It is difficult to carry a rather unknown name when you are a child. I started getting used to my rather uncommon name as I got older. Both my name and surname are rare in Turkey, and I occasionally come across people who ask if I’m a foreigner.
İzmir is a city where you can hear names like Serge, Ornella and Laurent. It is probably one of the reasons why I like İzmir. It’s a city of people with different (!) names … In any Anatolian town, Lucien Arkas might have had trouble explaining he’s Turkish after saying his name. But as a Levantine, whose ancestors have lived in these lands longer than some of us, he is as “local and national” as at least all of us Turks. After all, how many Turkish businessmen do we know who have turned their family company into a global brand and offered an art center to his home city?
The Levantines whose history in these lands goes back as far as the 10th century are part of Turkey’s mosaic. Once a big community, their numbers in İzmir have shrunk to a mere 100. They still play a noteworthy role in the city’s economic and cultural life, as is the case with the Arkas Art Center, which opened its doors to the public in 2011.
Art and culture are an indispensable part of life in İzmir. At least for İzmir Municipality, which values art and culture not only for locals but for tourists as well. Tourism should not be limited to Turkey’s traditional “sea, sun and sand” trio, according to Mayor Aziz Kocaoğlu. “We don’t want mass tourism; the all-inclusive type is not what we are after,” he says.
Diversity is İzmir’s main asset. As a visitor to İzmir, are you looking for a cultural event? You can go to the Ahmet Adnan Saygun Arts Center. Constructed in 2008, it bears the signature of the world-renowned Arup company together with their Turkish partners. You want arts and history together? Go enjoy a performance of an internationally acclaimed artist in the ancient theater of Ephesus, thanks to the İzmir Foundation for Culture Arts and Education.
Looking for nature tourism? Set off on one of the 450-kilometer-long walking routes the municipality has established on the İzmir peninsula. You can also venture out on the bicycle routes which the municipality is working to add to the Euro velo network. You can also head off for expeditions on the olive route or vineyards route.
You can also benefit from health tourism in Balçova. The Agamemnon Thermal Springs have been used since ancient times as a haven for healing. It is said that King Agamemnon sent his wounded soldiers to be healed here after the fall of Troy.
The Norwegians have already discovered it. Those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis used to go to Bosnia until the war erupted there. Then, the Norwegian government discovered the Balçova springs and for the past two decades, İzmir has hosted a thousand Norwegian patients each year as part of a deal between the two countries. Unfortunately, the agreement was canceled after the failed coup of July 15, 2016. Indeed, starting with cruise tourism, İzmir has also suffered its share in the general deterioration of the sector in Turkey. The municipality is trying to compensate with fair and congress tourism.
An important element of the cultural diversity in tourism is contingent on reviving the city’s past multi-ethnic richness. The synagogues of the Jewish community, which has lost many members over the years, are being restored, and there are efforts to revive Sepharad and Levantine cuisine. The municipality is also aiming to entice gourmets to visit the city. While the numbers of gourmet restaurants is still limited in the city, graduates of İzmir Economy University’s Department of Culinary Arts are set to bridge that gap as they receive training from Michelin-star chefs. While in İzmir, try to catch one of the several culinary festivals on offer – the artichoke festival in Urla, which takes place in May, is fast becoming a must do in İzmir.
The Turkish tourism industry started to flourish in İzmir. While it has seen strong competition from the Mediterranean city of Antalya over the last three decades, the diversity it offers remains unrivaled.
Olive oil, herbs and other secrets of İzmir
Multicultural İzmir is one of the culinary capitals of Turkey and the Hürriyet team that visited the Aegean city did not miss a chance to experience it.
The team attended an Artichoke Festival in the district of Urla, where prominent cooks served numbers sweet and savory dishes of the plant. Urla is also great for winery, Hürriyet’s travel editor Serkan Ocak said.
Hürriyet columnist Sarhap Sosyal praised the recipes by women from İzmir, where she names a female city.
Restaurants at İzmir’s Kordon by the sea serve great olive-oiled herb dishes , she noted.