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IZMIR'S EUROPEAN QUARTER
2002 / FEBRUARY

As a child I found Alsancak the most appealing place in Izmir. Of course I had no idea why this was at the time, but looking back now I realise that the attraction, together with a touch of mystery, lay in Alsancak's historic buildings. I do not think it was only the period atmosphere of the mansions arrayed like a string of pearls, but also the contrast between old and new - between the houses with their bay windows and the tall, ultramodern apartment blocks. Alsancak, formerly known as Punta, has always been Izmir's European quarter, a patch of the West in Asia Minor. As Anatolia's foremost export port for centuries, it was inevitable that the district around the port should become the city's commercial centre. It was in Alsancak that the stream of foreign merchants, travellers, and goods from Europe first touched down on Turkish soil, and consequently here that every innovation in the city took root

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IZMIR'S EUROPEAN QUARTER
2002 / FEBRUARY

Alsancak begins at the quay of Pasaport where Cumhuriyet Square leads onto the esplanade known as Kordonboyu, which is Izmir's answer to Istanbul's Bosphorus strait. Strolling along the esplanade in the pleasantly cool sea breeze and chatting with friends in one of the cafés or bars on the seafront on summer evenings is the best way to enjoy Izmir's languorous, almost tropical atmosphere. My childhood memories of the largest crowds I had ever seen are as vivid as ever. They belong to the esplanade, which was closed to motor vehicles. In their place were horse-drawn phaetons, and the impassioned pleas of children for rsides in these carriages along the esplanade drove mothers to exasperation then as now. At the end of the esplanade Alsancak also comes to an end, and you find yourself facing Alsancak Station, an imposing colonial style building dating from 1858.

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IZMIR'S EUROPEAN QUARTER
2002 / FEBRUARY
At the beginning of the 20th century half of Izmir's population consisted of non-Muslim communities of Italians, Jews, Greeks and Armenians, a large proportion of whom lived in Alsancak. Today the district still retains this multicultural character, epitomised by Izmir International Fair held in the large park established on former residential areas laid waste by fire during the last days of the Turkish War of Independence. Every year in August and September participants from many world countries have stands and pavilions at the fair, which is a window onto the world for visitors from Izmir and other parts of the Aegean region. The excitement of visiting the pavilions of distant countries was one of the most wonderful emotions of my childhood.
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IZMIR'S EUROPEAN QUARTER
2002 / FEBRUARY

This multicultural aspect of Alsancak is also reflected in the places of worship belonging to different faiths. The most impressive of these is the church dedicated to St Polycarp, who in the year 155 at the age of 86 was martyred by the Romans. The church was built in 1625. Alsancak is above all a paradise for shopping. Here are Izmir's most exclusive shops, the best cake shops, and the most fashionable cafés, in which to relax for coffee and a snack. Most of the old houses lining the streets here have today been converted into cafés and bars, and become part of Izmir's ever lively street culture. These attractive venues, filled mainly with young people, capture a perfect balance of old and new.
Alsancak also brings to mind the leisurely pace of life, which the inhabitants of Izmir are generally unaware of, but which immediately strikes foreigners or people like me who have lived away from the city for many year

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IZMIR'S EUROPEAN QUARTER
2002 / FEBRUARY
People here never hurry to go anywhere; indeed, to put it bluntly, they walk slower than anyone else. Particularly on those mellifluous summer afternoons they wander gently along, knowing as the poet said that 'One can be late for nothing, in time for everything.' So if you go to Izmir, make your way to the esplanade and slowing your pace down to that of the Izmirlis, yield to the caresses of the soft breeze off the Gulf. Then turn off into the side streets and wander past those old houses with their bay windows, and when you come across a small café, stop to indulge your daydreams as you sip a glass of tea. That is what they call the Izmir siesta. l


* Pertev Ege is a freelance writer.
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