Famed for its blue flag-certified beaches that join the Marmara and Aegean seas, Balıkesir is a center of tourism attractive year-round with great destinations like Ayvalık, Edremit, Altınoluk, and Erdek.
The town of “firsts” and “mosts,” Balıkesir is one of the places that introduced Turkey to tourism by virtue of its therapeutic geothermal sources and peerless coves. This is both the capital of the Karasids—the first of the beylics to have joined the Ottoman Empire—and the place where the first sparks of the Turkish War of Independence arose. The aim of Balıkesir—known as Turkey’s breadbasket with its rich agricultural and animal husbandry potential—for the year 2023 is to be in the ranks of Turkey’s ten strongest cities. In a location connecting the three great provinces of Istanbul, Ankara, and İzmir, the city is ready to rise with its population of over one million and touristic treasures. We start touring the city, which presents different treasures to visitors in each of its eighteen districts, from its center.
The city center, where splendid Ottoman artifacts such as the Zağnos Pasha Mosque Complex and Yıldırım Mosque stand, possesses a lively marketplace. After seeing the Historic Clock Tower, you could enjoy such recreational spots as Atatürk Park and Değirmen Straits. Our first stop among the districts that surround the city center like the petals of a flower is Ayvalık. Embellished with jagged shores going in and out of the Aegean, the district is known for its elegant houses placed between narrow olive-scented streets like cinematic props and its local cuisine. To look upon the gulf’s pristine coves, one must climb to Şeytan Sofrası. Tımarhane Island, on the end of the peninsula, is worth seeing for its interesting rocks and stone monasteries.
Off the shores of Ayvalık are more than twenty small islands. You can visit these islands via boats that take off from the harbor and around the fish market. The summer program of the Ayvalık International Music Academy, where instruction is provided in violin, piano, cello, and improvisation, is brimming again this summer. To consider Cunda, once known as “Little Paris,” separately from Ayvalık is difficult. The seafood and olive oil-dressed herb dishes available on the island, which is known as the Venice of the North Aegean, are truly delicious. Taş Café, with its stained-glass windows and giant stove, is indisputably a Cunda classic. Ayışığı (”Moonlight”)Monastery on Pateriça Way dons a wonderful appearance when bathed in the shine of the moon. Another place in Balıkesir where you can enjoy the sea is Kapıdağ Peninsula. Erdek, the heart of the peninsula known in antiquity as Kyzikos, is famous for its long beaches. Çuğra and Kumyalı are filled with hotels and guesthouses. Off the western shores of the peninsula, each of the Marmara Islands presents different beauties.
The Land Of Conan
There are many settlements in Balıkesir, whose history dates back to five thousand years ago, where you can observe the deep traces left by history. Perhaps the most interesting of the archaeological sites in the area, which was known in antiquity as Mysia, is Antandrus in Altınoluk. It is claimed that this ancient town, which is located immediately to the west of the Coast of Edremit,was the home of the legendary warrior Conan. Among the artifacts that have been excavated in Antandrus, which is regarded by archaeologists as the “Ephesus of the future,” are various artifacts, wall frescoes, and mosaics from the seafaring Cimmerians.
The foundation of the town is dated to the eighth century BC. It is home to the oldest ancient necropolis in the area. Altınoluk, located right next to Antandrus, possesses a coastline that totals forty-three kilometers. The neighborhood of Çam, built on a forested slope also known as Old Altınoluk, is notable for its historical houses. Accessible via a short hike from here is Şahinderesi Canyon, which resembles a seemingly endless, mysterious cave with its height of six hundred meters and twenty-seven-kilometer length. The canyon serves as a natural chimney, funneling the pine-scented air it takes in from Mt. Kaz to the Edremit Coast, and the iodine-rich air from the sea to green slopes. This region, at the feet of Mt. Kaz (the historic Mt. Ida), serves as a natural center of therapy with its scientifically proven concentration of oxygen. The fertile markets of the region are yet another world to discover. The Edremit Market set up on Wednesdays is as colorful as it is described in Sebahattin Ali’s story “Hasanboğuldu” with its numerous varieties of olives, mountain herbs, fresh vegetables, and women dressed in local garb.
The Pearl Of Marmara
After stopping in Susurluk, to the north of Balıkesir, for a refreshing drink of ayran (the yogurt-based milk for which the town is famous), we head out to Lake Manyas. The lake is known as an avian sanctuary and its northeastern shores have been designated as a national park. The lake welcomes roughly three million birds every year; to its human visitors, it offers the opportunity to observe more than 250 species. The lake was formed after a tectonic cave-in. In 1976, it was placed on the list of rare natural environments by the European Council. There is even a festival in the region named after the avian sanctuary. The International Avian Sanctuary Festival, which is to be held this year for the twenty-third time, is taking place in Bandırma June 1–5. Daskyleion, overlooking the lake from the hill Hisartepe, was renowned in antiquity as a center of governorship. The inhabitants of the city were the first to designate the lake as a park, and they used avian imagery on their coins and reliefs. The district of Manyas, to the south of the lake, is famous for its hole-studded kasseri cheese, called “kelle,” and its whey cheese, “lor.” In the district’s western neighbor, Gönen, the craft of embroidery is an old tradition.
The embroidery market set up on Hüseyin Tümer Avenue on Tuesdays is a colorful affair with the thousands of kinds of needlework embroidery, lacework, scarfs, shawls, prints, and trousseau-worthy items brought from the area villages. The author Ömer Seyfettin, who was born in a single-story house with a garden across the square that now carries his name, wrote his famed short story “Kaşağı” (Currycomb) with inspiration from the horse ranches in Gönen. The geothermal facilities in the district, a longtime center for thermal springs, present a range of options from traditional Turkish baths to water massages and aromatherapy. So, why not make beautiful Balıkesir your next destination?