İzmir, ruins of the ancient Smyrna

Archaeologists search for remnants of the wars that destroyed Smyrna

Excavations carried out at the Bayraklı Mound, north of İzmir, tell the story of a walled city that suffered wars and disasters.

Archaeologists search for the remains of the wars that destroyed Smyrna in archaeological excavations carried out at the Bayraklı Mound, where the oldest remains of the Turkish city of İzmir are found dating back to about 5,000 years ago. In this place, important discoveries have been made that speak of the disasters that the city suffered throughout its history.

Although the first excavations on this hill located to the north of the city date back to 1948, the current ones began in 2014 and involved a group of 70 people led by Professor Cumhur Tanrıver, from the Department of Ancient Languages ​​and Cultures of the University of the Aegean. Speaking to Turkish media, Tanrıver explained that İzmir’s earliest origins date back some 3,000 years, when a city with the name of Smyrna existed in the area currently located in the Bayraklı district.

Excavations carried out in recent years have been able to reveal that this city has been an important commercial and political centre since the 7th century BC. and in successive centuries, which is why, according to the professor, it was also the object of many attacks and destruction. That is precisely why, in recent years, excavations have focused on trying to understand what the defensive system of ancient Smyrna was like.

“The ancient city of Smyrna, which was located in a strategically important position, was undoubtedly the main target of different powers that wanted to conquer the region. The most important factor in reaching this conclusion is that the city was surrounded by powerful fortifications since the 9th century BC (IX BC),” says Tanriver.

Excavations have brought to light great walls and a huge tower

“We have unearthed a very large and well preserved tower right at the entrance to the city, and have been able to explore it better in the last 2 years. Now we have made some plans and we are trying to create a project. If we partially restore it and lift it in 3D, it will be an important element in understanding İzmir and Smyrna better,” he adds.

The professor further emphasizes that a proof of the importance of the city is that a similar level of walls and fortifications in a city was only found at that time in Hittite cities. For now, there are several theories to explain against who the inhabitants of Smyrna were trying to defend themselves with walls of that size; but what is known for sure, is that the city walls were destroyed and rebuilt up to 3 times throughout its history.

Ancient Smyrna was conquered by the Kingdom of Lydia, and later by the Persians

Precisely the third time the walls of Smyrna were rebuilt it was to defend against the growing power of the Kingdom of Lydia, in the 7th century BC. “Ancient sources say that King Gyges of Lydia was unable to conquer Smyrna. Some 50 years later, due to the threat of King Alyattes, the people of Smyrna fearfully surrounded the entire city with a new wall, much stronger than the previous ones, in a very short period of time,” says Tanrıver.

“But they were defeated. The Lydians entered the city not by the walls, but by building a hill just behind it. They destroyed the city and the walls. We have unearthed the remains of King Aliates’s attack, as well as other disasters that destroyed the city. After these attacks, the city was ruled by the Lydians for 50 years,” he adds.

“Then a greater power from the East, the Persians, captured Sardis in 545 and Smyrna in the same year. Here we have found remnants of a war at that time. Since there was no wall, they easily conquered the city. In other words: the problems caused by the strategic importance of İzmir have always continued”, insists the archaeologist when talking about the attacks that destroyed Izmir. Excavations today have reached the strata of the early Bronze Age: last year a treasure with silver jewels was discovered in a vessel from this time.