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Wednesday, 02 July 2014 14:09

Turkey’s Elegant Aegean

Written by  Monique Burns

Europe-Turkey
With broad stretches of blue sea, calm turquoise bays where stylish mega-yachts shelter beside colorful old fishing boats, exclusive seaside resorts and sleepy bougainvillea-draped villages, Turkey’s Aegean Coast draws thousands of sun seekers each year. Home to some of the Mediterranean’s most famous UNESCO World Heritage Sites, it’s also a mecca for culture and history buffs.

Two Days in Istanbul
Slough off jet lag with a two-hour Bosphorus Cruise. The next day, visit the city’s most iconic sights. Nearly side by side are the 17th-century Blue Mosque, adorned with thousands of blue-and-white tiles, and sixth-century Hagia Sofia, known for its stunning Byzantine mosaics. At the nearby Grand Bazaar, more than 4,000 shops sell everything from Turkish carpets to stained glass lamps. Not far away, striking red and black calligraphy adorns the recently renovated Suleymaniye Mosque. Farther west, visit the 5th-century Chora Church with its well-preserved mosaics.

Izmir: Seaside Haunts and Jewish Heritage
Izmir, Turkey’s third-largest city, is a frequent cruise-ship stop and a major gateway to the region’s luxury resorts and World Heritage Sites. Founded as Smyrna by the Greeks in the 1st millennium B.C. and one of the greatest cities in Rome’s Asian Empire, Izmir was ravaged by fire in 1922. Several landmarks survived, including the tile-embossed Konak Clock Tower, and the 16th-century blue-and-gold Hisar Camii, the city’s largest mosque.

Southwest lies Karatas, the Jewish quarter, whose population once topped 25,000. At the end of Dario Moreno Street rises the red-brick Asansor, an elevator built in 1907 by wealthy Jewish banker to join Karatas with a hilltop Turkish neighborhood. From on high, savor views of the horseshoe-shaped Gulf of Izmir. Two blocks away, 1907 Bet Israel Synagogue is a jewel box of dark mahogany columns, crystal chandeliers and intricately tiled floors. Nestled among the shops of the city’s Kemeralti Bazaar to the northeast, 17th-century Kemeralti Synagogue has a mahogany podium shaped like a ship, a poignant reminder of the journey its original Sephardic congregation made from Spain.

Pergamon and Ephesus
On your second day in Izmir, head to Bergama, gateway to Pergamon, the Eastern Mediterranean’s best-preserved city. Before reaching the hilltop acropolis, visit the Crimson Basilica, an enormous second-century temple built to honor Egyptian gods Isis, Serapis and Harpocrates, and later converted into a Christian basilica.

Three miles away, Pergamon, built in the 8th century B.C., lies largely in ruins.  Don’t miss Trajan’s Temple, with its giant fluted Corinthian columns, and the 10,000-seat theatre, antiquity’s steepest.

The Asklepion is one of the ancient world’s most famous medical centers. Along with a well-preserved Roman theater, several wells dot the site, including a healing spring where visitors can drink. The 50-foot underground Sacred Tunnel leads to the circular Temple of Telesphoros, or Treatment Center, where patients took mud baths, received herbal treatments and had their dreams analyzed.

Among the many highlights of Selcuk are the Temple of Hadrian, with its friezes of Fortuna and Medusa, the two-story library of Celsus, antiquity’s third-largest library after Alexandria and Pergamon, and the three-story Grand Theatre, where St. Paul once preached.

Follow the crowds to Meryemana, or the Virgin Mary’s House, where it’s believed John the Baptist brought Mary to live out her final years.

From Sirince, the Cesme Peninsula, whose tip almost touches the Greek island of Chios, lies about 70 miles west. In the fishing village of Alcati, a trendy windsurfer’s paradise likened to Spain’s Ibiza, bougainvillea-draped cafÈs and small hotels line cobblestone lanes.

Celebrating Bodrum
If your curiosity gets the better of you, leave Izmir early and detour to Denizli, gateway to Pamukkale (www.pamukkale.org.tr), one of the planet’s most unusual UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Approach the site through the adjacent city of Hierapolis, whose ancient ruins include a tomb-dotted necropolis, antiquity’s largest cemetery. Before reaching Pamukkale proper, join Turkish families for a swim at the 7th-century Ancient Pool whose 97-degree thermal springs are said to cure various ailments. Beyond is the Pamukkale Museum and beyond that is Pamukkale itself. At this so-called “Cotton Castle,” calcium-rich salts from mineral waters run off the edge of a wide plateau creating saucer-like travertine terraces that appear snow-covered. Join the international throng wading barefoot through the slippery terraces, or find a chair under a nearby pine tree and watch from a safe distance.

With a clear turquoise bay, and whitewashed hotels and condos climbing olive and pine-clad hills, the city of Bodrum has been called the St. Tropez of the Aegean. As peaceful as it looks, Bodrum is a high-energy city with scores of restaurants, bars and hotels, and 24-hour traffic on its palm-lined seaside promenade.

For travel information, contact Turkish Airlines (www.turkishairlines.com), voted Europe’s best airline for the third consecutive year, and who recently launched its sixth U.S. gateway in Boston. With the addition of Boston to an expanding global network, Turkish Airlines now flies to 249 destinations in 106 countries - more countries than any other airline in the world.  For more information, visit: www.goturkey.com

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