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Fascinating corner of the Orient: Izmir
2002 / September

The famous German Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke, who as a young officer served as military adviser in the Ottoman Empire between 1835 and 1839, described Izmir as 'this fascinating corner of the Orient' in one of his letters home. In his eagerness to visit Izmir, Moltke spontaneously leaped on board a steamship bound for Izmir that he saw at the quay in Istanbul. In the letter which he wrote from the ship on 4 August 1836 he described his first sight of Izmir: 'Early in the morning we entered the wide Gulf of Izmir surrounded by high mountain ranges... The mountains were entirely bare, roasted in the sun, but their shapes were exceedingly beautiful. At their foot all along the shores was a green band of cultivated soil, with vineyards, olive groves, mulberry trees and dark cypresses. The villages and houses were of stone with flat roofs. At the end of the gulf the city of Smyrna could be seen climbing like an amphitheatre up the mountain behind.

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Fascinating corner of the Orient: Izmir
2002 / September

In the lowest part, at the edge of the sea, behind the ships was a large barracks [Sari Kisla], a gun battery, a kervansaray with many domes, several mosques, and to the left the town of the Franks with its stone buildings. On the second level was the Turkish city proper. If a handful of tiny houses with red roofs, a few mosques and fountains had fallen from the sky, the plan could not have been more jumbled than that of the city. One is astonished that streets and pathways are to be found amongst these heaps of houses. Above all of these rises the ancient fortress of Smyrna Castle.' The rise of Izmir's star in the eastern Mediterranean began in the mid-16th century, when it became an important port in the silk trade. It grew into a lively, cosmopolitan, and exotic port city, with communities of Levantines, Muslims and non-Muslims, and within a century had become one of the most important ports in the Ottoman Empire.

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Fascinating corner of the Orient: Izmir
2002 / September
From 1621 France, Venice, Britain and Holland had consuls in Izmir and and later the number of countries with representatives here rose to 18. The city was the principal gateway for trade between Europe and Ottoman Turkey. Today Izmir is a modern city dating largely from the 19th and 20th centuries. By the 19th century Izmir had a high proportion of European and non-Muslim inhabitants, lending it the dualistic character noted by Moltke. It was fast losing its exotic oriental character and more closely resembling a colonial trading post in terms of its economic, social and cultural life as well as its architecture. This development undoubtedly had its advantages in many respects, putting the city at the forefront of change. The Ottoman reforms of 1839 and expanding foreign trade brought modern financial institutions, shops and offices, and a new harbour was built. It is a significant indicator of Izmir's importance as a trading centre that the first Ottoman railway line opened not in Istanbul but in Izmir in 1866, linking the city to Aydin and Kasaba.
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Fascinating corner of the Orient: Izmir
2002 / September

Basmane Station was constructed at the railway terminal in the city. A mains gas network was installed and in 1864 came the first street lighting. The first municipality was established in 1868, and the Kordon esplanade and quay were constructed between 1868 and 1872. Horse-drawn trams were another innovation. Altogether life in cosmopolitan modern Izmir was sophisticated and elegant. In late Ottoman times the city was the second richest after Istanbul, with a per capita income of 1.65 liras, and seventh in terms of public expenditure at 0.58 liras per capita. Yet Izmir was ravaged during the War of Independence, and when the Turkish Republic was founded in 1923 it inherited a city large destroyed by a great fire and whose trade had diminished to a fraction of former levels. That year the exchange of Turkish and Greek populations took place, and later on Levantines also left in large numbers, bringing about a sudden and radical change in the composition of Izmir's population.

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Fascinating corner of the Orient: Izmir
2002 / September
The first years of the Turkish Republic were a time of recuperation for the city. In 1924 a plan was drawn up for those parts of the city that had been laid waste by fire. As well as the large fairground and park, numerous buildings in the Turkish revival style (some of which are still standing) were built at this time. Le Corbusier presented some planning sketches for Izmir in 1948, but these plans lacked any notable spark of creativity and were not implemented. Although the later decades were an era of deterioration in city architecture and planning, Izmir's cultural legacy and traditional sense of the art of living enabled it to create an urban environment in the city centre that was relatively more design-conscious and reflected the joy of life. But by the end of the 20th century Izmir had become a victim of its own success.
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Fascinating corner of the Orient: Izmir
2002 / September

Due to major advances in the fields of commerce, industry, culture and tourism, the city had been forced to expand, swallowing up such traditional summer resorts as Kadifekale, Buca, Bornova and Karsiyaka and losing many of the characteristics once associated with Izmir in the proces.

* M. Rifat Akbulut is a lecturer on City and Regional Planning at Mimar Sinan University.

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