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x0x Fascinating corner of the Orient: Izmir

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    [More on Izmir see: http://www.izmirturizm.gov.tr/default.asp?L=EN ] x0x Fascinating corner of the Orient: Izmir By M. Rifat Akbulut The famous German Field
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 23, 2004
      [More on Izmir see:
      http://www.izmirturizm.gov.tr/default.asp?L=EN ]

      x0x Fascinating corner of the Orient: Izmir

      By M. Rifat Akbulut

      The famous German Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke, who as a young
      officer served as military adviser in the Ottoman Empire between 1835
      and 1839, described Izmir as 'this fascinating corner of the Orient'
      in one of his letters home. In his eagerness to visit Izmir, Moltke
      spontaneously leaped on board a steamship bound for Izmir that he saw
      at the quay in Istanbul. In the letter which he wrote from the ship on
      4 August 1836 he described his first sight of Izmir: 'Early in the
      morning we entered the wide Gulf of Izmir surrounded by high mountain
      ranges... The mountains were entirely bare, roasted in the sun, but
      their shapes were exceedingly beautiful. At their foot all along the
      shores was a green band of cultivated soil, with vineyards, olive
      groves, mulberry trees and dark cypresses. The villages and houses
      were of stone with flat roofs. At the end of the gulf the city of
      Smyrna could be seen climbing like an amphitheatre up the mountain
      behind.

      In the lowest part, at the edge of the sea, behind the ships was a
      large barracks [Sari Kisla], a gun battery, a kervansaray with many
      domes, several mosques, and to the left the town of the Franks with
      its stone buildings. On the second level was the Turkish city proper.

      If a handful of tiny houses with red roofs, a few mosques and
      fountains had fallen from the sky, the plan could not have been more
      jumbled than that of the city. One is astonished that streets and
      pathways are to be found amongst these heaps of houses. Above all of
      these rises the ancient fortress of Smyrna Castle.' The rise of
      Izmir's star in the eastern Mediterranean began in the mid-16th
      century, when it became an important port in the silk trade. It grew
      into a lively, cosmopolitan, and exotic port city, with communities of
      Levantines, Muslims and non-Muslims, and within a century had become
      one of the most important ports in the Ottoman Empire.

      From 1621 France, Venice, Britain and Holland had consuls in Izmir and
      and later the number of countries with representatives here rose to
      18. The city was the principal gateway for trade between Europe and
      Ottoman Turkey. Today Izmir is a modern city dating largely from the
      19th and 20th centuries. By the 19th century Izmir had a high
      proportion of European and non-Muslim inhabitants, lending it the
      dualistic character noted by Moltke. It was fast losing its exotic
      oriental character and more closely resembling a colonial trading post
      in terms of its economic, social and cultural life as well as its
      architecture. This development undoubtedly had its advantages in many
      respects, putting the city at the forefront of change. The Ottoman
      reforms of 1839 and expanding foreign trade brought modern financial
      institutions, shops and offices, and a new harbour was built. It is a
      significant indicator of Izmir's importance as a trading centre that
      the first Ottoman railway line opened not in Istanbul but in Izmir in
      1866, linking the city to Aydin and Kasaba.

      Basmane Station was constructed at the railway terminal in the city. A
      mains gas network was installed and in 1864 came the first street
      lighting. The first municipality was established in 1868, and the
      Kordon esplanade and quay were constructed between 1868 and 1872.

      Horse-drawn trams were another innovation. Altogether life in
      cosmopolitan modern Izmir was sophisticated and elegant. In late
      Ottoman times the city was the second richest after Istanbul, with a
      per capita income of 1.65 liras, and seventh in terms of public
      expenditure at 0.58 liras per capita. Yet Izmir was ravaged during the
      War of Independence, and when the Turkish Republic was founded in 1923
      it inherited a city large destroyed by a great fire and whose trade
      had diminished to a fraction of former levels. That year the exchange
      of Turkish and Greek populations took place, and later on Levantines
      also left in large numbers, bringing about a sudden and radical change
      in the composition of Izmir's population.

      The first years of the Turkish Republic were a time of recuperation
      for the city. In 1924 a plan was drawn up for those parts of the city
      that had been laid waste by fire. As well as the large fairground and
      park, numerous buildings in the Turkish revival style (some of which
      are still standing) were built at this time. Le Corbusier presented
      some planning sketches for Izmir in 1948, but these plans lacked any
      notable spark of creativity and were not implemented. Although the
      later decades were an era of deterioration in city architecture and
      planning, Izmir's cultural legacy and traditional sense of the art of
      living enabled it to create an urban environment in the city centre
      that was relatively more design-conscious and reflected the joy of
      life. But by the end of the 20th century Izmir had become a victim of
      its own success.

      Due to major advances in the fields of commerce, industry, culture and
      tourism, the city had been forced to expand, swallowing up such
      traditional summer resorts as Kadifekale, Buca, Bornova and Karsiyaka
      and losing many of the characteristics once associated with Izmir in
      the proces.

      * M. Rifat Akbulut is a lecturer on City and Regional Planning at
      Mimar Sinan University.
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