Travel insurance might be a good idea if you want to visit Izmir’s museums in winter since they are empty and you are likely to catch a cold from wandering around the freezing halls.
But, all kidding aside, there are some nice cultural sites to visit in Izmir and while in the month I was here, I didn’t come close to seeing them all, I did get to see quite a few of them.
First of all, the Kultur Park. This is Izmir’s idea of Central Park. After Attaturk retook Turkey from the Greeks and then expelled the greeks, most of the center of Izmir was burned to the ground. In the place where all those houses had stood, there now stands a beautiful park. Since it is winter, the park is rarely full, but the dogs at least get the chance to enjoy the flowers.
In the center is a tower that is used for bungee jumping in the summer (or so I was told) and what looks like yet another creepy and scary Turkish amusement park. I’m guessing that during the warm weather there are constant crowds here, but during my visits I found very few people and plenty of space. Inside the Kultur Park is the Izmir Museum of Art and History. It really is history art, don’t expect to find any modern displays here, but overall it was a very nice museum split into three buildings. Coins and precious objects, ceramics, and statues. Winter tarif is 3 TL.
Apparently the main reason the park exists is for the annual trade fair where it is rumoured that Turkey is the only country in the world that holds a trade fair where import vendors outnumber export vendors. Leave it to the Turkish bureaucracy to figure out how to make that happen.
Leaving the park you will find a 24 hour McDonalds and you can stroll through the eerie part of the city that will probably someday be the biggest, richest, most prosperous part but right now looks like the hole at Ground Zero two or three years ago.
Wander for a mile or so and you will start to see signs for the Agora. The Agora was the ancient Roman marketplace. Remarkably well preserved and sitting right inside of a modern city. Very strange. I didn’t bother to pay to go in. Maybe someday I’ll wish I had, but frankly, I’m pretty sick of seeing Roman ruins. Doesn’t do much for me anymore. Wow! Doric columns.
The neighborhood up the hill from the Agora is much more interesting. This is not another rich neighborhood and the number of women wearing headscarves goes up by about 999% the instant you enter this area. The winding streets, coal chimneys spouting noxious gas just about at eye level, and women carrying water from public fountains is about as authentic as Izmir gets. These are real people, really living a really hard life. You still see the crows and apaches hanging out in tribes, but the poverty that they sit amidst reveals that the purchase of fake designer clothes is a priority and not a luxury in their minds. Look like a million bucks but not a dime in their pockets.
Going down the hill and back into the Konak area you can find the Archeology and Ethnography museums. Again, both were empty and since there was no one to sell me a ticket at the ethnography museum, it was gratis. This, to me was the best museum in Izmir. Not too fancy, not too opulent, just a very cool old house on a hill filled with the products and crafts of Izmirian people. Not only were the displays good, but the descriptions of how glass ‘evil eye’ beads are made, how felt was made, and more was actually interesting, well written, and for a geek like me – fun. I never knew how felt was made before.
I have the feeling that there are a ton of little galleries, great modern artists, and more in Izmir, but in the month I lived here, I didn’t find them.