The view from the top of the Asansör
The Archaeological Museum
Ephesus, a walk through history

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A privileged view over the Ionic Sea

When you step aground from your MSC cruise in İzmir, the third largest city of Turkey, you can enjoy its enviable position straddling the head of a 50km-long Mediterranean Sea gulf.

Surrounded on all sides by mountains, it’s arrayed like a gigantic amphitheatre, with the Ionian Sea functioning as a sort of never-ending show, a really wonderful holiday landscape. Offering views across most of the city, the old-fashioned Asansör (lift) makes an ideal place to start a visit to İzmir.

Constructed in 1907 in a 50m-high brick tower, it originally served as a quick route to and from the mansions perched on the hill above. The elevator has since been completely refurbished; from the highly recommended restaurant-café at the top, you can look down on narrow streets of crumbling houses and out over the bay.

The Archaeological Museum features an excellent collection of finds from all over İzmir province and beyond. The only surviving pre-Ottoman monument in the flatlands, the agora is İzmir’s most accessible ancient site. It’s an impressive site, with water still coursing through ancient ducts and channels.

Principal structures include a colonnade of fourteen Corinthian columns on the west side and the remains of reputedly the second-largest basilica in the Roman world. MSC Mediterranean cruises also offer excursions to Ephesus (80km south of Izmir), of Turkey’s superb array of ancient cities, it’s by far the best preserved. In fact, with the possible exception of Pompeii, one could argue that it’s the world’s finest surviving example of a Greco-Roman classical city.
A big claim, but with so much to back it up – the ruins here are not merely rocks on the ground, but near-fully-fledged incarnations of what life must have been like in ancient times.

Must see places in Izmir

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    Greek ruins and Ottoman mosques
    Greek ruins and Ottoman mosques

    A cruise to western Turkey will show you the most economically developed, and most visited, part of the country.

    It would take weeks even to scratch the surface of the old imperial capital, İstanbul, straddling the straits linking the Black and Marmara seas, and still Turkey’s cultural and commercial hub. 

    Flanking it on opposite sides of the Sea of Marmara, the two prior seats of the Ottoman Empire, Bursa and Edirne, abound in monumental attractions and regal atmosphere. 

    Beyond the Dardanelles and its World War I battlefields lie Turkey’s two Mediterranean islands, Gökçeada and Bozcaada, popular for their excellent beaches, lingering Greek-ethnic identity and tranquillity. 

    Further south, the olive-swathed landscapes around Bergama and Ayvalık epitomize the classical character of the North Aegean. Ancient Sardis, and the old Ottoman princely training ground of Manisa, also make a fine pair, although İzmir serves merely as a functional introduction to the central and southern Aegean. 

    A holiday to Turkey will show you amazing ancient cities too. Celebrated Ephesus tends to overshadow the equally deserving Ionian sites of Priene and Didyma, or the intriguing ruins of Aphrodisias and Labranda – and don’t overlook evocative hill towns like Şirince or Birgi.