The Izmir Asansor – A City’s Elevator
Personal elevators are cool. Personal elevators up the side of a cliff are cooler. Formerly personal elevators up the side of a cliff that anyone can now use are the coolest. The Izmir Asansor checks all these boxes, and it’s absolutely a must-see in the city.
Background of the Asansor
Going back to our Ephesus time, we asked Filiz for her things-to-do recommendations in the city proper. It’s tough – when you ask a professional tour guide for this sort of advice, you typically get tourist answers in response. But, when she described the Izmir Asansor, she assured us she loved finding excuses to go there herself.
So, what’s an asansor?
Pretty straightforward – it’s just Turkish for “elevator.” If either of us knew anything linguistically beyond merci, we probably could’ve told you this word has its roots in the French word ascenseur (thanks, Wikipedia).
Some more topographical background about Izmir will help put this whole story into context. Where we stayed, flat city blocks extend inland from the coast for a few kilometers or so. But, surrounding these lowlands, mountain slopes and sheer cliffs rise up on three sides of the city. The entire Aegean coast seems like a craggy jigsaw puzzle piece, and Izmir’s no different.
For pedestrians, these steep slopes make walking – and definitely transporting goods – a challenge. In Karatas, a quaint, residential neighborhood, this is particularly true. Wedged between the coast and a nearly sheer cliff, Karatas consists of a narrow strip of coastal apartment buildings, cafes, and neighborhood grocers.
To get from Karatas to the more bustling, commercial neighborhood on the heights above it, you have quite a steep ascent – assuming you walk. Enter an enterprising, turn-of-the-20th-century banker. Why walk when you can ride?
In 1907, Nesim Levi Bayraklıoğlu built an elevator to ease the trip from the coastal Karatas neighborhood up the hill. Picture an upside-down letter “L.” The long end is the actual, brick elevator shaft, and the short end extends from the top of the elevator onto a platform to connect with the hilltop. With this set-up, you leave the elevator doors, walk out onto a platform, and look over the edge at a precipitous drop, needing to walk across the platform to reach terra firma.
Sometime in the 80s, well after Bayraklıoğlu had passed away, his estate left the Asansor to the city of Izmir. Now, one of the city’s municipal departments maintains and operates the elevator, free of charge, for anyone who’d like to short-cut their way up the hillside. In a (very successful) effort to convert this into a true city attraction, there’s now a restaurant and café atop the Asansor. If so inclined, you can have a cup of coffee and dessert while overlooking Izmir and its beautiful coastline.
Lines and Changed Plans
Jumped ahead a bit with the above description – we hadn’t actually seen the Asansor yet. But, after Filiz’s urging, we added it to the list.
After wrapping up work one afternoon, we decided to check it out. From our neighborhood on the coast, we had a couple mile walk south along Izmir’s waterfront to the Karatas neighborhood. As you stroll south, looking inland to your left, the mountains gradually get closer and closer, eventually towering directly above you.
When it seems like these slopes actually will push you into the Aegean, you have two options – skirt the narrow route along the coast, or turn left and try to find a way up the cliffs. As we were out to see the Asansor, we took the latter path.
From a residential road parallel to the water, you turn onto a little side street, seemingly heading directly into the hillside. Originally called Asansor Street, this shaded alley has since been renamed. Once again demonstrating our ignorance, Asansor Street is now named Dario Moreno Street after a famous singer – we hadn’t heard of – who lived there in the 1940s. (Note to self – look up Dario Mareno…).
Musical knowledge or not, this side street leading up to the base of the Asansor is awesome. Probably only 100 meters or so in length, it seems like cafes, bars, and hostels lined every step of the street. And, keeping with the musical theme, live music poured out of most of these spots.
In a different, backpacking-with-a-$15-per-day-budget-after-high-school life, setting up shop at one of these hostels for a few nights would’ve been perfect. Well, to be completely honest, it would’ve been perfect now. But, as kind-of adults, we’d booked our apartment for the whole Izmir stay. Stupid stability…
Anyway, we reached the end of this cool little street and met a longer-than-hoped-for line waiting to ride the Asansor. Chipp pretty much has temper tantrums with – any – lines over five minutes, so waiting 30ish minutes to ride and elevator, even one as awesome as this, was out of the question.
Execute Plan B.
A Café with a View – and the One-Block Rule of Thumb
Going back 100+ years, Nesim Levi Bayraklıoğlu built his Asansor to avoid a walk up the hill, not eliminate that walk. To paraphrase Mitch Hedberg, what happens when escalators break? They become stairs. For us, waiting in line may not have been in the cards, but we could still walk up the existing staircase – it just happened to be a particularly steep, long staircase.
And, as things have a way of happening, this audible led to another “happy little accident” – and helped solidify a new travel rule of thumb.
Midway up this Everest-esque climb (realistically, not too terrible), we stumbled on a little streetside café – right at the intersection of this staircase and a narrow thoroughfare carved into the side of the cliff. It was immediately apparent that this neighborhood spot would be a perfect place to rest and fortify ourselves for the rest of the climb. Teenagers on dates, university students studying, and the owner smoking cigarettes and chatting with locals out front – perfect.
Naturally, we jumped (fell) at the opportunity to grab a coffee and some sweets. Sitting at an outdoor table, perched midway up this staircase, we had an incredible view out over the bay. And, it dawned on us – had we taken the Asansor up, we never in a million years would’ve found this place. Enter rule of thumb: when you’re at a touristy spot, take the time to travel one or two blocks away from the crowds – you’ll often be pleasantly surprised with what you find.
Wrapping up our coffee and dessert – and still thrilled at our good fortune finding this place – we continued the climb. But, it appears we had different destinations in mind.
In Chipp’s mind: “Well, we had a hell of a view – guess skipping the Asansor worked out just fine. Off to the metro (located atop the hill).”
In Jenna’s mind: “Great spot and view – can’t wait to get to the top of the Asansor to see the city from there!”
Yep, continuing up the staircase, we clearly had different destinations in mind, both assuming the other was going a different place. And, with Chipp fulfilling his standard (albeit questionable) navigation duties, Jenna just assumed we were en route to the Asansor.
Fast forward 20 minutes, and we arrived at the closest metro station.
Jenna: “Why are we here?”
Chipp: “To catch the metro home.”
Jenna: “I thought we were going to the Asansor.”
Chipp, in his mind: “But we already had a great view.”
Chipp, spoken: “Let’s turn around.”
20 minutes or so of backtracking later, and we reached the Asansor’s upper platform. Moral of the story: even (especially?) after five years of marriage, assumptions don’t always work out well.
Atop the Izmir Asanor (Plus Some Glamour Shots)
Despite our brief “detour,” we eventually made it to the top of the Asansor.
Chipp’ll be the first to admit – it was absolutely worth turning back to see – what an incredible view. And, frankly, it’s good that we got here after our great view from the café, as the Asansor definitely put that vista to shame.
Seeming to hover over the cliff’s edge, the Asansor’s platform provided a commanding view of Izmir’s entire bay. Looking out to our left, we could follow the coastline for miles as it extended out to the Urla Peninsula (useful, as we’d be off for some wine tasting/drinking there the following weekend). Off to our right, the city’s waterfront promenade unfolded beneath us.
And, as an added bonus, we had the good fortune to arrive just before sunset, the so-called “Instagram golden hour.” As a result, we (mostly Chipp) found it wildly entertaining watching the lengths a couple teenage girls were willing to go to for the just perfect Insta-pic. Ironic, yes, as we’re writing a blog full of pictures. Regardless, watching people struggle for the perfect glamour shot is still hilarious.
With our own slightly-less-glamourous pictures taken, we rode the Asansor down – really glad we did. The city has filled the inside of the elevator with historical trivia and photos, and operators slowed the lift down enough that you can leisurely look through everything in the roughly two-minute descent.
Looking back, it’s hard to say we would’ve changed anything. Walking up (miscommunication and all) was a perfect alternative, and riding the Asansor down still gave us the view and experience. Plus, who wants to wait in a line for anything?