If you look at the chaos in the Ayvalık pier and the center on a Thursday and by an instant decision think that it is not for you, it will be unfair. Because then you will have missed the blessings in the back streets and the festive market.
Locals of Ayvalık are immediately revealed because the warmth of the Aegean appears on their faces. Once upon a time, the port of this town, which was enriched with olives, was very busy with the ships from Europe. From the 1960s on, this was the refuge of those who wanted to get away from the fright of cities and start a new life.
Goodbye to the sun until tomorrow
The Devil’s Feast is among the keywords to bring Ayvalık to mind… In the sunset, everyone comes to this feast, whether invited or not… The road through the pine forests reaches a 100-meter-high hill after 20 minutes. The café with a great view, located on this table-shaped rocky cape, is bursting at the seams all the time. It is worth noting that this must-see landscape, which stretches from Midilli Island to the Ida Mountains, offers a bird’s-eye view of Ayvalık, Cunda and Sarımsaklı Coast. The peak was given this name about 50 years ago because the prehistoric altar remains in the rocks resembling the footprint of the devil. When you turn your face towards Ayvalık, the island you will see is the Stone Monastery or Tımarhane (loony bin) Island, which was used as a mental hospital in the Ottoman period. Ahmet Yorulmaz, who has shed light on every period of Ayvalık with his researches and books, recalls in his book “While Traveling in Ayvalık”: “People from Balıkesir, Soma, Kınık, Bergama, Limmi and Midilli would recover their health. While the sun sets with applause in İlyas Peygamber Mountain, the full moon rises from the Kozak Plateau.
Their facades lit with the crimson lights of the sun, beautiful Ayvalık houses rise behind the market tents. The magic of Ayvalık is in its back streets. The best time to explore is in the evening… When you pass through the market, you will be walking along the cobblestone narrow streets. Many of the mosques at the streets were once Orthodox churches. The Saatli Mosque used to be Agios Ioannis and the Çınarlı Mosque used to be Ayios Yioryos. If you want to see the churches in Ayvalık, there is a useful map distributed in hotels and travel agencies. If you’re gonna wander, you will come across them anyway. Dalkıran Mehmetağa Street is a beautiful street where people sit in front of houses; peppers are dried on the balconies. So is Fevzi Çakmak Street. Those who came from the big cities have restored the Greek houses, which were out of condition, and added more value to the streets.
From Trikopis to Fikret Mualla
There are two buildings on the streets of Ayvalık as the solid indicators of wealth and prosperity. One of them is the Bonjour Pension at Fevzi Çakmak Avenue and the other is the Yali Pension behind the post office. The Italians had lived for a period in the two centuries old Yalı Pension, and the Greeks for another period. It was also the home of the ancestors of Trikopis, the Greek commander-in-chief, who had been captured at the Afyon front. Bonjour is 300 years old. It was once the French Legation. Macaron, with its historic houses and narrow streets, is one of the oldest districts in Ayvalık. It’s worth spending time here. Camlı Kahve and Mor Salkım are remarkable stops for coffee or famous mulberry sherbet break. As you walk down Camlı Kahve along Barbaros Street towards the Saatli Mosque, you should remember that the painter Fikret Mualla lived in a small house on this street in the 1940s. Instead of eating yourself whether you will be able to see the sunset at the Ayvalık pier because of all the kiosks and street vendors, you should either have some tea at Kanelo located at the end or go to Çamlık road. When you start to move from the pier towards Çamlık, it appears as if the asphalt disappears and the sea comes out. The sea is on the right along the road and the impressive small palaces that are able to match the villas in the French Riviera with their beauty and aesthetics are lined on the left. Some of these Greek mansions were once swamplands, and now a garden of paradise lies in front of each. Some of them are still in ruins.
Perhaps it is due to the sea scent carried by the Aegean’s famous sea breeze, the Greeks, who lived here for many years, named Cunda Island as “Moshonisi” meaning “Fragrant Island”. While you are passing from Ayvalık to Cunda, you come across a road sign which will make you say ‘No way!’ The sign says: “Turkey’s first Bosphorus Bridge.” Indeed, this short bridge located over the Dolap Strait is literally the first bosphorus bridge of the country. You first pass from Ayvalık to Lale (Soğan) Island through a road made by the Greeks via land reclamation at the beginning of the 1800s, the bridge connects you to Cunda Island from there. After traveling among the Cunda condominiums, villas, and hotels, you come to the beach. You are on an island in the Aegean and its beauties are hidden on the back streets.There is everything for a pleasant walk; authentic homes, doors, door knockers, fragrant gardens, fountains, cozy hostels, fishermen, olive oil shops, small dairies, churches… Cunda, especially in the summer evenings, is crowded, almost like the market place of Bodrum, you need to enter a line to walk. It is impossible to find empty seats in cafes. Typical souvenirs of holiday resorts are also sold here, and dozens of people swarm in front of those shops. But apart from the holiday season, every state of this place is nice. If you wake up early in the morning, go to the seaside, read the newspaper, chat with the fishermen, and eat cheese and simit in Cunda Taş Kahve, then the real Cunda will show you its face.
The past stands tall
Taksihiyarhis Church in Aşağı Çeşme (fountain), which does not flow anymore, is from 1873. It used to be the town church of Cunda Island. It belonged to the religious rich people of the day. Valuable portraits drawn on fish skin in this period were stolen. Today the rest is at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in İstanbul. The church, which has never been converted into a mosque and abandoned in 1922, is now open for visitors as the Rahmi Koç Museum. Zehra Teyze (Aunt Zehra), who lived in an old Greek house in the church garden, saved the place from being a dump and a wreck and turned it into a guesthouse named Zehra Teyze’nin Evi (Cunda Evi). Whether you stay here or not, it’s nice to have a cup of tea in the yard surrounded by cats. During the Ottoman period, Cunda was an important religious center for the Orthodox Greeks. There are eight desolate monasteries on the island. The most impressive one is Pateriça or the Moonlight Monastery with its current name in the north of the island in the area called Çataltepe.
Ayvalık is a real Aegean and a gourmet… Food in here can be a single reason to stay for a few days. Which special taste we shall begin to tell is a hard decision to make: İmren Pastanesi (lor cheese dessert, mastic cookies, mastic and black mulberry ice cream), Şeytanın Kahvesi (verjuice), Camlı Kahve (mulberry sherbet), Kafe Karamel (lemonade), Hane (vegan cold soup with almonds, plum sherbet with cloves), Deniz Yıldızı Restaurant (Crete squash, sea bass with mustard, octopus with eggplant sauce, creamy squid cooked in earthenware, seafood stuffed kale leaves, lor cheese dessert with sour cherries), Argos (fried okras, artichokes with orange, pine nuts, and yogurt, monkfish saute, honey baked bream), Yörük Mehmet (sand mussels, okras with squid)…
The works are free in Ayvalık as lives are… The works created through a different perspective by the use of recycled products by women, who have not had regular income throughout their lives, are in the Çöp (M)adam (garbage (wo)man). Gülen Odun brings together the enthusiasts with the beauties of olive trees, reflected in houses and kitchens. Füsun Aydınlık paints sea stones in charming patterns. Ana’s works, a Spanish ceramic artist, are well worth a visit.