Smyrna (Greek: Σμύρνη) is an ancient city (today İzmir in Turkey) that was founded by the Ionians at a central and strategic point on the Aegean coast of Anatolia. Aided by its advantageous port conditions, its ease of defence and its good inland connections, Smyrna rose to prominence before the Classical Era. Its importance can be said to have remained practically uninterrupted to this day. Its initial location at the northeastern corner of the tip of the Gulf of Smyrna is commonly called "Old Smyrna", and the city after the move to a new location on the slopes of Mount Pagos (Kadifekale today) at the time of Alexander the Great, constitute Smyrna proper. The heart of that new city, principally dating from the late Hellenistic and early Roman period, before a great earthquake in 178, forms the large area of İzmir Agora Open Air Museum today (see below).
The early Aeolian Greek settlers of Lesbos and Cyme, expanding eastwards, occupied the valley of Smyrna. It was one of the confederacy of Aeolian city-states, marking the Aeolian frontier with the Ionian colonies.
Strangers or refugees from the Ionian city of Colophon settled in the city and finally (traditionally in 688 BC) by an uprising Smyrna passed into their hands and became the thirteenth of the Ionian city-states. Revised mythologies made it a colony of Ephesus In 688 BC the Ionian boxer Onomastus of Smyrna won the prize at Olympia, but the coup was probably then a recent event. The Colophonian conquest is mentioned by Mimnermus (before 600 BC), who counts himself equally of Colophon and of Smyrna. The Aeolic form of the name was retained even in the Attic dialect, and the epithet "Aeolian Smyrna" remained current long after the conquest.
Smyrna's position at the mouth of the small river Hernus at the head of a deep arm of the sea (Smyrnaeus Sinus) that reached far inland and admitted Greek trading ships into the heart of Lydia, placed it on an essential trade route between Anatolia and the Aegean and raised Smyrna during the seventh century BC to power and splendor. One of the great trade routes which cross Anatolia descends the Hermus valley past Sardis, and then, diverging from the valley, passes south of Spil Mount and crosses a low pass into the little valley where Smyrna lies between the mountains and the sea. Miletus, and later Ephesus, situated at the sea end of the other great trade route across Anatolia, competed for a time successfully with Smyrna, but after both cities' harbors silted up, Smyrna remained without a rival.
The river Meles, which flowed by Smyrna, is famous in literature and was worshipped in the valley. A common and consistent tradition connects Homer with the valley of Smyrna and the banks of the Meles; his figure was one of the stock types on coins of Smyrna, one class of which numismatists call "Homerian"; the epithet Melesigenes was applied to him; the cave where he was wont to compose his poems was shown near the source of the river; his temple, the Homereum, stood on its banks. The steady equable flow of the Meles, alike in summer and winter, and its short course, beginning and ending near the city, are celebrated by Aristides and Himerius. The description applies admirably to the stream which rises from abundant springs east of the city and flows into the southeast extremity of the gulf.
The archaic city ("Old Smyrna") contained a Temple of Athena from the seventh century BC.
When the Mermnad kings raised the Lydian power and aggressiveness, Smyrna was one of the first points of attack. Gyges (ca. 687—652 BC) was, however, defeated on the banks of the Hermus, the situation of the battlefield showing that the power of Smyrna extended far to the east. A strong fortress, the ruins of whose ancient and massive walls are still imposing, on a hill in the pass between Smyrna and Nymphi, was probably built by the Smyrnaean Ionians to command the valley of Nymphi. According to Theognis (circa 500 BC), it was pride that destroyed Smyrna. Mimnermus laments the degeneracy of the citizens of his day, who could no longer stem the Lydian advance. Finally, Alyattes II (609—560 BC) conquered the city and sacked it, and though Smyrna did not cease to exist, the Greek life and political unity were destroyed, and the polis was reorganized on the village system. Smyrna is mentioned in a fragment of Pindar and in an inscription of 388 BC, but its greatness was past.
Alexander the Great conceived the idea of restoring the Greek city, in a scheme that was, according to Strabo, actually carried out under Antigonus (316—301 BC) and Lysimachus (301 BC—281 BC), who enlarged and fortified the city. The ruined acropolis of the ancient city, the "crown of Smyrna," had been on a steep peak about 1250 feet high, which overhangs the northeast extremity of the gulf. The later, Hellenistic city was founded on the modern site of İzmir, partly on the slopes of a rounded hill the Greeks called Pagus near the southeast end of the gulf, and partly on the low ground between the hill and the sea. The beauty of the Hellenistic city, clustering on the low ground and rising tier over tier on the hillside, was frequently praised by the ancients and is celebrated on its coins.
Smyrna is shut in on the west by a hill now called Deirmen Tepe, with the ruins of a temple on the summit. The walls of Lysimachus crossed the summit of this hill, and the acropolis occupied the top of Pagus. Between the two the road from Ephesus entered the city by the Ephesian gate, near which was a gymnasium. Closer to the acropolis the outline of the stadium is still visible, and the theatre was situated on the north slopes of Pagus. Smyrna possessed two harbours, the outer, which was simply the open roadstead of the gulf, and the inner, which was a small basin, with a narrow entrance partially filled up by Tamerlane in 1402 AD.
The streets were broad, well paved and laid out at right angles; many were named after temples: the main street, called the Golden, ran across the city from west to east, beginning probably from the temple of Zeus Akraios on the west slope of Pagus, and running round the lower slopes of Pagus (like a necklace on the statue, to use the favorite terms of Aristides the orator) towards Tepejik outside the city on the east, where probably stood the temple of Cybele, worshipped under the name of Meter Sipylene, (from Spil Mount, which bounds the Smyrna valley), the patroness of the city. The plain towards the sea was too low to be properly drained and hence in rainy weather the streets of the lower town were deep with mud and water.
At the end of the Hellenistic period, in 197 BC, the city suddenly cut its ties with King Eumenes of Pergamum and instead appealed to Rome for help. Because Rome and Smyrna had had no ties until then, a cult of the city was created to establish a bond and the cult eventually became widespread through the whole Roman Empire. As of 195 BC, the city of Rome itself started to be deified, in the cult to the goddess Roma. In this sense, the Smyrniots can be considered as the creators of the goddess Roma.
A Christian church existed here from a very early time, originating in the considerable Jewish colony. It was one of the seven churches addressed in the Book of Revelation. Saint Ignatius of Antioch visited Smyrna and later wrote letters to its bishop, Polycarp. A mob of Jews and pagans abetted the martyrdom of Polycarp in AD 153. Saint Irenaeus, who heard Polycarp as a boy, was probably a native of Smyrna.
In the late second century, Irenaeus also noted:
And perhaps, most interestingly is what Tertullian wrote circa 208 A.D.
Hence, apparently the church in Smyrna was one of only two that Tertullian felt could have had some type of apostolic succession. During the mid-third century, however, changes occurred in Asia Minor and most there became affiliated with the Greco-Roman churches. When Constantinople became the seat of government, the trade between Anatolia and the west lost in importance, and Smyrna declined. The Seljuk commander Çaka Bey seized Smyrna in 1084 and used it as a base for naval raids, but the city was recovered by the generals of Alexios I Komnenos. The city was several times ravaged by the Turks, and had become quite ruinous when the emperor John Ducas Vatatzes about 1222 rebuilt it. But Ibn Batuta found it still in great part a ruin when the homonymous chieftain of the Beylik of Aydın had conquered it about 1330 and made his son Umur governor. It became the port of the emirate. Soon afterwards the Knights of Saint John established themselves in the town, but failed to conquer the citadel. In 1402 Tamerlane stormed the town and massacred almost all the inhabitants. The Mongol conquest was only temporary, but Smyrna was resumed by the Turks under Aydın dynasty after which it became Ottoman, when the Ottomans took over the lands of Aydın.
Greek influence was so strong in the area that the Turks called it "Smyrna of the infidels.
The Turks continued to control this area, with the exception of the 1919-1922 period, when the city was taken by the Greek military.
Situated on the northern slopes of the Pagos hills, it was the commercial, judicial and political nucleus of the ancient city, its center for artistic activities and for teaching.
İzmir Agora Open Air Museum consists of five parts, including the agora area, the base of the northern basilica gate, the stoa and the ancient shopping centre.
The agora of Smyrna was built during the Hellenistic era. After a destructive earthquake in 178 AD is was rebuilt in the Roman period (second century AD) under the emperor Marcus Aurelius, according to an urban plan drawn by Hippodamos. The bust of the emperor's wife Faustina on the second arch of the western stoa confirms this fact.
It was constructed on a sloping terrain in three floors, close to the city center. The terrain is 165 m wide and 200 m long. It is bordered on all sides by porticos. Because a Byzantine and later an Ottoman cemetery was located over the ruins of the agora, it was preserved from modern constructions. This agora is now the largest and the best preserved among Ionian agoras. The agora is now surrounded by modern buildings that still cover its eastern and southern parts.
The agora was used until the Byzantine period.
On entering the courtyard, one sees on one's left side the western stoa, in the back the basilica and on the right side the Ottoman cemetery. The courtyard was surrounded by porticoes on three sides. The basilica and the western portico were built over an infrastructure of basements with round arches to protect them against future earthquakes. The eastern end and the southern porticoes consisted of a two-floor compounded structure. Beneath the basilica was a covered market place. The design of the basement has a strong resemblance with the crypto-porticus constructions of the western provinces.
The monumental entrance at the eastern side was one of the most magnificent and arched structures of the Hellenistic era.
A two-storied stoa, 17.5 m wide, was constructed at the eastern and western side of the agora. Each stoa was divided in three galleries by two rows of columns. Each stoa had an upper story. The stoas were protected from sun and rain by a roof. These impressive structures measured 75 m by 18 m. The southern part of the western stoa has many water channels and large water reservoirs, pointing to the presence of water in the agora.
Most of the discoveries were made by archaeological digs carried out by the German professors R. Naumann, F. Miltner and S. Kantar, the director of İzmir and Ephesus museums, in 1932-1941. They uncovered a three-floor, rectangular compound with stairs in the front, built on columns and arches around a large courtyard in the middle of the building.
New digs in the agora began in 1996 and are being continued under the sponsorship of the Greater Municipality of İzmir A primary school that was adjacent to agora and that fell victim to a fire in 1980 not having been reconstructed, its space could be incorporated into the historical site. This meant that not only could the area of agora be increased to 16,590 square metres but also new digs could be launched in a previously unexplored zone. The archaeologists and the local authorities, means permitting, are also keenly eyeing a neighbouring multi-storey car park, which is known to cover an important part of the ancient settlement. During the present renovations the old restorations in concrete are gradually being replaced by marble.
The most important result of the new studies has been the discovery of the agora's northern gate. It has been concluded that embossed figures of the goddess Hestia found in these digs were a continuation of the Zeus altar uncovered during the first digs. Statues of the gods Hermes, Dionysos, Eros and Heracles have also been found, as well as many statues, heads, embossments, figurines and monuments of people and animals, made of marble, stone, bone, glass, metal and terracotta. Inscriptions found here list the people who provided aid to Smyrna after the earthquake of 178 AD.