Greek cities of Turkey

November 25, 2021

Turkey has several UNESCO sites and will most probably have more in the future. Many of them are Hittite, Trojan, Lydian, Phrygian, Roman and of course Greek (from several periods).

The region we'll be focusing on is the coastline on the opposite side of the Aegean Sea, called Ionia or Western Asia Minor.

These cities were founded or colonized or even taken over by the Greeks since roughly the 11th century BC by settlers originating from different regions and tribes of Greece.

The islands on the left
are now part of Greece (Aegean Sea);
the mainland is part of Turkey.
Aeolians, Ionians and Dorians
were three of the Greek tribes.

From the word Ionia (Ιωνία) originates of course the name of the Ionic column order (and obviously Doric from the Dorian tribe) as well as the word for 'Greek' in some languages, such as turkish or arabic (Yunan-).

* Probably the most famous Greek city is Ephesus (Έφεσος).

Greek inscription in front of the Library of Celsus,
a Greek governor of Asia
in the Roman Empire

It was famous for the Temple of Artemis (550 BC), which was included in the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Heraclitus, an important philosopher, was born there in the 6th cent. BC.

In that century, the Persians incorporated Ephesus and other Greek cities into the Persian/Achaemenid Empire but it later goes back to the Greeks.

It was taken over by the Romans, as most of Greece was, in the 2nd century BC,
and lastly it was conquered by the Turks in 1304.

Nevertheless, the city is best-known amongst Christians for one of the Apostles who lived here: St. Paul of course.
After he left Corinth, Paul lived in Ephesus for some years. He wrote the Epistle 1 Corinthians from here and he later wrote the Epistle to the Ephesians while he was imprisoned in Rome.

* Miletus (Μίλητος) was considered the greatest Greek metropolis, which was said to have founded about 90 colonies (!), more than any other Greek city, practically turning the Black Sea into its private sea...

The Market Gate,
sadly, at the Pergamon Museum, Berlin
(Yeah, it kinda looks like the one in Ephesus...)

Several noted people were from the city:
Aspasia (wife of Athenian leader Pericles during the Golden Age)
Thales (philosopher)
Hippodamus (architect, urban planner)
Isidore of Miletus (6th cent. AD; one of the architects of Hagia Sophia)
and many more people such as historians, sculptors and poets.

* Pergamon (Πέργαμον) was one of the most significant and impressive ancient Greek cities...

Ruins in Pergamon

In the 3rd century BC, the Kingdom of Pergamon is created by a general of Alexander the Great and will come to rule a large part of Asia Minor.

The Attalid Dynasty ruled until the 2nd century BC.

Their goal was to create a city as impressive and important as Athens, with a library that rivalled the very Library of Alexandria.

They built imposing buildings, such as one of the steepest theatres in the world, with a capacity of 10,000 people (still in great shape), as well as a stunning altar which was eventually moved to Germany in a museum named after the city itself! The Attalids even remodeled the city's fortress, where the altar would have stood, after the Acropolis of Athens.

The Pergamon Altar in Berlin

King Eumenes II built a stoa at the Acropolis of Athens, with marble shipped from Pergamon itself, although his stoa hasn't survived.

His brother, King Attalus II, founder also of the city of Attalia (Αττάλεια; modern Antalya), also adorned Athens with a magnificent stoa (in the Agora) that was completely rebuilt in the '50s and now serves as the museum of the site.

Stoa of Attalus, Athens

* Another famous city is Smyrna (Σμύρνη).

The modern city is called Izmir, from Greek "η Σμύρνη" ('the Smyrna').

Street in the Agora

It was one of the places that claimed to be the home of Homer, the most famous pre-classical Greek poet, who wrote of course the Iliad and the Odyssey.

Smyrna was destroyed by the Lydians in the 6th century BC and was restored by Alexander the Great in the 4th century BC.

By the early 20th century, it had grown into a major financial and cultural centre of the Greek world, and looked very little like a turkish city.

Out of the city's 391 factories at the time, a staggering 322 belonged to Greeks (!), although there were plenty of other foreigners living in the city such as Italians, British, French, Americans, Armenians, etc.

The most famous Greek shipping magnet, Aristotelis Onassis, was born there in 1906.

Panorama ('whole view' in Greek) of the city
in the early 1900s

In 1919, the city was briefly assigned to the Greeks by the Treaty of Sèvres signed in France.

Notice on the following map that the borders of Greece at the time reach almost all the way up to Constantinople (renamed Istanbul shortly after; from Greek), the south-eastern islands are occupied by Italy (finally ceded in 1948), and above Greece there's Serbia (no fake Macedonia...).

In 1922, the Greco-Turkish War comes to an end, with the Greeks losing and the Turks eventually burning the city down (the Muslim and Jewish quarters 'miraculously' escaped damage), with a fire that burned for nearly 10 days...

European and American troops that were present were ordered not to intervene as that would have been perceived as a hostile act against the Turks. Of course, some countries, such as Italy, Russia, Germany and France, had already helped Turkey against Greece in one way or another (keep in mind that most of them had some interest in the area, though the only ones that the region was historically associated with were the Greeks).

Smyrna in flames

Thousands of Greeks and Armenians were transfered into the intrerior of the country to die in harsh conditions, while hundreds of thousands of Greek refugees made it to Greece (Onassis being one of them), changing the country's population overnight.

A 3,000-year-old Greek presence in Asia Minor had just come to an end...

These were but a few of those once marvelous Greek cities that never got to be re-integrated into Greece. Had that happened, Greece would now have many more ancient sites and UNESCO entries. But history had different plans for Ionia, the region where the greatest pre-Socratic philosophers and poets were born...

If you click here, you will see a list made by me with some of those cities.