A land of beautiful vistas over the sea, lovely evening breezes, and majestic sunsets, Aegean Turkey (Turkish: Ege Bölgesi) is the western part of the country, including the Aegean Sea coast across from a wide arch of Greek islands and the adjoining inland areas.
|Central Aegean |
Izmir and its vicinity with lots of history and beautiful seaside towns
|Northern Aegean |
milder climate than the south with olive groves everywhere
|Southern Aegean |
crystal clear turquoise sea, verdant citrus plantations
- 1 Izmir — Turkey’s third biggest city is a busy harbour and the unofficial capital of the region
- 2 Assos — a pleasant village with preserved traditional buildings and the impressive Temple of Athena overlooking the sea
- 3 Ayvalık — a beautiful town with a distinctive Eastern Mediterranean architecture
- 4 Bergama — the extensive ruins of ancient Pergamon are a must-see
- 5 Bodrum — a trendy resort known for its Templar-built castle and parties going wild
- 6 Çeşme — a historic town and beach resort on a peninsula stretching far west
- 7 Datça — an unspoilt town; the nearby ancient city of Knidos forms the boundary between the Aegean and the Mediterranean
- 8 Denizli — an inland city serving as a hub to Pamukkale, and nearby ancient sites
- 9 Kuşadası — a busy resort town with an island citadel; its port welcomes the Mediterranean cruises
- 1 Aphrodisias — great ruins of an ancient city founded in honour of the goddess of love
- 2 Dilek Peninsula National Park — perhaps the wildest stretch of land on the Turkish Aegean coast, with its lush forests, hiking trails, and desolate beaches, this is a great get-away from concrete sprawls of resorts
- 3 Ephesus — the best preserved of the ancient cities in Turkey, Ephesus was once the capital of the Roman province of Asia Minor
- 4 Pamukkale — the "cotton castle", the white world of travertines
- 5 Priene, Miletus, and Didyma — a trio of neighbouring ancient Greek archaeological sites
- 6 Sardis — the ruins of the capital of the Lydians, the inventors of "money", backed by craggy Mt. Tmolos
The Aegean coast of Turkey is lined by a succession of modern cities with palm-lined avenues and liberal attitudes, towns with old quarters that are filled with elegant turn of the 20th century neo-classical architecture, and ruins of what were once major powers of the Mediterranean in ancient times; all backed by fertile valleys and hills, the sides of which are dotted with picturesque villages and large oliveyards, which help Turkey achieve being one of the biggest producers of olive oil in the world. It's little wonder that much of ancient art and philosophy—from Aristotle to Homer, many were citizens of cities along this coast—was developed in this land of wine and honey, which has a favourable climate year round.
During the Roman era, Aegean Turkey and the neighbouring parts of Central Anatolia constituted the Province of Asia (hence "the Seven Churches of Asia", see below). The name of the province was later extended to include all of the continent that lies to the east.
The climate is Mediterranean, and often very typically so; hot, dry summers (around 30-35°C during the day, 1-2 days of rain a month), warm transitional seasons, and mild, wet winters (around 10-15°C during the day, 8-16 days of rain a month). There is still some climatic variance within the region, however. Cities further inland have chillier winters, with some possibility of snow; while also contending with summers featuring daytime temperature averages over 35°C.
Turkish is the main language in the region. Native Greek speakers of Cretan origin formed the majority in many coastal areas, but since the 1980s, the links with Crete are more folkloric than linguistic.
As tourism is one of the main industries of the region, finding someone who can communicate in English or German to a lesser degree is generally not a problem.
- See also: Istanbul to Izmir
- Most of the tourism-oriented towns have direct bus services from many other important centres of the country, such as Istanbul.
- The major airports of this region are located in/near Izmir, Bodrum, and Dalaman. All handle a number of international flights as well as much more frequent domestic (national) flights.
- Most large hotels, tour operators and car rental companies located in the provinces of Izmir and Bodrum.
- All major coastal towns have ferry links with the nearest Greek islands.
- Major hub of the region for rail transport is Izmir.
The Aegean has the highest concentration of ancient city ruins in Turkey, which should be no surprise given that this was the heart of the Greek Aeolian and Ionian, and indigenous Lydian and Carian civilizations. Expect to come across with another set of ruins as close to each other as every 10 or so kilometers. Some, such as Ephesus—very possibly the best preserved ancient ruins in all of the Mediterranean basin, except for Pompeii—still exhibit much of their former glory, while others may not seem to be offering much more than a pile of collapsed marble columns at first sight. In addition to Ephesus, other likely contenders to be on the checklist of many travellers to the region include Assos, Pergamon, Miletus, and Didyma, but some often overlooked sites such as Sardis, and Aphrodisias are also well worth a visit. Besides, as most of the still-inhabited cities and towns in the region are merely modern versions of ancient cities (it's hard to find a city younger than 3000 years old in the region after all), it's always possible to see yet another unexpected bit of ancient ruins, even within a city as modern-looking as Izmir.
When the fatigue from visiting one ancient city after another sets in, it might be time to look for medieval Seljuk and Ottoman architecture that some of the Turkish regions are known for. However, the scorched earth policy of the retreating Greek army in the final days of Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922, or the War of Independence as known in Turkey, left many Aegean towns in rubbles, and the concrete-mania of the following decades didn't certainly help either. Regardless, the often unexplored inland village of Birgi southeast of Izmir is one of the places that happily escaped such destruction, and its Çakıroğlu Konağı, a three-storey mansion that is colourfully painted inside-out is a rare treat for architecture enthusiasts. It may also be possible to visit the odd mosque that dates back to the days of the Turkish frontier principalities (which rose to power after the central Seljuk authority vanished with the Mongol invasion in the 13th century), which has a unique post-Seljuk, yet pre-Ottoman transitionary style, one great example being the İsa Bey Mosque in Selçuk. Fans of neo-classicism are luckier, as the coastal towns that used to be inhabited by the Ottoman Greeks and have been full of neo-classical buildings were left intact—Ayvalık, Foça, Alaçatı, and Çeşme are the towns that you should head to if this is what you are after.
So many years of wars and invasions mean that the castles and citadels are an unmissable mark of the regional landscape. Those that are in Bodrum, Kuşadası, and Çeşme quite form the symbol of their respective towns, while the small picturesque castle of the coastal village of Çandarlı, surrounded by well-manicured grasses, is one of the main attractions of the surrounding area. However, if you are looking for something really impressive and really off-the-beaten path, head for Babakale ("the father castle"), which has been proudly standing on the westernmost tip of the Asian mainland for centuries.
Seven Churches of Asia
Aegean Turkey played a major role in the development of early Christianity, and of particular note are the Seven Churches of Asia: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamon, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. While the prophecies didn't refer to physical churches, and only Pergamon, Ephesus, and Philadelphia have Roman-era churches remaining, all of these cities have ruins of some kind, and Sardis has the ruins of a synagogue. Apart from Izmir (Smyrna), which doesn't have much in the way of Roman ruins, but is one of Turkey's major cities, the most popular of these cities are Ephesus and Pergamon, with Sardis and Laodicea coming in far behind, and Akhisar (Thyatira) and Alaşehir (Philadelphia) are almost never visited by tourists (except the handful seeking to see the Seven Churches). While Akhisar and Alaşehir's Roman-era ruins are minimal compared Ephesus, Pergamon, Sardis, or even Laodicea, these cities are still interesting to visit, as they remain local farming centers, with strikingly different feels.
All of these cities except for Pergamon can be reached (or the nearest city, no more than a 20 minute minibus ride away can be reached), by train, however except for Selçuk (Ephesus) and Denizli (Laodicea) the trains run only a few times a day, and the schedules may be inconvenient.
- Selçuk and Denizli can both be reached by the regional Denizli-Izmir train. Minibuses, taxis, or a long walk will be required to reach both sites from their associated cities.
- Sardis (Sart on the schedule) and Alaşehir can be reached by the regional Izmir-Uşak train. The train station for Alaşehir is in the center of two, while the location of Sart station seems to be slightly over a kilometer from the gymnasium complex.
- Akhisar can be reached by the either the 6 Eylül or 17 Eylül express between Izmir and Bandirma, each of which runs only once a day. The station itself is seven blocks, or about 400 meters, from the ruins.
It is also possible to take buses or minibuses between the cities. In Izmir, the buses run to each of these cities at intervals ranging from every half hour (Bergama/Pergamon) to every two hours (Alaşehir). It's likely that buses between the other cities will be less frequent, so if you plan to make a loop around Izmir, ask at the bus station when the buses to your next city run.
With its long craggy coastline, finding somewhere for a swim is rarely a daunting task in the region. As for the related watersports, some towns are better suited to them than some others; for example the waters of Alaçatı and Bitez are known to be great for windsurfing.
With the Mediterranean climate in charge, and the latitude being more southern than most of Europe, there is not much room for wintersports in the region (in coastal locations, it only snows once, and lightly, every decade—this is why the locals find the pictures of the amphitheatre of Ephesus under snow so magical and make them into postcards). While the snow-hungry residents of Izmir flock to Mount Spylus near Manisa at every opportunity to witness the snowfall, that particular mountain does not really receive that much as to let skiing or doing other snow-related sports. For these, it may be more worthwhile to head more inland to Mt. Bozdağ, or ancient Mount Tmolos between Salihli and Ödemiş, which, with its mountain lake, is beautiful regardless the season.
When it comes to thermal waters, the Aegean is less known as a destination than some other Turkish regions. Two especial places of note may be Ilıca, which has hot springs discharging from the sea floor inside natural rocky pools, and much more famous Pamukkale, which offers the unique experience of swimming amidst toppled ancient columns lying at the bottom of a thermal water-filled pool, which has been continuously in use for millennia.
While viticulture is a big business in the agricultural interior of the region, most of the produce is of the Sultana variety, which is not processed into wine, but rather exported as dried raisin. Nevertheless, a number of towns around Denizli has some level of fame for their red wines which often have a strong flavour, while the village of Şirince is well-known nationwide for its wines produced out of just about any fruit that can be imagined.
One drink that is unique to the region is the sübye of Tire, oddly made of melon seeds.
While some of the inland towns might be a little bit more conservative than those on the coast, you are never too far away from a bottle of Efes lager whenever you are thirsty in the region.
If the sea, sun, and ancient cities here are not enough, why not moving on southeast to Mediterranean Turkey?