İzmir used to be Smyrna, the most Westernised and cosmopolitan of Ottoman–Turkish cities, where more citizens were Christian and Jewish than Muslim, and where there were thousands of foreign diplomats, traders and sailors.
The first settlement, at Bayraklı near the eastern end of the bay, was begun in the 10th century BC, but there were probably people here as far back as 3000 BC. Things really began to look up for Smyrna after the Ottomans grabbed it in 1415. In 1535 Süleyman the Magnificent signed a commercial treaty with François I of France, permitting foreign merchants to reside in the sultan’s dominions. Smyrna rapidly became Turkey’s most sophisticated commercial city, and its streets and buildings took on a quasi-European appearance.
After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of WWI, the Greeks invaded Smyrna. In fierce fighting on the outskirts of Ankara, they were eventually repelled. Unfortunately, during mopping-up operations, a disastrous fire destroyed most of the old city. But the day that Atatürk recaptured Smyrna (9 September 1922) marked the moment of victory in the Turkish War of Independence, and it’s now the biggest local holiday. The events of 1922 are commemorated in the rather top-heavy monument gracing the waterfront.