Izmir is older than many countries: its history dates to 3000 B.C. With a strategic position on sea, Izmir was always perfectly located to be a trade hub between Asia and Europe and today it is region's major commercial hub. Trojans, Hittites and Lydians had settlements in Izmir before it became Greek around 1000 BC. Finally, the Ottomans conquered the city in 1426 and lived happily until 1922 when it was burned to the ground during the Turkish War of Independence.

Izmir has "best climate and the most beautiful sky in the world" as said by Herodotus. And indeed, the city has a kind of natural weather border to the south where mountains are protecting it from extreme weather and its mild weather with damp winters, and hot and humid summers make it perfect to visit all year round. Climb Kadifekale Castle on the charming hill of the same name overlooking Izmir locals like to climb to watch the sunset, and let its spirit passes on to you.

Along with its European flair, Izmir is a modern city with wide avenues, glass buildings and shopping centres - don't forget that people in Turkey have trade in their blood from ancient times. All that is mixed with traditional old houses and red-tiled roofs - even on new buildings - old churches and mosques, and tall structures such is Folkart Towers, the 5th tallest twin towers in Europe that host the largest art gallery in Turkey. Izmir is more like a Mediterranean than a Turkish town but Turkish enough to grab your attention.

In the city that has been a home to many different cultures and religions, skip fancy restaurants and cafes and eat with locals. Order Iskender kebab, a döner kebab made with thinly cut grilled lamb with hot tomato sauce over pieces of pita bread generously slathered with melted sheep butter and yogurt. Then sip a cup of apple tea and finish the meal with Turkish coffee. You will feel heavenly good and ready to explore further.

The 25 meters tall clock tower at Konak Square is the most famous Izmir landmark today. It was built in 1901 and it worked flawlessly for more than 100 years. The tower with four levels and an octagonal plan, the north African style column capitals and the horseshoe arches show the architectural character fountains on four sides of the tower are symbol of life that flows. The square itself is beautiful and always lively, so have a sit and watch the sea or stroll around. In summer time you might see kids swimming in the ornamental pool.

A short stroll from Konak Square will take you to the cafe-lined seaside promenade, the Kordon. Soak up the smell of the sea, watching the vessels going, have a cold beer and enjoy the stunning view. Every old city has its own marketplace, does it? Izmir has Agora. Built in the 4th century BC, Agora, like any other agora, was a meeting place for commercial, political, and religious activities. It was hit by earthquakes several time until it takes its final shape when Roman emperor Marcus restored it after the quake back in 178 AD.

On the other hand, Agora Shopping Center is a shopper’s delight, home to 178 national and international stores, or shop till you drop in Alsancak, the Beverly Hills of Izmir. But the best known bazaar you'll find in the Kemeralti neighborhood in Konak district right behind the harbor. The name Kemeralti (Under Arches) comes from the streets covered with arches with the shops under them. There you'll find jewellery shops and everything your heart desires with shaded corners to sit and relax with a cup of apple tea.

Wander freely and when you are done, hop on horse carriage Phaeton to see other historical places, churches and mosques with the sound of horseshoes. If you happen to visit Izmir one day don't miss Asansor, meaning elevator. Before elevator was built, a stairway with 155 steps was used to climb to the Halil Rifat Pasa district 50 meters above. Currently, top of Asansor is one of the most famous restaurants in Izmir. When you are heading toward the airport wave goodbye to the kind of Mount Rushmore giant sculpture of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of Turkey. Looks pretty impressive from afar.

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