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The city of Ýznik is surrounded by Roman walls 4427 metres in length. Visitors from the north enter the city through Istanbul Gate, above whose triple arch masks of a man and a woman look as if they belong here, although in fact they were moved here from another building in the city at a later date. The Yeniţehir and Lefke gates are also triple-arched. The fourth göl (Lake) Gate is no longer standing. Like other northerners we entered Ýznik through Istanbul Gate. According to Strabo, the famous geographer of the ancient world, Ýznik was founded in 316 BC by Antigonus, one of Alexander the Great’s generals, who named it Antigoneia. Lysimachos, another of Alexander’s generals, later took the city and renamed it after his wife Nicea. Following his death, the city was taken by the Bithynians, Romans, Goths and once again the Romans. When the Emperor Constantine was converted to Christianity in 313 AD, Ýznik became an important religious centre. The Nicene Creed was adopted here at the First Ecumenical Council held in 325 in the Senatus Palace, which today lies beneath the waters of the lake.

CastleÝznik, a city and district in the province of Bursa, has many historic monuments. These include a 15.5 metre high obelisk-like tombstone known as beţtaţ (the Five Stones) in the village of Elbeyli erected in the 2nd century to mark the grave of Cassius Philiscus.

Again near Elbeyli is an underground tomb or hypogeum containing unusually fine frescos that make it the most important tomb of its kind in Turkey. Excavations of the Roman theatre in the city centre are still continuing. When the Roman Empire split in two in 395, leaving Ýznik in the Eastern Roman Empire, new churches and water channels were constructed in the city. The city continued to play an important religious role, and in 787 the Seventh Ecumenical Council was held in the 4th century basilica of Haghia Sophia. The main outcome of the counc’sea deliberations was the rejection of iconoclasm, so permitting reverence of icons.

The ceiling of Haghia Sophia, like those of so many other churches in Ýznik, has collapsed, and the mosaic pavements have been covered for protection. The ancient water lines remained in use until the 1970s, but today are overgrown by trees and bushes.Ýznik has always been an important halting place on the road leading eastwards into Anatolia from Istanbul, and at various times has served as capital city to three different states. In 1075 the Seljuk commander Kutalmýţođlu Süleyman Ţah I changed the name Nicea to Ýznik and pronounced the city to be capital of the state he had founded, which survived only 22 years. When the crusaders invaded Istanbul in 1204, the Byzantine imperial family fled the city, and in 1206 Theodor Laskaris proclaimed himself emperor and Ýznik his capital.

Ýznik enjoyed this privileged position for 55 years until the Byzantines were re-established in Istanbul. In 1331 Ýznik became part of the burgeoning Ottoman Empire, and for four years served as its capital.On the northern edge of the city, inside the walls, an extraordinary hollow plane tree survives in defiance of time despite a cavity as large as a room in its trunk. Like this venerable plane tree, some of the Ottoman buildings in and around Ýznik are still standing, although most are in urgent need of attention.

One of them is Yeţil Cami (Green Mosque), the oldest instance of Ýznik tiling decoration on an Ottoman building, dating from 1398. It is named after the predominantly green tiles which adorn the minaret. Hacý Özbek Mosque, dated 1333, is the earliest known Ottoman mosque. Nilüfer Hatun Imaret, a hospice or public kitchen dating from 1338, has housed the city’s museum since 1960. The museum is filled with works which reflect Ýznik’s splendid history, and more are constantly arriving. For example, a beautiful Late Hellenistic period sarcophagus in the museum grounds was brought here after being confiscated in 1999 from smugglers attempting to take it out of the country. With its baths, mausoleums, medreses, and imarets, Ýznik may justly be described as an openair museum.

Yet over and above so many claims to fame, Ýznik is best known for its tiles and ceramics, production of which reached its highest level in the second half of the 16th century. In the 17th century the industry went into sudden decline, and the last potteries closed in 1716. Despite the intervening centuries several people have made a determined attempt to revive this distinctive art. Faik Kýrýmlý and Eţref Erođlu established the first modern pottery here in 1985, followed by Adil Can Güven in 1987 and Rasih Kocaman in 1988, and have successfully reintroduced ceramic production to the city.

In 1995 the Ýznik Educational Foundation established the Ýznik Tiles and Ceramics Research Centre, which has achieved the same high quality as typifies Ýznik tiles and ceramics of the 16th century. Exhibitions of ceramics produced by the foundation held abroad have focused worldwide attention on Ýznik ceramics once again.The district has a largely agricultural economy, based on the fertile soil of Ýznik Plain. Whether the grapes known as izari recorded by the renowned 14th century Arab traveller Ibn Battuta, who said he had seen them growing nowhere else, is still grown here I have no idea, but viticulture is still widespread in the area. Large quantities of olives, tomatoes and peaches are also grown here, and many other kinds of fruit and vegetables.Lake Ýznik, the fifth largest in Turkey, contains abundant stocks of crayfish. Sand-smelts, which somehow got introduced into the lake, have destroyed two of its native species, kepekleme and bitterlings, and local people still longingly recall the flavour of the latter fish. However, the dace, carp and sheathfish have survived the newcom’ssh arrival.After this long journey through history it was time to sit down at one of the lakeside restaurants to savour crayfish, sheathfish grilled on skewers, and a delicious salad dressed with olive oil. As our visit to Ýznik drew to an end, the sun setting in a blaze of red over the lake, we sensed Ýznik’s yearning for its glorious past.

See also:
Ýznik Tiles and
Chameleon patterned Ýznik Tiles
Skylife 10/2000
By Halil Ibrahim TUTAK
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