Izmir, from ancient Smyrna to the birth of the Republic of Turkey

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Izmir, in addition to being the third most populous city in Turkey, is a place full of history, linked both to Smyrna and its Ionian period and to the birth of modern Turkey.

The words of Ibn Battuta

“From Ephesus we headed to Izmir, a large city mostly in ruins, equipped with a citadel and located by the sea, where we took up residence in the zawiya of the pious and virtuous shaykh Ya’qub of the brotherhood of the Ahmadiyyas.”

Ibn Battuta

The birth of Smyrna

The oldest settlement on present-day İzmir was Yeşilova Höyük, which was founded in 6500 BC. and it prospered until 4000 BC, a time when an unstoppable deterioration began. The area will then be inhabited by the Leleges, indigenous Anatolians of the area, who will then be expelled by the Greek colonizers who, with the Ionian people, will come here replacing the previous population, founding several cities, including Smyrna, and giving life to the region of Ionia, destined to become one of the poles of the Hellenic world. It is no coincidence that many traditions would like Homer to be originally from this territory or at most from the nearby island of Chios. Subsequently, the Smyrna valley will be invaded by the Aeolians of Lesvos and Cuma etolica, being then put back in the center of Ionia by some inhabitants of Colofone who, escaped here from the conquest of the king of Lydia, Gyges, will exploit a revolt to occupy it. Its strategic position will transform it into a fundamental port for the traffic of goods towards the Anatolian hinterland and specifically towards the kingdom of Lydia, destined to reign over much of Anatolia, including this city.


It was Gyges who tried to get hold of it, but was blocked on the banks of the river Gediz. However, the lineage of Mermenadi created by him expanded more and more, managing to conquer a large part of western Anatolia, including Smyrna, which fell to the hands of Aliatte II between 610 and 600 BC. . Despite suffering important losses, the city survived the new invaders, but was destroyed by the Persians in 545 BC. and re-founded by Alexander the Great on the slopes of Mount Pagus. During the last part of the Hellenistic period it will have to be part of the Kingdom of Pergamum, then bequeathed to the Romans.

From the Romans to the Ottomans

Under the latter disputes, for a long time the throne of “First city of Asia” to nearby Pergamum and Ephesus, immediately becoming one of the key places for the first Christians. In 178 A.D. it was completely destroyed by an incredible earthquake, and was then rebuilt by Marcus Aurelius, who is not by chance considered one of the founders of Smyrna. Once the Empire broke up, the city remained a great religious center, however losing the wealth and splendor it had obtained under Rome. In 1081 it was conquered by Tzachas, a Turkish commander who was first imprisoned by the Byzantines, under whom he managed to accumulate such personal power as to give life to his own autonomous kingdom in Smyrna, with the ambition, however, to conquer even Constantinople and become its sovereign. However, in 1093 he was treacherously assassinated and after just 4 years control passed back to Byzantine hands and, with a brief interlude linked to the Fourth Crusade, it was maintained until the beginning of the 14th century.


From that date, it will be absorbed by the Beylicate of Aydın, which will use its incredible port to give life to incredible naval raids, attracting the ire of Pope Clement VI, who gave birth to the Smyrna Crusades. The latter, however, despite obtaining initial victories, failed in their attempt to take over the city which remained partly in the Beylicato, which was still able to continue its marine attacks. In 1389 the Ottoman sultan Bayezid I took the center into Ottoman hands for the first time, but, in 1402, after the victory in Ankara, Tamerlane arrived here, who massacred most of the Christians, then the majority of the townspeople; however, starting from 1426 it will definitively and permanently pass under the Ottomans.

From the Sublime Porte to today’s İzmir

Under the Sublime Porte it became one of the places with the largest number of Jews, most of whom escaped the Spanish Reconquista, as well as becoming one of the centers most closely linked to the infamous “Ottoman capitulations“, contracts that benefited many foreign powers in the Ottoman Empire. Izmir will then become a key place in the process of industrialization operated in the Ottoman Empire, which will make it more and more a city extremely linked to trade and, in general , to Europe. It is no coincidence that the number of Turks was very similar to that of the Greeks, without counting the other populations that made up the city mosaic were mostly Christian or in any case non-Muslim; this earned them the nickname “Gavur İzmir “, or” The infidel İzmir “.


Not surprisingly, with the fall of the Ottoman Empire following the First World War, this territory will be entrusted to the Greeks, who will occupy it from 1919 to 1922, years of the Greek-Turkish War. This event is part of the Turkish War of Independence, fought by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and the Turkish National Movement against the effects of the Treaty of Sèvres, which conferred large parts of Anatolia on Greece and Armenia. The expulsion of the Hellenes from Izmir, also due to the violence of the clash, still remains an incredibly important and central element in Turkish history, as, following this, Turkey could finally consider itself free from external threats and ready to form its first republic, with Atatürk for president. In 1923 there will be the Exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey, which will definitively put an end to any Greek presence in the city and giving the two states the ethnic and religious conformation we know today; precisely because of this past, İzmir is still one of the places where the tension between the two countries is still particularly strong and felt. With the birth of the Republic of Turkey, this area has become one of the richest and most populous in Turkey, so much so that its metropolitan municipality is inhabited by over 4 million people; making it second only to Istanbul and Ankara by population.

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