Finally I’ve made it to İzmir. Finally after eight months in the planning the Gertrude project can begin.
I arrived here just in time for Easter which offered a rare opportunity to see inside some of the town’s normally secretive churches. Gertrude herself was a non-believer so it’s unlikely that she ever set foot in any of them. However, she will certainly have walked past them and, who knows, perhaps she will have been dragged into some of them by Levantine friends.
Architecturally, most of these churches are only so-so. Nothing to get excited about if you’re familiar with the wonderful medieval churches of the UK, for example. The one exception turned out to be the little neoclassical church of St Mary’s in Bornova. Inside it is nothing like any other “British” church I can think of, with a pretty plastered ceiling in surprising contrast with more conventional stained glass that looked as if it must have been shipped over from the UK. The church was originally built by the Whittalls, a trading family with whom Gertrude stayed in Bornova in a house that is now the Rektorluk of Ege Universitesi (Aegean University). Most of the glass panels are memorials to family members.
I spent one happy day attempting to retrace the route of the old Frenk Caddesi (Frank St, Rue Franc) where most of the Levantine businesses had their offices and along which Gertrude must have strolled. Today there’s little left to show for its great historical importance, almost the entire length of it having been destroyed by fire in 1922 at the end of the Turkish War of Independence.
Despite the rain I also went in search of what was once a renowned beauty spot, the old Kervan Köprüsü (Caravan Bridge) across which camel trains trundled bringing goods into the city. Old drawings, photographs and travellers’ accounts hymn its loveliness. Sadly today it’s lost in a sea of concrete and overlooked by a flyover. It took a very long time to find it, in fact, because no one today remembers anything about it. After a long and fruitless diversion into wretchedly poor Yesildere I had more or less given up on finding it. Then I had one last try, flashing a picture of it in front of a man grilling chicken for lunchtime sandwiches.
“Do you know where this bridge is?” I asked without much hope of success.
“Abla, you’re standing on it!” he said.
And, you know what, I was, although the only way to actually see the stone bridge that had replaced the original humpback version was to duck into the grounds of a police station and peer at it through the fence.