Located at the edge of a wide and sheltered gulf, İzmir connects to a rich hinterland extending north, east and south through a series of rivers and valleys. İzmir's geographical position is surrounded by Madra Mountains and Balıkesir provincial border to the north, Kuşadası Gulf and Aydın provincial border to the south, Çeşme Peninsula and the Gulf of İzmir, which derives its name from the city itself, to the west, and Manisa provincial border to the east. The city of İzmir is nourished by the flow of the rivers Gediz, one of the major rivers of the Aegean Region, Küçük Menderes, and Bakırçay.
The Historical Port City of İzmir is surrounded by Karataş and Göztepe to the west, Alsancak to the east, Tepecik to the south and the Gulf of İzmir to the north, and encompasses the Kemeraltı, Basmane and Kadifekale regions.
Founded between the Pagos Hill (Kadifekale) and the inner port around the late 4th Century - early 3rd Century B.C. in the post-Alexander era and having remained a continuous settlement site to date, İzmir (Smyrna) still bears the traces of the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Principalities [Beylik] and Ottoman periods.
Archaeological excavations in İzmir, which was a well-known "Port City" of the Euro-Asian "Silk Road" that offered a trade portal to the Mediterranean during the Classical Era as well, continues at the center of the city, with a population of 4.5 million, under the support of the community, the local and central authorities, and the chambers of industry - commerce. The artifacts unearthed in the excavations provide rich findings on how the city was founded as a port and how it operated. With its 4-storeyed structure including the basement and civil Basilica that is home to a rich wall engravings (graffiti) collection, the Smyrna Agora counts as one of the most important archeological sites in the world. These graffiti offer further evidence on how connecting with the long-distance caravan routes of the Mediterranean basin. Some three thousand graffiti offer insight into all aspects of the daily life in the Roman Period, and feature important narrations on the rich cultural environment of commerce and the port. Furthermore, the mint, which is an indication of the fact that the city was a major commercial hub, was founded in 287 B.C., and coin issuance continued until 3rd Century A.D.
Kadifekale, the Acropolis of Smyrna, is also a rare architectural example bearing the layers of the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Principalities and Ottoman periods. Constructed in different periods using different architectural plans, the castle's towers offers both an insight into tower planning choices of their respective periods, and an understanding on to what extent the defensive strategies of the Ancient Era were pursued during the said periods. There are two waterways underneath the modern buildings surrounding the Smyrna Agora that still carry out their task of conducting water. The water system comprising of these waterways is known to have been in use starting in the Roman Period, well into the Byzantine and Ottoman periods. Remarkably, one of the waterways was used as a prayer house in the 19th century.
Smyrna derived its wealth from the incomes generated from fertile agricultural fields that provided a wide variety and surplus of products, as well as the exportation of its own products and the goods coming from other cities of the province from the city's port to the entire Mediterranean geography. The city also played an important role in the transfer of goods from the East and the West to other regions.
Since the Port City is a vital gateway connecting the Middle Eastern Basin with Europe, it was visited by two chief apostles, St. Paulus and St. John, who strove to spread Christianity far from the Levant, its birthplace, among the Greco-Roman world, and it was also home to one of St. John's seven churches. With all these features, the Port City reflects the various stages of the centuries-long progress, while also housing valuable urban archaeological sites.
In the post-classical era, successive earthquakes, and later the Muslim invasions in the 7th-8th centuries and the Eastern Roman Empire being unable to ensure the secure environment necessary for long-distance trade severely impaired the connection of the İzmir Port with its hinterland. Its significance for the Orthodox Christian belief and the advantages of being a sheltered natural port, however, led to an increase in the commercial activity in İzmir beginning with the 10th century. The port, which had become an important city and naval base of the Byzantine Empire in the 11th century, was later established also as the base and shipyard of the naval state founded by the Turkish Commander Chaka Bey (Çakabey), who took control of the region only 10 years after the 1071 Battle of Malazgirt [Manzikert].
In the wake of this short-lived naval state, İzmir continued to serve as a Byzantine port, and by the first half of the 13th Century, it gained further significance with the foundation of the Nicene-Byzantine State as a result of the 4th Crusade. After this period, it became one of the operation ports of the Genoese “naval trade empire”. At the beginning of the 14th Century, the Turkish Principality of Aydın seized the Kadifekale region, while the Port region was still under Genoese rule. With the bustling commercial activity in the Port region during this period, the port vicinity grew in importance, which attracted diverse ethnic groups engaged in commerce to the region.
When it fully came under the Ottoman rule in the 15th Century, İzmir had the appearance of a small town, where its source of commercial function was the port itself; beginning with the second half of the 16th Century, however, the shifting balance in the Mediterranean trade and the trade routes transporting the Eastern goods being redirected to İzmir led to the city becoming a major trade destination.
During this period, Kadifekale, the residential center of the Ancient Era located atop the first hill to the east of the Port, became a prominent housing zone, while the commercial life in İzmir would revolve around the port. The commercial and port activity in the period, which saw an increase with the trade privileges granted to the French and the British under Ottoman rule, were further boosted with the addition of new merchants from the Netherlands and Austria. In the early 17th Century, the European countries moved their consulates from Chios to İzmir, which attracted Armenian settlers from Anatolia, Greek settlers from Chios and other Aegean isles, Jewish settlers from across the Ottoman lands, the Iberian Peninsula, Italy and other Christian regions, along with many the Dutch, British, French and Venetian settlers, and this, in turn, brought greater diversity to the commercial relations and an enriched cosmopolitan structure to the city in the 17th Century.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, “the Little Ice Age” increased the agricultural needs of the European countries, and with a favorable climate, soil and rich crop variety, the Asia Minor, that is, İzmir's hinterland, was one of the regions in the world that was specialized in agricultural production. With its diverse agricultural product range such as figs, fruits, vegetables, grains and major industrial products such as grape, cotton, olive and tobacco, along with various products (silk in particular) coming via transit trade from its hinterland stretching as far as Iran and India, the cosmopolitan port city of İzmir had become the shining star of the Levant region, where the Ottoman Empire took part in the global economy. During this period, where it developed as the port of the Levant Region thanks to its geographical and physical features, İzmir, unlike other Ottoman cities of the period, took shape in strict adherence to its trade and port functions.
The port, which brought together the Western European trade represented by the consuls and trade representatives from Amsterdam, London, Marseilles and Venice and the “Eastern” Silk Road trade represented by the non-Muslim and Muslim Ottoman tradesmen from Isfahan, Iran, Aleppo and Bursa, “morphed from a small-town into an urban center”, reflecting this dual form of the trade onto physical spaces as well. On one hand, new quarters emerged that were predominated by merchant houses and commercial venues of the Levantine merchants used for purposes such as insurance, customs clearance, commissioning, consulate, storage, and shops; on the other hand, new inns, bedestans [covered bazaars], arastas[a collection of various shops], and shopping centers were constructed, which provided accommodation, customs, storage, workshop, and animal care services to meet the needs of long-distance caravans. In that sense, the city increasingly became home to buildings that emerged with the diversification of the sub-functions fully integrated into its main port function, thus turning into the convergence point of the East and the West, the far and the near.
By the 17th century, galleons replaced the much smaller galleys, which led to inner ports that had been in use since the Antiquity to lose their functionality, and this traditional trade center “irregularly” expanded into the commercial site that was reclaimed by the embankment of the port. Despite the irregular urban expansion, commercial activities became organized and established in the traditional forms peculiar to the East in accordance with the product type, line of business and the profession expert. Thus, the trade continued to be carried out under the “Guild” control based on the “Craftsmen-Ahi System”. While commercial and production activities were contained within small shops, inns, bedestens and marketplaces, the streets were designed as special places that offered direct participation in the shopping activity. Today, this commercial area is called “Kemeraltı”. “Anafartalar Avenue”, which once served as the dock part of the inner port and an inner city trade route taken by the long-distance caravans, was the heart of the commercial life in the Ottoman Period.
With the Ottoman Empire embarking on a quest for centralized modernization in the 19th Century on one hand, and the impact of the know-how accumulated by the European capitalism and the innovations in industrialization in the second half of the 19th Century on the other, the city, which had always shaped around the port functions, would enter into another process of change. By the second half of the 19th Century, İzmir was now connected to the Anatolian interior not through caravans, but the railways built between İzmir-Aydın and İzmir-Kasaba, and with the construction of a dock, a dramatic transformation took place in the utilization of the coastline. The 3.5-kilometer-long modern customs house and dock built along the old coast became operational in 1880, and from this date forward, steamboats became the instruments of the maritime trade in the port.
This commercial complex, which was designed for long-distance caravans in the 17th-18th centuries, saw the addition of business quarters and hotels during the 19th Century, and with the changes in the manner of how trade was conducted, accommodation, customs, storage and production buildings began to have their own separate venues. Inns were now built along with storehouses or commercial offices with passageways. Accommodation function no longer belonged to inns, and hotels were built for the same function instead, while different types of inns emerged for commercial and storage activities. The storage inns, which are formed by covering a large area with a roof, emerged again during this era. All of these changes also resulted in a shift at a minimalist scale in the marketplace structure, where inns were set up that combine different functions in the most optimal way.
In that sense, İzmir stands as a unique example, where one can observe both the early, caravan-based development process of the traditional commercial center structure that was commonplace across the entire Central Asia and Ottoman lands and the transformation of these centers with the onset of industrialization in the 19th Century.
These unique and remarkable changes and reproductions taking place in commercial and port sites also led to distinct and notable changes in the socio-economic and political structure of the port city. In 1851, the Provincial Center was relocated from Aydın to İzmir, and in 1868, the Municipality of İzmir was established as the local administration. New government offices were built and modern educational institutions were opened for the newly organizing bureaucracy. One can learn about the history of the Ottoman modernization by observing the bureaucratic structuring of the 19th Century in the area right next to the center of İzmir's commercial fabric, which is today called "Konak Atatürk Square". The rich architectural heritage, including Sarı Kışla [the Yellow Barracks], the Provincial Hall, the plaza arrangement, İzmir Maktab Al-Idadi/Sultani [İzmir High School], Konak Mosque, large warehouse structures necessitated by the new port functions, the ferry terminal built in 1884 by Hamidiye Ferry Company on the coastal side of the square, and the Clock Tower erected in 1901 in honor of the 25th anniversary of Abdulhamid II's ascension to the throne, makes " Konak Atatürk Square " an important landmark in terms of modernization. 19th Century was also marked by the inclusion of the telegraph lines into the communication infrastructure, thus new financial offices, banks, post offices and insurance companies, with their rich and distinct architectural styles, also took their place in İzmir's heritage.
The Millet System, which was implemented by the Ottoman with the aim to organize a religiously diverse society, granted a certain degree of autonomy to Christian and Jewish communities, and by extension, the system's response to the emerging nation states, which undermined the "hegemony of empires", ensured considerable legal and religious freedoms for the non-Muslims residing in İzmir and the other parts of the Empire. The Ottoman Millet System, which allowed the Empire to divide into peacefully coexisting ethnic-religious communities, also ensured a plenty of elbowroom for the commercial efforts of the non-Muslims. Thus, by the late 19th Century, and also encouraged by the property rights conferred to non-Muslims in 1856, new neighborhoods emerged, comprising of manor- and mansion-like residences owned by the non-Muslims and, of course, by merchants who had settled in the city. In addition to the Muslim, Greek, Armenian, Jewish and Levantine neighborhoods, the city was also home to British, French, Italian, Austrian and American immigrant communities. The books, magazines and newspapers published by numerous printing houses in various languages turned İzmir into a publishing center of the world. Thus, İzmir became one of the world's most well-known cultural and commercial hubs. The cosmopolitan city not only granted a living space for diverse ethnic and religious groups; it was home to their churches, synagogues, mosques and sanctuaries as well. Impressions from all different cultural groups residing in İzmir can be observed both inside the commercial center and these religious buildings extending into the residential areas. The Jewish communities from Salonika, Istanbul, Anatolia and various other geographies built distinct synagogues according to their origin of migration, while the Orthodox Christians, Catholics and Protestants likewise built their own religious buildings in styles peculiar to where they had come from. Thus, a commercial and cultural hub emerged, where diverse cultures and religions spatially intertwined in a confined area.
During the 16th-19th centuries, port cities not just offered economic opportunities and political privileges to individuals and communities; as areas embodying the culture of communal living, they also allowed the creation of spatial areas with rich architectural style, developed over the notion of the mutual use and division of the public space. On one hand, this public "Port City" structuring that is most intensely seen in İzmir maximized the city's potential to become the foremost commercial port of the Mediterranean, a potential that had existed since the antiquity, while on the other hand, İzmir become a cultural hub thanks to its cosmopolitan composition. İzmir has a special and particular architectural heritage in terms of the formation and development of the traditional commercial and port center depending on caravan trade, as well as witnessing the transformation of a traditional port-commercial center in the 19th Century.
With its sheltered natural gulf, hinterland with access to India and Iran, and its location at the edge of the main trade routes (the Silk road and Royal Road) that had been frequently used by trade caravans since the classical era for transporting their wares to the Mediterranean, İzmir stands as one of the most unique examples of Port City settlements around the world, and one of the foremost trade ports of the Mediterranean allowing it to remain a powerful commercial and cultural hub and a constant settlement site since the Hellenistic Period.
The commercial, port and residential districts, which particularly stood witness to 16th - 19th century İzmir, are an exceptional example of the changes the city, with a 2,300-year-old history, went through at a time when the humankind was transitioning to "the modern age" in political, economic and societal terms, and how these changes reflected on the locality under the Ottoman Empire's traditional "Millet [Nation] System" lifestyle.
Drawing in its formation from the creation processes of the cultural heritage, including its commercial center adorned with diverse cultural and religious structures, inns, arastas, passageways and hotels, and its residential buildings that is home to many different cultures, as well as its production-consumption models, economic systems, and mutually interacting social and economic changes, İzmir has carried over its port life and the related architectural elements in a multi-layered manner since 3rd Century B.C.E. well into the present day. Thanks to its effective location, it developed as a port city within the Ottoman territory, and it proved influential in the commercial and political processes that acted as a bridge between the Ottoman Empire and the trade centers of Europe. It, therefore, stands as an unequaled witness to the impact of multiculturalism on architectural structures and forms, which was brought about by the shifting of the caravan-based trade among the Ottoman cities toward a port-based trade between the 16th and 19th centuries.
Criterion (ii): Throughout the 16th Century and the subsequent three centuries, İzmir developed as a port city that combined the atmosphere of freedom guaranteed by the Ottoman "Millet System" along with the free trade at the convergence point of two great civilizations, the Islamic and Christian worlds. With its hinterland stretching as far as Iran and India, and its maritime network extending to the port cities of Europe, İzmir not only grew by bringing together the East and West, Christianity and Islam, it also transformed into a unique place created by the centuries-long interaction between the traditional and the contemporary.
With its commercial fabric, residential areas, architectural structures such as the port, railways and terminal introduced into commerce by the industrial revolution, religious sites where people of diverse ethnic origins freely expressed their identities, and a unique layout plan of the commercial and port districts where all these structures meet, İzmir stands as a singular example witnessing the cultural relations and intertwined cultural riches of the 16th-19th centuries.
The urban structuring of the port city drew inspiration from various architectural trends of the East and the West, Europe and Asia in terms of layout planning, material and facade. The integration of two distinct qualities with the use of a different cultural style and technique, which reflect the influence of different religious and cultural structures, on a place that belongs to another culture, and the continuous adaption of the resulting style and technique in other places helped the port city of İzmir retain its multi-layered characteristic. During the Ottoman Period, wonderful works of architecture were created, which combined the construction techniques and materials of the ancient era, as well.
In this cosmopolitan structure, one can see how the shops, the manors and mansions of merchants and consuls, and public buildings such as banks, post offices, insurance offices and hotels in living and production quarters that were lying outside the residential and commercial districts were built in different styles such as Neo-Classical, Neo-Romanesque, Art Nouveau and Art-Deco. The cortijos in the Jewish settlement were built with a layout planning that allowed many families to live together in solidarity around a courtyard of their own. There are myriad buildings standing as examples of the Traditional Turkic Houses in Muslim settlements, and the Stone Greek Houses and "Chios-Style Dwellings" peculiar to Anatolia and Aegean Isles among Levantine residences, or the mutual interaction between these styles. All these architectural structures comprising the city were the key part of the interaction in the Historical Port City of İzmir, and given these structures' state of preservation within this interaction, one can safely say that it is one of the rarest areas of the Ottoman Port City.
The interaction between the diverse cultures in the city had an impact on the domestic architecture as well; one can particularly perceive the imported architectural elements reflecting the Greek and Italian influence, the synthesis of Aegean and Isle houses, and the impressions of the European architectural trends. Dwellings called as "İzmir House" have a basement, two storeys, bow windows, and symmetrical or asymmetrical facades, and the yards and bow windows are their defining characteristic elements. The layout planning of these structures differs from its counterparts around the world for their relations with the street they are located in and their rich facade variety.
Criterion (iii): Developed as a port city functioning under the atmosphere of freedom guaranteed by the Ottoman “Millet System” and free trade, İzmir is the foremost of the Levantine Port Cities in the Mediterranean Basin with the distinct cultural, commercial and political composition it developed during the early modern period.
By virtue of the architectural heritage it acquired throughout its development as a Port City, İzmir uniquely displays its cosmopolitan, multi-lingual, multi-religious and colorful structure spatially influenced by the Ottoman Millet System tradition and the similarly cosmopolitan “Levantine” culture that emerged amidst the atmosphere of freedom this tradition nurtured.
Located at the crossroads where the trade routes coming from Europe meets the long-distance caravan trade originating from Asia, İzmir - with its ever-changing capital structure- was the Ottoman-ruled port city with the most singular cosmopolitan architectural characteristics and functions. Its multicultural geography, laws that promote freedoms, and architectural works created between the 16th and 19th centuries made İzmir the principal port city of the Ottoman Empire in the Mediterranean Basin.
Criterion (iv): It has a “multi-time”, in other words, a “multi-era” heritage, exhibiting the interrelations between the production and consumption models, the commercial methods and techniques, and the economic system, which have been in constant change since the Antiquity, and the cultural and social life.
The rich architectural heritage in the commercial district makes İzmir one of the most unique examples of the caravan cities and trade hubs that emerged in the 16th Century and created in the Middle East during the early modern period. The commercial fabric shaped around the needs of the traditional long-distance caravans that were particular to the Medieval Era, combined with the port structures reflecting the medieval technology, turned into a rare, one-of-a-kind example that symbolizes this period.
The structural and functional changes in the traditional commercial hub, along with the port and railway network, which completely transformed the utilization of the coastline, brought by İzmir's industrialization process in the 19th Century, created an extraordinary port city that stood witness to the early industrialization period.
It has a lively and bustling urban fabric reflecting its cosmopolitan culture with its mosques, churches and synagogues that are still available today for the use of worshipers, western-style domestic architectures, cortijo houses peculiar to the Jewish community, and inns, passageways and markets used in commerce. The inns, arastas and market streets are still referred to with their unique names derived from the traditional Ottoman commercial sites such as "timber merchants, poultry dealers, coffeehouse keepers, candy makers etc." and the traditional commercial site structure formed by the craftsmen.
With their diverse forms and plans in the city's commercial center (Kemeraltı District), the inns, bedestens, and arastas played an important role in the constructional activity of the period. These commercial structures, inns in particular, were quite rich and diverse in terms of the development of plan typology, witnessing different urban spatial organizations depending on the socio-economic structure, the manner of trade and the merchant's cultural identity. This fact brings İzmir into prominence as an Ottoman port city in a spatial form that shaped by the interactions between the East and the West in a way that is unprecedented in the whole world. They shaped around a mentality that addresses the needs through a minimalist approach, while providing a suitable environment for the collective carrying out of accommodation, trade, storage and security services along with official and guild procedures. Taking inspiration from Eastern interior design, most of these buildings, with a narrow facade on the market and street side, included atrium and wide courtyards, which provided the necessary space for carrying out business.
The Historical Port City of İzmir reflects the various stages of the centuries-long progress, while also housing valuable urban archaeological sites that are protected and funded under the law.
Kemeraltı and its vicinity was first declared an "Urban Archaeological Site" under Immovable Ancient Buildings and Monuments Board's A-1373 numbered decision dated 17.11.1978. Later, due to containing different archaeological sites, the entire area was designated as Urban + Grade 3 Archaeological Site under the Cultural and Natural Heritage Preservation Board's decision dated 30.01.2002 numbered 9728, and under the 152 numbered decision dated 04.11.2004, Kadifekale and the Ancient Theater were reorganized as Grade 1 and 2 Archaeological Sites.
1/5000 scaled Conservation Development Plan for Kemeraltı and its vicinity was first drawn up in 2002, which covers an area of 272 ha., and with the ongoing archaeological excavations and evaluations, the plan was later revised and the revision was approved by İzmir Metropolitan Municipal Council's decision dated 22.11.2007 numbered 01.2360 and İzmir 1st Cultural and Natural Heritage Preservation Regional Board's decision dated 07.02.2008 numbered 2958, and finally authorized by the Metropolitan Municipality Mayor's Office on 12.03.2008. Subsequently, 1/1000 scaled Conservation Development Plans were individually drawn up for each different archaeological feature in the area, such as Kemeraltı, Agora and Kadifekale.
In addition to the planning efforts, as a part of 5366 numbered "Act on the Restoration, Preservation, Maintenance and Utilization of Deteriorated Historical and Cultural Properties", Kemeraltı area was declared as “İzmir Kemeraltı and Vicinity Restoration Area” by the Council of Ministers on 01.10.2007 as per Konak Municipal Council's decision dated 05.01.2007 numbered 2/2007, and İzmir Metropolitan Municipal Council's decision dated 08.01.2007 numbered 01.09. In line with the said Act, Konak Municipality and İzmir Metropolitan Municipality co-prepared “İzmir Konak Kemeraltı and Vicinity Restoration Area Stage Projects and Programs”, which comprises of preservation, development and maintenance projects for the urban preservation, maintenance and reclamation of the area initiated in 2002, and introduces an organizational chart for the purpose of the area's social, economic and physical development. The program was approved by Konak Municipal Council's decision dated 01.07.2008 numbered 181/2008 and İzmir Metropolitan Municipal Council's decision dated 15.08.2008 numbered 01.1836.
All these planning and preservation works are carried out under 2863 numbered “Cultural and Natural Heritage Preservation Act”. All interventions on any architectural building or site within the area can be made under the counsel and approval of the relevant regional preservation board.
In 2013, İzmir Metropolitan Municipality initiated the İzmir History Project, which aims to improve and reinvigorate “İzmir Kemeraltı and Vicinity Restoration Area” through an integrative approach and pursuing a balance between its preservation and utilization. The project area focuses on Kemeraltı and Vicinity urban and grade 3 archaeological site and the reserved geological area located south of this site. The site in question also contains an area of 23 hectares in total including Kadifekale, the Ancient Theater, Agora, Stadium, Altınyol and Altınpark grade 1 archaeological sites and Varyant natural site covering an area of about 9 hectares.
In addition to all these, Historical Kemeraltı Construction Investment Trade Inc. (TARKEM), which has been founded in 2012 as a private-public sector collaboration model comprised of over 150 shareholders including İzmir Metropolitan Municipality, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the Governorship of İzmir, Konak Municipality, İzmir Chamber of Commerce, Aegean Region Chamber of Industry, İzmir Union of Chamber of Merchants and Craftsmen, İzmir Mercantile Exchange, Aegean Exporter Unions, İMEAK Chamber of Shipping, along with İzmir's foremost business people, devises new strategies for the preservation, restoration and maintenance of the entire property, makes investments in line with these strategies, and conducts activities toward raising awareness on the total preservation of the site.
The Historical Port City of İzmir, which constantly attracted settlers due to being a commercial and port city, bears the layers of the Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman periods.
The commercial center of the early modern period that is now called “Kemeraltı”, and the administrative center called “Konak Atatürk Square”, which witnessed the transformation the commercial center underwent during the early industrialization period in the 19th Century, are still standing and well in use with their rich cultural heritage. In Kemeraltı, where the streets and markets that were organized according to their functions in the 17th and 18th centuries are still operational, the commercial units, that is, the markets are referred to under myriad different names such as the Candymakers’ Market, the Timber Merchants’ Market, the Stonemasons’ Market, the Coffeehouse Keepers’ Market, the Lemon Sellers’ Market, the Basket Weavers’ Market, the Butchers’ Market, the Drinkware Dealers’ Market, the Glassmakers’ Market, and the Blacksmiths’ Market.
Kervan Bridge, the road that runs through Basmane and Anafartalar Avenue and leads to the port, has served as the main axis of transportation and the commercial and service areas established along this axis. Kervan Bridge, which is believed to have been built upon this axis in the 2nd Century B.C.E. during the Roman Period, is a structure that survived to date while preserving its use and function in an uninterrupted way. The Ancient Era waterways saw use during the Byzantine and Ottoman periods as well.
Konak Atatürk Square administrative center, which is in harmony with the commercial district, and the railway terminal buildings and warehouses from the 19th Century, which were built along the fringes of the commercial district, still uniquely harbors not just functional, but architectural and spatial creations of the 19th Century Ottoman modernization.
The religious and residential structures that witnessed İzmir's rise as a Port City in the early modern period as well as its subsequent reproduction and planning in the 19th Century not merely preserve a rich heritage, but are still in use today. Created by the fact that the residential areas and religious structures are arranged very closely despite their differences that reflect their ethnic richness - despite underlining the ethnic and cultural threshold of the place-, and the fact that they completely intertwine in the commercial district, the cosmopolitan system still stands witness to the "Millet System" unique to the Ottomans and the "Levantine" cosmopolitan “intertwinedness”, for which this system provided a favorable environment to develop.
Having gone through many changes throughout its history, Kemeraltı and the commercial district have difficulty in preserving its parcel and layout plan characteristics due to port activities being relocated to the outlying areas and the pressure of modernization. Moreover, the structures in the area are at risk of sustaining damage due their utilization in parallel with modern needs.
As a port city, İzmir developed throughout a period that had begun in the 16th Century and lasted until the World War I in an eco-political environment revolving around the main axis of commercial and port affairs. The early modern period architecture witnessed in the city contains all the spatial impacts of an organization and transformation period with increasing commercial and political freedoms, and a newly emerging social class of commercial bourgeoisie, who not only redefined commercial systems, but also developed ideas on issues such as culture, ethnic structure, religion, causing shifts in the empire systems. This period, where nation states began to form, was also marked by profound changes in the fundamental rights and freedoms, commercial freedoms, property rights, and community rights. The reactions that the Ottoman Empire produced and expressed during this period under its traditional “Millet System”, which guarantees the Empire's subjects religious and cultural freedoms, can be observed as a whole throughout İzmir. The cultural diversity brought by the “Millet System” and the spatial reflections of this diversity such as residences, religious centers and educational institutions, the public buildings, educational and healthcare institutions, transportation structures etc. that reflect the modernization efforts, and İzmir's architectural heritage, which singularly witnessed the transition in the port city and commercial areas between the traditional and the modern, the local and the cosmopolitan, made the city into the foremost port city in the Mediterranean Basin.
With these unique characteristics, İzmir can be compared to other important port cities of the Ottoman Empire in the same era such as Trabzon, Salonika, Alexandria, and Istanbul. İzmir's traditional commercial district can also be compared to the great and developed Ottoman caravan and trade cities such as Aleppo, Damascus, Gaziantep, Kayseri and Bursa in terms of its similarities with these cities “market and accommodation” areas. Among these regions, Aleppo and Damascus are on the UNESCO World Heritage List with their historical heritage including their commercial centers, along with Bursa likewise with its commercial center. Due to being a historical and cultural “Port City”, İzmir differed from said cities and commercial hubs, undergoing an early modern period urbanization process, where its dynamics were defined by the commercial activity and the port itself. İstanbul, on the other hand, having served as the capital of empires for millennia, enjoys a more historical, multifaceted and multi-layered heritage compared to İzmir's heritage that emerged around the commercial and port affairs.
As for the Middle Eastern region, Tabriz and Esfahan, which are likewise on the UNESCO World Heritage List, went through development and urbanization processes that were mostly defined by commercial activity similar to İzmir only in the ancient era. İzmir differs from these centers in terms of traceability of the changes that took place in the early modernization period, and the architectural response of the Ottoman modernization to the modernization efforts of the multicultural “Millet System” and the shifting economic activities. All of these distinctions ushered İzmir into a “Golden Age” in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and rendered it the foremost port city of the Eastern Mediterranean. From 16th Century forward, İzmir did not appear to have an alternative with regard to long-distance caravans reaching the Mediterranean in the safest way. This made İzmir the chief Mediterranean port that benefited from the new financial order. This is why the city enjoys a unique location within the Mediterranean geography.
Having lost its significant position in the Mediterranean trade to İzmir at a time when İzmir just began to develop as a trade port, the island city of Chios is on the UNESCO World Heritage List with Monasteries of Daphni, Hosios Loukas and Nea Moni. These buildings stand witness to Byzantine Empire's unique artistic and architectural rise during the 11th and 12th centuries.
On the other hand, following the 16th Century, and especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, the inhabitants of the Ottoman İzmir created a port city with commercial and social privileges at the convergence point of two great civilizations, the Islamic and Christian worlds. Thus, the city operated as a virtually independent and autonomous city state with a cosmopolitan style rivaling that of Geneva, Venice, Marseilles, Amsterdam, or London. İzmir differs from these cities and ports, which it shares some functional similarities with, in terms of its location in the Mediterranean Basin and the culture and commercial systems of the period it bore witness to (Traditional Ottoman, Levant, and being a traditional long-distance caravan hub). This distinct characteristic of İzmir is still preserved in its mighty architectural heritage reflecting on its entire commercial fabric and residential sites.
Furthermore, due to it being a port city, İzmir developed in the same period with the American and East Asian port and commercial cities such as Meleka, George Town, Macao, Valparaiso, Panama City, Cartagena, and Kulangsu, which were either founded or prospered after the 16th Century. Therefore, the aforementioned cities have multicultural, cosmopolitan and multi-styled architectural heritage similar to that of İzmir. Despite these similarities, the primary characteristic separating İzmir from these port cities is the fact that it developed not as a colonial city, but a cosmopolitan Levantine port city in the Mediterranean Basin created and supported by the traditional Ottoman “Millet System”.