Erythrai, between dream and reality

By Isil Gulec | Sphere Magazine

My wanderlust comes from my curiosity and interest in archaeology. When I travel around new places, I usually decide my destination due to historical archeological attractions. If there is a seashore at the same time, hallelujah!

I heard the name Ildir or Ildiri (the ancient name Erythrai) a few years ago. I knew it was a small fishing town; but my interest went up hearing that Erythrai was one of the 12 Ionian cities.


Ildir is a tiny, cozy village set in a beautiful bay 27 kilometers away from Cesme. Ancient city of Erythrai is on top of the village. It is known that the city was founded around 10th century BC. The name of the city comes from the word “erythros” which means “red” referring the color of the soil in the region.

It is possible to see the ancient theater and the Temple of Athena on the north slopes of the acropolis. The view from the Temple of Athena, located at the top of the village, is simply wonderful. Thousand tones of blue makes you ask “Am I in heaven?” to yourself.

You can see the Matrone Church a little further up the temple. Wondering how the people lived in this beautiful village thousands of years ago, and how their lives were hanging around… I am dreaming myself, making predictions.


Facts about Erythrai, which is the first ancient settlement on Cesme peninsula, came to light thanks to studies and excavations done by Professor Ekrem Akurgal (RIP) of Ankara University. In these studies, it was understood that the city was surrounded by walls about 5 kilometers long. It’s known that Alexander the Great passed through Erythrai during his Great Asia Campaign, and it is understood from the ancient sources that the ancient theater and the 4 kilometers of the fortifications were built with his financial support.


After touring Erythrai, I step down to the village and start walking with wishing to get lost among narrow, clean streets, houses with well-kept gardens. But the village is so small that it is not possible to disappear and get lost. Olive trees are gushing out everywhere. So you can get the most natural and extra virgin olive oil here. At the entrance of the village, you can find many natural products such as artichoke, fig jam, specific breads, pastries and Balkan sauces called ajvar and lutenitsa. I was curious about ajvar and found out that it was a kind of sauce cooked with onion and pepper on wood fire.


Eat fish for lunch, for sure. Do not turn back without sitting at Turkuaz Cafe located on the slope. The beauty of the scenery will take you away.

It is possible to see many small islands from here. Smallest of these islands is called Zeki Muren Island. Muren was Turkey’s leading public figure from 60s to 80s and first ever gay singer with announcing this identity. And he intended to buy this smallest island then. Therefore locals call it Zeki Muren Island.


Then you should go down to shore and feel the sea closer. Since the village is very small, it takes three to five hours to explore it. However, I would like to stay for a day or two. Herakles Boutique Hotel and Cagla Boutique Hotel are good for accommodation as far as I see. Plato, the famous Greek philosopher who lived in Erythrai, said “The most beautiful sunsets in the world is in Erythrai.” I certainly recommend you to watch the sunset in this beautiful, charming fishing village.


If you have a car, take the turn to Barbaros village on the old Izmir-Cesme road and follow the way. If you are using the highway, take Zeytinler exit. If you do not have a car, you have to come to Cesme by bus from Uckuyular Coach Station in Izmir and hen take Ildir minibuses.


Fish. Yes, exactly. Also there are alternatives of delicious pancakes according to the budget status. Turkuaz Cafe is a nice option.


There are boutique hotels and lodgings in and around the village. Also there are countless accommodation options in the center of Cesme.

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