The main reason for my travel in Turkey, in July and August 2019, was to spend several weeks on the beach, in some of Turkey’s most popular summer resorts. However, the second reason was to explore the Ottoman heritage and that’s why I went to Istanbul, Bursa and Konya. These three cities, but also some other ones, are the richest in Ottoman history. I’ve already written about Istanbul and Bursa. They are really the best places where you can learn about the Ottoman Empire. But, can we talk about Ottoman Izmir?
Well, the answer is yes and no!
Yes – because Izmir was an important Ottoman port and there are mosques, hans, bazaars and hammams from the Ottoman era.
No – because it was never really as important as Istanbul, Bursa, Konya, Edirne, Amasya, Kütahya and Manisa. Consequently, it didn’t receive the attention given to the Ottoman capital cities or places where imperial princes governed, in preparation to rule as sultans.
So, I’ve decided to dedicate this article to the Ottoman heritage in Izmir, because it’s precious and interesting to see, plus I’ve tremendously enjoyed the old historical area.
OTTOMAN IZMIR IN THE KEMERALTI BAZAAR QUARTER
As I mentioned in my previous post, while the most attractive part of Izmir is the seafront, its most interesting part is the Kemeralti Bazaar Quarter. It’s next to Çankaya metro station, where you can find an entrance to this colourful Ottoman era area.
Kemeralti retained its originality, streets and buildings are mostly as they used to be centuries ago. It’s a large area, a maze of streets that go in all directions.
As a matter of fact, once I was deep inside of the bazaar, I completely lost orientation and I had to check the map, to find the way out. I mention this just to give you an idea of its size, it’s really big.
The same as in other Turkish cities, and as you can see in the photos in this post, there are shops everywhere. There are so many of them and they offer all kind of merchandise. You quickly become dazzled and you no longer know where to look.
Turkey has a strong textile industry and most items on offer in these bazaars are produced in Turkish factories. That’s so different compared with shops in the west, where almost everything comes from China. Clearly, Turks are very clever to keep and to look after their industrial production. Let’s not forget that Turkey has a centuries long mercantile tradition.
All that is still very visible today, especially in Istanbul, where the abundance of goods produced in Turkey is astonishing.
I didn’t buy anything. For me, it was enough just to aimlessly walk through narrow streets and to observe shops, goods on offer and people around me.
I went to Kemeralti several times, at different times. While I didn’t see many people in the morning, the afternoon hours were extremely busy, especially after the afternoon prayer time.
COFFEE SHOPS AND RESTAURANTS
You will also find a section within the Bazaar Quarter, in fact several streets, with many coffee shops.
It’s a perfect place where you can sit down and have a rest. It was very hot when I was in Izmir, so spending several hours there during the hottest part of the day, protected from oppressive heat, felt like salvation. I would’ve gone to the beach, but Izmir doesn’t have a beach. So, that was the second best option.
Different establishments have differently designed cloths for their tables and chairs. Together, they project a stunning oriental image. There are also some restaurants in this area and one evening I had my dinner in one of them. Food was delicious and very cheap.
THE HISAR MOSQUE (1598)
The Bazaar Quarter is also where you will find Ottoman mosques and other Ottoman era buildings. I visited different parts of Izmir but, it’s here, in this area, that the Ottoman heritage is most prominent. You will mainly see new constructions in other parts of the city, although that doesn’t mean that you can’t find some Ottoman heritage there either. However, Ottoman Izmir is in Kemeralti.
That’s also why this part of the city is rather special.
When you walk around the Bazaar Quarter, in addition to numerous shops, coffee shops and restaurants, there are also historical buildings like the Hisar Mosque.
This mosque is from 1598, built right at the end of the 16th century and it is the oldest Ottoman building that I found in that area.
There was only one person in the mosque when I was there. I like to visit mosques when they are quiet, because at that time they are places of utmost tranquillity.
This mosque has a beautiful chandelier and stained glass windows.
THE ŞADIRVANALTI MOSQUE (1637)
The second oldest mosque in the Bazaar Quarter is the Şadırvanaltı Mosque, from 1637.
The problem with most mosques that I visited in Turkey is that it’s almost never possible to take a photo that would show the whole mosque. In Istanbul, that’s possible with some of them, such as the Blue Mosque or the Fatih Mosque. Usually, the adjacent buildings and narrow streets that surround the mosques restrict the view.
This is yet another beautiful 17th century religious building.
Again, there was only one person in the mosque when I was there. It was so rewarding that I could explore the mosque in absolute peace.
THE BAŞDURAK MOSQUE (1652)
One more 17th century mosque that you will find in this historical area is the Başdurak Mosque.
You can see this mosque from various points within the market area, but it took a while for me to find the entrance. That’s because the mosque is right in the middle of the market, surrounded by houses and narrow streets on all sides.
It’s a small and very interesting mosque. To reach the mosque, you have to go up the flight of stairs, because it’s above the street level. You also get the views of the surrounding area, although there isn’t very much to see. You can only see the roofs of the buildings around the mosque, because the mosque is not high enough for a good perspective.
There was no one in this mosque during my visit.
KIZLARAĞASI HAN (1744)
Kızlarağası Han reminded me of hans that I saw in Bursa. But, this one is not as old as the ones that you can see in Bursa, although the concept is the same.
You will find coffee shops and various other shops inside of this han. It’s very interesting, also in the photo below you can see the Hisar Mosque, immediately next to the han.
The han was built 150 years after the Hisar Mosque, perhaps you can try to imagine how the area had developed with the passing time.
THE SALEPÇIOĞLU MOSQUE (1905)
The last Ottoman mosque that I want to mention in this post is the early 20th century Salepçioğlu Mosque.
At the time when this mosque was constructed, the Ottoman Empire was nearing its end. But in 1905 the Empire still existed, its demise arrived approximately 20 years later.
Of course, no one could predict the forthcoming disappearance of the Empire in 1905. The construction of this mosque, so late in the Empire’s history, testifies that perhaps all seemed well at that time.
This mosque is at the edge of the historical Kemeralti area.
You will notice that, while the exterior appearance of the mosque follows the established Ottoman architecture, the interior decoration is radically different from decoration in mosques constructed in the previous centuries.
When I visited this mosque, I didn’t know that it had been built at the beginning of the 20th century, although I immediately noticed that it was different.
The mosque has a beautifully decorated dome.
To answer the question at the beginning of this article, yes – we can certainly talk about Ottoman Izmir. The Ottoman heritage, while not as rich as in other Turkish cities, is certainly precious.
Anyone visiting Izmir should make sure to visit Kemeralti and the Bazaar Quarter, because that’s where you can see Ottoman Izmir and where you will find the historical buildings that I mention in this post.