Izmir The Beautiful

Boasting a spate of newly opening art venues, new generation boutique hotels and gastronomic wonders, İzmir, which is already gearing up for Expo 2020, is a giant city of culture where life is lived well.

One of the strongest candidates for EXPO 2020, Izmir feels like it is on the brink of a great transformation at every step. This city, where life is lived in gentrified contrast to the chaos typical of big cities, is gearing up for the future with a rich cultural vision. Host to numerous events all year round from a film festival and art biennial to jazz concerts and theater days, the city boasts a diverse fall program: World-famous artists will be showcasing their works at the International Sculpture Workshop through November 2. Legendary orchestra conductor Sir Simon Rattle is just one of the names enriching the city’s culture atmosphere. Conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in the closing concert of the 26th International Izmir Festival at Ephesus Ancient Theater, Sir Simon afforded guests a memorable experience.

Alsancak is at the center of Izmir’s changing face. Here too is the Culture Park, designed and founded to launch the city on a new trajectory in culture, art and sports. This area, which includes venues such as a tennis club, concert hall and outdoor nightclub, is ringed by lush greenery. Visitors to the area, which hosts close to 30 world fairs a year, are already topping three million.  A rapid rise in the number of cultural venues is also revving up the city’s energy. Ahmed Adnan Saygun Art Center (AASSM), which opened four years ago, is the pride of Izmir with its 1,153-capacity concert hall and exhibition spaces linked by a bridge. The magnificent acoustics of this modern edifice of mainly wood and iron construction were inspired by those of the Sydney Opera House.

Another major art project in Izmir is a plan to convert former factories into a series of cultural centers. An old building at Bornova where bolts and screws were once produced lives on now as the Soyer Culture Art Factory. Yet another culture center is the historic City Gas Factory near Alsancak Railroad Station, which hosts photography exhibitions. Known for its art workshops and open air shows, this venue looks chic indeed with its stone buildings and giant smokestack illuminating the city nights. Turning now to the city’s spanking new museums, some 90 ship’s models, close to 130 nautical antiques and over 60 paintings are on exhibition at Arkas Maritime History Museum, which is housed in a 19th century stone building at Bornova. Meanwhile the Mask Museum and Joy and Caricature Museum on Kıbrıs Şehitleri Caddesi are a first in Turkey.

Nor can any mention of Izmir overlook the city’s Kordon esplanade, because the Kordon and neighboring streets running parallel to the sea are the top places where the soul of Izmir thrives. To acquaint yourself with the city’s new face, branch out to Konak Pier from Alsancak Harbor. If you like, you can even ride there in a renovated phaeton. These phaetons, drawn by Austrian horses with white fetlocks, are based on British Royal models. What’s more, the fares are government-regulated and the drivers municipal employees. It’s not for nothing that one of the city’s most fashionable avenues, Dr. Mustafa Bey Caddesi, has been known for some time now as the Soho of Izmir. Chock full of new restaurants and cafes, this avenue is literally undergoing a gastronomical revolution with Portuguese-style seafood dishes and Italian desserts constantly coming and going on its tables. Nor can we neglect to mention Izmir’s century-old pastry shop culture and its inimitable pumpkin, orange and almond sweets… You can sample close to 50 different pastries a day at these venues where life is lived in the languor of a gentle sea breeze.

We stop now in one of the many music stores along the road. Store manager Tevfik Aker gives us a notion of the city’s music potential. Aker, who says that Turkey’s biggest music shops are in Izmir, reports that some 2,400 pianos and upwards of 3,000 violins are sold in the city each year. Izmir is truly drawing closer to art, and art to Izmir.

The part of the French Consulate overlooking the sea has now joined Izmir as Arkas Art Center. Director of the center, which is entering its second year, Betül Aksoy says the Libraries and Opera Houses Exhibition of photographs by Ahmet Ertuğ, which runs through December 30, is a focus of intense interest.

The Izmir leg of the 1st Turkish International Balloon Festival, to be held September 9 to 20, 2013, is targeting a million and a half visitors. Participation from 160 countries is expected at the event.

In the labyrinthine streets of Kemeraltı, one of the city’ oldest areas of settlement, a giant open air bazaar awaits you with everything from clothing to kitchen gadgets.

The second of the Izmir Art Biennials, in which 535 artists from 46 countries took part last year, will be held from April 30 to May 5, 2013.

According to Filiz Yılmazoğulları, one of Izmir’s experienced chefs, this year’s favorites are:  Cretan-style zucchini, nettle salad, sea bass with okra, cabbage with mussels, chard-wrapped sardines, and bonito stew.

Originally an Ottoman caravanserai built in 1745, Kızlarağası Han is a touristic bazaar and cultural center today. And the nearby area is home to some of Izmir’s most popular working man’s restaurants.

YUSUF TUV - Photographer
“Photography has a special place in the cultural life of Izmir. Besides the Izmir universities, Izmir Photographic Society (İFOD) and the photography workshops are also spearheading the business. One of the city’s oldest areas of settlement, Basmane, is a virtual photography studio. There are a lot of venues in the city that exhibit photographs. I invite all art and photography buffs to come to Izmir.”