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KOCAELİ (İZMİT)

The old Bithynian capiital, Nicomedia                               Population: 1,600,000

Modernizmit

Old name: İzmit

Generally speaking, it’s remoteness that ensures a place falls below the tourism radar. Just occasionally, however, the exact reverse applies, as in the case of Kocaeli (or İzmit as it's commonly called).

There it sits just to the east of İstanbul, but probably not one tourist in a hundred ever thinks to stop and explore it. Either they’re tearing through en route to Safranbolu, Ankara or Cappadocia, and it’s way too close to İstanbul to justify a break, or they’re returning from Cappadocia, Ankara or Safranbolu, and the lure of the bright lights and comfortable beds of İstanbul is just too strong to tempt them to pause.

To be fair, the area around İzmit is also something of a paradise lost. As you speed through on the motorway you glimpse wonderful green hills sweeping down to a glorious bay, the potential beauty of the setting almost completely buried beneath ugly concrete housing blocks and/or heavy industry.

Izmittower

Still, a quick glance at the history of the area should make it obvious that there are nuggets of gold to be found inside this seeming mine of blackness. For as Nicomedia, İzmit was once the capital of the Kingdom of Bithynia from 256 BC to 74 BC.

Unfortunately the Gulf of İzmit has always been prey to seismic activity, most recently in 1999 when the horrific Marmara earthquake inflicted terrible damage on the town. The result is that there's very little left to show of its illustrious ancient past as a place where successive Roman emperors paid for grand marble temples to be built.

Around town

IzmitmusextTo see the finds from various local sites you should drop into the museum (closed Mondays) on the seaward side of the highway beside the old railway station.

The labelling leaves much to be desired, and there is actually more to be seen outdoors than indoors. Still, it does give an idea of what must have been and there's lots of information about life in ancient Bithynia.

The museum also contains a fine ethnographic collection with reconstructions of different rooms within a house as well as of the inside of an Ottoman hamam (Turkish bath).

Near the museum a staircase leads up to a small park surrounding the graceful Ottoman clocktower that is the symbol of İzmit. It was erected in 1901 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Sultan Abdülhamid II's accession to the throne.

Izmit3If you peep through the Taçkapı (Throne Gate) in the wall beside the clock you will glimpse a small hunting lodge which was built for Sultan Abdülaziz in 1861 by one of the Armenian Balyan brothers. Reminiscent of the Küçüksu Kasrı in İstanbul, it is decorated in more restrained style than the flamboyant Dolmabahçe or Beylerbeyi Palaces. It’s only open to the public on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays but is well worth a quick look.

After you’ve visited the lodge, you might want to follow a sign pointing uphill to the Orhan Cami. Since it’s a very steep hill, it might be better to take a taxi up and then walk back down again.

The Orhan Cami was probably built in the early 14th century on the site of an earlier church but was completely rebuilt in 1840 and then restored again following the 1999 earthquake. The interior with its shallow painted dome is very attractive. The lovely Orhan Çeşmesi (fountain) outside dates from 1826; its inscription has recently been repainted in gold.Izmitview

The view across the Gulf from beside the mosque is well worth the journey. As you stroll back downhill you will pass slight remains of the old city wall and the sturdy Karaburç (Black Tower) which served as a signal tower in Byzantine times. A "tarihi koridoru (historic corridor)" of renovated houses, mosques and hamams is currently being created all the way down the hill.

A turning on the left takes you along Kapanca Sokak where, eventually, you will come across an Ottoman house that was originally built in 1776 and came to be known as the Saatci Ali Efendi Konağı after one of its owners. Looking rather like a Safranbolu house, it gazes over a splendid view and suggests what a nice life wealthy Ottoman İzmitlis must have lived. 

Izmitsaatcialiİzmit town centre is never going to win any prizes in a beauty contest although the town council is working hard to make the most of what it’s got.

Running parallel with the coast road is a sort of Turkish take on the Barcelona Ramblas, a pedestrian walkway lined with historic plane trees that runs down the middle of Cumhuriyet Caddesi, passing the impressive Pertev Mehmet Paşa (Yeni Cuma) mosque, built by Sinan in 1579, and originally right on the waterfront as shown in a 19th-century photograph displayed by the entrance.

İzmit would have been the second spot (after Gebze) on the route taken by sultans leaving Constantinople to travel east, hence its need for an impressive signature mosque. IzmitSinan

Cumhuriyet Caddesi also passes the newer Mehmet Bey (Fevziye) Cami which has had to be rebuilt over and over again after fires and earthquakes. It was completely rebuilt after the 1999 disaster and is now the centrepiece of a square behind which stands the modernist Halkevi and the lively fish market. 

The current coast road was built on reclaimed land which means that if you follow the road running between it and Cumhuriyet Caddesi you will come across the battered remains of old 19th-century warehouses, some of them still bearing cartouches inscribed in Armenian.

When it comes to a choice of places to eat, the ‘Ramblas’ is lined with eateries priced to suit the pockets of local student. There's a particularly inviting outdoor cafe, the Şelale Park Cafe, beside the clocktower.

Sleeping

İzmit hotel prices tend to be high as most of them are aimed at business travellers.

Altınnal Otel

Hotel Baltürk. Tel: 0262-311 2311

Otel Asya. Tel: 0262-321 3125

Otel Kozluca. Tel: 0262-321 5275

WeshotelWeshotel

In a great location near the clocktower, this is an unexpectedly swish hotel despite an uninspiring exterior and is probably the best option in town. Cheerful ground-floor lounge and impressive top-floor restaurant with a great range of imported wines to supplement the seaviews.

Tel: 0262-321 4747

Transport info

İzmit otogar lies to the east of town. Most bus companies offer free servises into the centre.

Minibuses to Gebze, Hereke, Sapanca and Maşukiye as well as half-hourly Efetur buses to Harem Otogar in İstanbul can all be picked up from the coast road behind the Halkevi.

Ferries crossing the Sea of Marmara connect İzmit with Karamürsel.

The local Kocaeli Kentcard covers buses travelling as far as Kartepe, Gebze and Darıca.

Day trip destinations

Adapazarı (Sakarya)

Düzce

Gebze

Hereke

Karamürsel

Konuralp

Sapanca

Read more about the Fevziye Cami: http://www.turkeyfromtheinside.com/blogbloggingaboutturkey/entry/64-the-mosque-that-shouldn%E2%80%99t-be.htmlIzmicats

 

 

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