Izmir History Facts and Timeline

(Izmir, Turkey)

The 'Pearl of the Aegean', as the Turkish city of Izmir is fondly known, is a busy and prosperous port city with deep roots in antiquity.

As one of the most cosmopolitan Anatolian cities, the history of Izmir has always been associated with progressive westward thinking and society. Previously known as Smyrna, the city has been a hugely popular place from the Ottoman era right into modern times.

Could it be Troy?

Historians and archaeologists have a fair amount of evidence linking modern-day Izmir with the ancient city of Troy, with excavated relics dating all the way back to 3000 BC. Records suggest that the Hittites built an important settlement around 1500 BC on the slopes of Mount Yamanlar, where today's Bayrakli quarter is located. This town ruled the Gulf of Izmir and was one of the most advanced cultures in Central Anatolia's early period.

Old Smyrna

The first recorded mention of the history of Izmir as it is known today dates to around 1000 BC, when the town (then named Old Smyrna) was a bustling port. It boasted in the region of 1,000 residents, was encircled by protective walls and enjoyed healthy trade with other Mediterranean towns. The Temple of Athena, which is still partially standing, dates from this period, somewhere around 600 BC.

Everybody Wants a Piece of Smyrna

First the Lydians moved in, then Persian Emperor Cyrus II conquered and destroyed Old Smyrna in the middle of the 6th century BC. Alexander the Great, who defeated the Persians, rebuilt Smyrna around 340 BC, at a new more spacious location on the nearby slopes of Mount Pagos.

When the Romans arrived in 133 BC, the city took on a new life. Smyrna appeared in the Bible as one of the seven churches of Asia, but a massive earthquake in 178 AD razed the city to the ground.

Izmir is Born

From the 11th century to the 15th century, Smyrna moved back and forth between the powers of the day. From the Seljuqs and the Byzantines to the Turks, the port was frequently conquered, although it was always protected by its new occupiers. When the Ottomans took Smyrna in 1415, the modern history of Izmir was born.

A commercial treaty between Suleiman the Magnificent and the French king Francois I in 1535 paved the way for Izmir to become Turkey's most cosmopolitan and commercially successful city. Its urban landscape even began to take on a European facade.

International Port

The 16th century was when Izmir really took off as an international port city. Europeans now began to discover the city, setting up trade as far away as England. Foreign consulates moved in and by the end of the 17th century, Izmir had a very diverse population.

The New Turkish Republic

The period following WWI and the collapse of the Ottomans was one of the most chaotic in recent Izmir history. The Greeks invaded the city and were ejected only after fierce fighting led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who finally recaptured the city in September of 1922.

That day was an important event in the Turkish Independence War and ultimately led to the creation of modern Turkey. The 9th September is now considered Turkey's most important public holiday and a large monument commemorates the victory alongside Izmir's waterfront.