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  • Writer's pictureFrank Klaus Jordan

Ilıca beach - where the ancient silk road ended

ancient port of the silk road

The setting sun covers the blue-green water with a layer of rusting copper. The wind blows the smell of the harbour, a mix of fresh fish, rotten seaweed, tarry ropes, horses, oxen and the sweat of hundreds of men. All day long, they were loading sacks of Arabic spices, teas, bales of Chinese silk, and bottles of oriental scented water into the hold of the Venetian merchant ship. In return, they load cotton, ivory, wool, gold, and silver on their camels, which kick, snarl and complain until the job is done right and the carriage is balanced properly. The cameleers sit around the fires, eating up their stews made of goat, cabbage, onions and peppers.

The caravan is led by Arash, a Persian merchant from the city of Susa at the Tigris river. He knows the trade routes through the deserts to the Far East and south to Arabia. He prefers to travel during the cool of the night, following star constellations, landmarks and ripples in the sand made by the desert winds. For the first three weeks, they will follow the Persian royal road until crossroads Cappadocia. Arash raises his staff, jerks the rope halter of the lead camel, and the half-mile-long train grudgingly lurches forward, leaving the Aegean port of Çeşme behind.

four hotels and a famous waltz

With the growing importance of Smyrna (Izmir) as an Aegean port, Çeşme developed with an alternative purpose. By the end of the 19th century, the beautiful coastlines, beaches and thermal therapeutic waters of Çesme became popular and people began building their summer homes there. In the 1930’s Ilıca Bay had four beach hotels right in front of the stone pier. There was the Mahmudia Hotel, the Rasim Palace Hotel, the Karabina Hotel and the İstanbul Hotel. The Ilıca hotel district was the most preferred area by wealthy local people and foreign tourists and it was residence to elite Levantine families.

Especially the Rasim Palace hotel, one of the most beautiful hotels of its era, went down in history. This famous hotel, where elite families of Izmir and Istanbul spend their summer holidays, was also the place where President Atatürk danced his famous waltz at the prom while staying in Ilıca for a week. After the Izmir assassination attempt, Atatürk came to Ilıca in June 1926, where he was the guest of a Levantine family in Yıldızburnu.

Mahmudia Hotel

Nowadays, not much is left of the Ilıca hotel district and the once upon a time famous hotels are not operating anymore. With one exception, the Mahmudia Hotel. The historical building, constructed in 1875, has been restored and enlarged and serves today as MARGE Boutique Hotel. Tastefully incorporated into the original building structures are 21 suites, designed and uniquely fashioned by Alexandra La Capria. The hotel's spacious courtyard offers a garden with pool and features a spa and wellness centre.

The moment we pass through the entrance of the hotel, the street noises disappear and we are set back in time to when this address was part of Ilıca's famous hotel district. Antique decorated, the hotel welcomes you with style and courteous friendly staff. This mansion is another wonderful example of how to preserve our history and to awaken the old spirits of the past. Places like this keep the old stories, postcards and memories alive. They help us imagine the life of our ancestors, be it of our grandparents or the time of 1926, when Atatürk was dancing his famous waltz just 100 m from here.

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