Ancient Smyrna

The Most Beautiful of All Cities

Smyrna Agora was founded in late 4th Century BC, immediately after the reign of Alexander the Great of Macedonia. Nestled in modern-day İzmir’s historic city center’s core, it is one of the largest agoras in the world that witnessed the Roman Empire.

Alexander the Great – after fighting the Persians – had re-established Smyrna (İzmir’s old name) in the foot of Pagos Hill (Kadifekale).

According to Pausanias, “Alexander, the son of Philippos, founded the present city after a dream. Rumour has it he was hunting atop Pagos Hill. On his return from the hunt, he arrived at temple of the Nemesis, and decided to take a nap under a tree that had grown out of the spring in front of it. Nemesis came in a dream and commanded him to build a city here, and relocate the people of Smyrna there.” He then adds, “The Smyrnians sent envoys to Claros (Apollo) to learn what he thought about the situation. This time, God answered, “Those to dwell in Pagos beyond the sacred Meles shall be happy beyond their wildest dreams.”

All who tell the story about the second founding of Smyrna begin with this myth.  Alexander’s two commanders, Antigonos and Lysimakhos, both oversaw its re-location.

“Those to dwell in Pagos beyond the sacred Meles shall be happy beyond their wildest dream”


Smyrna Agora

Located in the heart of historical city center of İzmir, Smyrna Agora is one of the world’s largest of its kind.

Excavation work on the site first began in 1933. In 2007, Assoc. Prof. Akın Ersoy (of İzmir Katip Çelebi University) and his team of archaeologists revisited the Agora and have remained there ever since – with permission of the Republic of Türkiye Ministry of Culture and Tourism. So far, they have uncovered a west portico, a basilica, a Bouleuterion, a mosaic hall, a roman bath, and a building from the Ottoman era that surrounds its courtyard.

It was founded at the end of the 4th Century BC immediately following the reign of Alexander the Great. It served as Smyrna’s administrative, political, and judicial centre, as well as main hub of commerce and trade. Surrounded by porticos, it used to contain monuments meant for important occasions and agreements, altars for pagan religious ceremonies, statues honouring prominent local figures, exedras with marble seat, and both a temple and altar for the city’s patron deity.

A major earthquake destroyed the Agora in 178 AD.  Shortly thereafter, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius set about rebuilding it. Nearly all surviving remains belong to that second period. Its overall character only remained intact until the 7th Century. Over time, it began to lose its lustre as Smyrna shrank. Its courtyard moreover ended up being used as a cemetery during the Middle and Late Byzantine alongside the Ottoman Empires. The Ottomans moreover converted any surrounding buildings into dwellings – a tradition that would last until the end of the 20th Century.

Smyrna/İzmir has remained a major Mediterranean port city since antiquity. In Ottoman times, the Agora and its environs played host to a bustling commercial life, as well as dozens of different ethnic and faith communities scattered across several neighbourhoods.

Did you know that both Agora and İzmir (as a historical port city) were added to UNESCO’s World Heritage Tentative List back in April 2020?

Click on the link below to virtually explore Smyrna Agora’s many monuments up close.

Kadifekale (Pagos)

4th century BC

Smyrna once had two major centres: a walled acropolis on Pagos Hill, and a harbour on the plain beneath. Various public buildings and residential areas surrounded by fortress walls sprawled over the slope in between.

Pagos Castle (modern day Kadifekale) wasn’t only the acropolis of Ancient Smyrna, but also the centre of the city’s defence system and its most important sanctuary. Its location gave one the ability to overlook the entire Gulf of İzmir from the Aegean Sea to the Yeşildere Valley and Bornova Plain (on land) from a single vantage point, i.e. the acropolis.

"Only vineyards and gardens are left in the castle. The inn, bathhouse, bazaar, and mosque have all fallen into disrepair. About 30 Janissaries and their families dwell here in tile-cladded houses."

Evliya Çelebi, 1671

The fortifications surrounding Kadifekale were built in the late 4th and early 3rd Centuries BC, and were used by the Romans. The Byzantines demolished sections of it later on. In the 13th Century, the walls were repaired, and new towers were added.  

The Turks captured Kadifekale in the 14th Century. In 1671 (during the reign of Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror), Evliya Çelebi visited it, and wrote, “Only vineyards and gardens are left in the castle. The inn, bathhouse, bazaar, and mosque have all fallen into disrepair. About 30 Janissaries and their families dwell here in tile-cladded houses.” By the mid-18th Century, the site was all but completely abandoned.

Today, the western walls of Kadifekale have survived thanks to miscellaneous restoration projects. Alas, a significant part of the southern, eastern, and northern walls have been destroyed.

Smyrna Theatre

The Romans built Smyrna Theatre in the 2nd Century BC on the slope between Agora and the Acropolis hill to host political, cultural, and religious activates.

Recent excavations and research show that it was expanded during the reigns of Emperors Trajan (98-117 AD) and Hadrian (117-138 AD) – including the addition of a two-storey stage behind the proscenium. It is highly probable that it took on its final form after the great earthquake of 178 AD via minor repairs and reinforcements.

The theatre’s site was fully exposed by 2014 upon the demolition of houses that had sat atop it. A 12-line inscription dating to the 2nd Century AD was also discovered during that period. This talks about how Marcus Claudius Proclus – the abbot of the Imperial temples in Smyrna – had had a fountain repaired as an offering to the gods and emperors on behalf of the city, and that its water originates from the theatre.

During excavations of the stage building, archaeologists managed to recover many a sculpture and relief fragment. Among the most remarkable of their finds were mask frieze blocks and a relief of Satyros. Both give us an idea about just how grandiose the theatre’s original façade must have been like.

Numerous items of graffiti were also found on the limestone blocks that lined the stage’s walls. Archaeologists also found oil lamp fragments that date back to the 5th and 6th Centuries AD. They indicate that the stage building began to serve multiple functions by that point, and even transformed into an industrial facility of sorts. 

Over time, it gradually became buried beneath soil flowing down from the slopes of Kadifekale. Eventually, the Byzantines and Ottomans both used it as stone and lime quarry. Another remarkable find from a later excavation is a coin belonging to Aydınoğlu Umur Bey (1334-1348), the man who declared İzmir the capital of his principality. To put that into perspective, the first Ottoman coins emerged during the reign of Sultan Bayezid I (1389-1402).

Excavations work is still ongoing. Thought to have been able to seat up to 20,000 people, countless scholars agree that Smyrna Theatre is “one of the most beautiful marble theatres ever to have existed in Asia.”

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