Ancient Cities Come To Life

SyrmnaIt’s always a little strange visiting a place that you have read about many times in ancient books. It has happened to me a few times. Such as a walk through the city streets of Rome, having studied classics at school and suddenly being present at the Circus Maximus. Or wandering through the bustling market in Jerusalem remembering the stories of old that still seem to shape the city. 

Travelling to Izmir was the same. Though the city I knew it as was ancient Smyrna. Friends and I had pondered this ancient place and the life that happened here on many occasions. Visiting the city somehow felt like an important step in this season of my life. I had talked about going to the Turkish city for several years and so I was particularly excited that it would also be the 40th country I visited, which tied into another milestone.

All my previous encounters with Izmir was thru ancient texts. So you can guess how the image I had in my mind was shattered when I drove into the city thru the industrial area littered with large trading companies. The modern bustling city didn’t quite fit the ancient feel I was expecting to find.

While I was there I wanted to try and connect with the ancient city I had read about and so I headed to the Roman ruins. They were still being excavated and men bustled around dusting old buildings still buried in the ground. However even this step back into history was in the shadow of a modern concrete structure, a not so beautiful car park which towered over the site.

The words from history that echoed around my mind were that it was said of Smyrna “I know your poverty, but you are rich.” In the luxurious surroundings by the sea front it was hard to see poverty. But interestingly when I headed up to the high place of the city I had  to travel thru a bit of a slum area, where tourists were told not to walk, and it was from here the stark contrast of rich and poor was clear to see. The rich port area felt a little sterile, still searching for it’s identity, but strangely in the poorest area of the city it seemed like the ancient city somehow still breathed.