The Mediterranean basin is the cradle of civilizations, no doubt about it. Sea trade has been connecting Europe, the Middle East and Africa since ages, creating a cornucopia of diverse cultures interacting and contributing to each other.

Levantines,and Europeans settled in the Levant, have been instrumental in initiating the first industrialization and modernization movements in the Eastern Mediterranean area. During the late Ottoman period, the Aegean province of Izmir has been the hub of Levantine culture, being a major port export in the Aegean region.  

Izmir, ancient Smyrna, and its environs has been among the most bountiful agricultural lands in the Eastern Mediterranean, providing valuable crops to the western world from cotton to tobacco and from raisins to dried figs. Lucien Arkas is the third generation boss of Arkas Holding, a leading transport company of Turkey, based in Izmir. His great grandfather had emigrated to Ottoman Izmir from Marseilles back in the 18th century and the family was involved in trade since then. Arkas blends his Catholic French origins well with his adopted land, he is now a patriotic Turkish citizen, and above all, he is a true lover of his native town of Izmir, and of course the sea. He contributes greatly to the cultural life of Izmir, holding great exhibits of art and archaeological collections at the Arkas Art Center housed in the former French Consulate, to supporting Arkas Trio, Turkey’s first and only trio of piano, violin and cello. 

Needless to say, Arkas is enchanted by the sea. As an avid collector of art, he has acquired a considerable collection of seascapes, a topic that attracts him naturally. One can see he is heartfelt when he talks about the sea: “Water is life, water attracts one, water is beautiful; as my work is encompassed with the sea, my family origins in Marseilles, our family business in sea trade, a citizen of Izmir, I’ve been inclined to select paintings depicting landscapes of water.” The latest exhibition at Arkas Art Center houses a series of  “Landscapes of Water,” from the most tranquil to the most stormy, evoking either senses of peace, or depicting tragedies of war, including pictures of ports, waterways, canals, rivers, bridges, lakes, ponds, even the mountains and the sky as sources of water. The sea has been the source of the wealth of the Arkas family; now he is giving back to the city that has been their home since more than a century. The sea was the medium that transferred food cultures across the Mediterranean, and food trade was the core of Izmir’s port. Now, the Arkas family is also involved in the production of food, they own brands of wine and olive oil, widening their scope and shifting from transporters to producers. 

The Eastern Mediterranean is full of such intriguing stories of families that have transplanted themselves from one land to another. Theirs have been a happy story, for the good of the family and for the good of their adopted country. Izmir is lucky to have such a passionate pioneer of culture. The exhibit provides a moment of sea breeze that refreshes the soul, and nurtures one, just as the Mediterranean has cradled civilizations for centuries. 

Source:  Daily Hurriyet

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