ızmir, right in the middle of Turkey’s Aegean coast, is one big city. It’s worth spending a few days in Izmir now that the Metro system makes getting about town so much easier than it used to be.
That’s not only because Izmir itself has plenty of pleasant areas to explore if you allow enough time to get to grips with it but also because it makes a good base for exploring quite a lot of small towns, archaeological sites and resorts nearby, most of the onward transportation to the surrounding areas leaving from the upper floor of the same bus station that will have delivered you to Izmir. Which raises another interesting possibility — if you don’t actually want to stay in a big city you could easily opt to overnight in one of these neighboring places and just hop in and out of Izmir Otogar to get to the others.
The Metro was recently extended to UCkuyular, site of Izmir’s second bus station serving Cesme, Seferihisar and the Karaburun Peninsula. But let’s start off by taking a look at some of the places you can reach from the main otogar.
Tire: One of the small towns has to be Tire, not so long ago an almost forgotten backwater known, if it was known at all, for its big Tuesday street market. Slowly but surely that is starting to change as the local authority wises up to what a treasure it has in its hands, as typified by the recent opening of a pleasing new Kent Muzesi (City Museum) with lots of information on the old handicrafts that are still being practiced in the old part of town. The interviews with some of the workers — helpfully translated into English — make somewhat sobering reading. With the sole exception of the one with Arif Con, felt maker extraordinaire, they tell a sad story of trades dying a death with no one to carry them on once the current practitioners are done. After reading them, it’s well worth making a beeline for Con’s shop, a buzzing hive of colorful activity where the old and somewhat tired art of felt making has been given a completely modern makeover. Out have gone the heavy, square-shouldered coats once made for shepherds. In have come gossamer-fine shawls it would be hard to believe had been made from felt if you’d not seen the work in progress in the shop. Tire is a place of small pleasures, with a myriad minor mosques, medreses and other monuments dating back to the Beylik period between the Selcuk supremacy and the Ottoman conquest. Some of the old Ottoman housing stock is also being spruced up.
Bayındır: If Tire falls below most people’s radars, Bayındır is even less well known despite having a similar mix of attractions. Here, too, the authorities are belatedly waking up to what they have to offer and the old Tekel building was recently converted into another Kent Muzesi, albeit this time with no English translations. Come here to find out about the Efes, the local braves whose bloodthirsty exploits somewhat belie their showy costumes. Here, too, you’ll see photographs of local women wearing the siyah cizgi, a black shawl and headscarf combination with a white pattern around its edge. At the Friday market you’ll still see older women wearing it but within a generation it will be gone. Bayındır’s main claim to fame is that it lies at the heart of Turkey’s flower-growing region. Every year at the end of April/start of May there’s a lively flower festival to coincide with the time when the surrounding fields are full of vibrant color for kilometer after kilometer.
Odemis and Birgi : The strange thing about the siyah cizgi is that although you’ll be able to see women wearing it in Bayındır you won’t be to buy one there. Instead to buy one you’ll have to head for nearby Odemis whose Saturday market is almost a match for Tire’s Tuesday one, thrusting out tentacles into all the back streets in the center of town. Here, too, there’s a fine Kent Muzesi. It’s only labeled in Turkish but it won’t take much imagination to realize that this was once an area known for its tobacco industry, with entire walls of houses hung with drying leaves in season. The main reason to come to Odemis, however, will be to hop the bus to pretty little Birgi, surely one of Turkey’s most delightful villages and where the environmental organization CEKUL has done excellent work in encouraging sensitive signposting and discouraging concrete blight. Birgi is home to the finest Ottoman house open to the public in Turkey. The Cakıraga Konagı is an absolute delight, its front consisting of three floors of open verandahs that give it the strange appearance of a child’s toy theater. Nor is that the only gem on offer here. The Ulu Cami is also worth going out of your way to see. Like the minor mosques of Tire, it, too, is a monument to the Beylik period with fine woodwork surviving and odd pieces of Roman masonry reused in the walls.