March 22, 2013
We woke to thunder and lightning early this morning. Not a propitious start to a day of outside sites, we thought. But we were wrong. Despite some very heavy rain and more lightning and thunder, we had a very good day.
We arrived in Izmir yesterday afternoon on time and with all of our luggage. We had a nice dinner at a Turkish restaurant with the whole group—22 of us including John Lee (the historian who will guide us), John Kantner (SAR) and Yıldırım Özturhan (the local guide).
We left early on Friday for a visit to the site of the original town/state of Smyrna. It is on a hill which now overlooks modern Izmir but once was close to a harbor. The site is actually closed to the general public so we had special permission to wander around. John Lee gave us a great deal of background and answered all of our questions. One can see low walls and part of the reconstructed temple of Athena and a good bit of the fortification walls, but no big buildings remain. This was a good start for us because old Smyrna was occupied for a long time before being abandoned and we were able to see one of the original powerful city-states in the area. About 3,000 people may have lived there at one time so it was never a huge settlement. The spring vegetation and recent rain made the footing tricky as we walked the site. It was fun to clamber over the walls
From there we took the [tour] bus around to the other side of the harbor to the site of New Smyrna. That was started by Alexander the Great in 334 B.C. He “suggested” to the people in old Smyrna that the move to this new location. The Agora (Ag Or Uh, not A gore uh) was found under an old cemetery so it had not been covered by buildings over the centuries. We could see the open space and it was surrounded by the detritus of the original building materials. We could also see the grave markers that had been set aside when the site was uncovered. They were somewhat casually stuck off to the side. Once we had taken a look at aboveground and open part of the site, we met with one of the people working on one of the current excavations. He led us to an underground part of the site which is not yet open to the general public. In the basement of the basilica (which means something like “covered office building” and not “Catholic church”) a new section is being prepared for visitors.
It is so new that we were not allowed to take pictures because nothing about that part has been published. What we saw might have once been work spaces or very small stores. There is graffiti on some of the walls, some of it not meant for children. There are charcoal drawings of ships with affair amount of detail. In one section, there is a phrase that translates as “Smyrna is number one” written in Greek. Someone from Ephesus came along and, in true graffiti fashion, stuck the Greek letters for Ephesus inside the letters for Smyrna so now the phrase can be read as “Ephesus number one.” While we were down in the basement, we began to hear thunder. As we went back to the surface, it started to rain a little. We were heading for the bus but our site guide asked if we wanted to go to another closed off section of the site. He took us to a covered part that used to be the Senate building. No sooner had we started along the outer wall than the rain and wind picked up dramatically. Then the lightning began to strike not too far away (I could count to 3) and the thunder was really loud. We felt fortunate to be out of the worst of the weather until we looked around and realized that the building we were in was all metal with metal posts holding it up. I think we all mentally shrugged our shoulders and listened as Yildirim translated what the site guide was telling us. He had to stop a few times because the wind and rain drowned out his voice. Of course, by the time we finished looking at the mosaic, which were pretty much faded away, the rain stopped and we quickly made it back to the bus.
From new Smyrna we went to the Izmir Archeological Museum. They have a nice
collection of statuary, ceramics, and “treasure” not only from Izmir, but also from the surrounding area. We only spent ¾ of an hour there, but I was able to get some good pictures.
We then left the city to drive to Foça. We went north and had to cross a small range of mountains to get back to the coast, where Foça is located. On the way into town we stopped by a section of the fortification wall that has been there for more than 2,500 years.
Because it was hidden by a Roman-era garbage dump, it was in remarkably good shape when it was uncovered. [Pictures on the pictures page] The town of Foça is on a harbor that has been in use for a very long time. There is still a lot of small-scale fishing done in the area. The town itself seems like a tourist destination with lots of small tourist-y stores and restaurants.
As we walked up to the ruins, a loudspeaker was broadcasting a warning about an approaching storm. It was very windy. We looked at the ruins from one side and then hiked back and went down close to the water to get a better look at the walls. Did I mention that it was windy? [This is where you say “How windy was it?”] It was so windy that the wind surf soaked everything very quickly and it would have been dangerous to follow the ancient walls very far. On the way back we stopped at the fish market but there was not much activity there: it was in the dark because the wind had blown out the power. We did take some pictures because there was a wide variety of seafood there.
On the road back to Izmir we stopped at what John Lee called the mysterious tomb Taş Kule. When you look at a picture you might think odd, yes, but mysterious? The mystery
is that no one knows for sure if it really was a tomb and, if it was, was it a tomb for a Persian (they took over the area for a while) or for a local who was trying to emulate the Persians. This is one of the “borderlands” for which this trip is named.
All of the things we saw today were interesting and SAR made them easy to get to and provided us with lots of information.
We had dinner at a local fish restaurant back in Izmir. Now it is late and I must finish this up and pack because we leave Izmir in the morning.
If you want to see the territory we covered today, take a look at the map below (or the bigger version). I had my phone plot our location as we moved about and then converted those locations to a path on a map.