Ayvalık – info, interests and sights

Ayvalık – info, interests and sights


is a seaside town on the northwestern Aegean coast of Turkey. It is a district of Balıkesir Province. The town center of Ayvalık is surrounded by the archipelago of Ayvalık Islands, which face the nearby Greek island of Lesbos.

It was alternatively called Kydonies (Κυδωνίες) by the town’s former Greek population; although the use of the name Ayvalık was widespread for centuries among both the Turks and the Greeks, pronounced as Ayvali (Αϊβαλί) by the latter.



Ayvalık is a district in Turkey’s Balıkesir Province on the Aegean Sea coast. It is situated on a narrow coastal plain surrounded by low hills to the east which are covered with pine and olive trees. Ayvalık is also surrounded by the archipelago of the Ayvalık Islands (the largest of which is Cunda Island) on the sea and by a narrow peninsula in the south named the Hakkıbey Peninsula. Ayvalık is the southernmost district of Balıkesir. Gömeç, Burhaniye and Edremit are other districts of the Balıkesir Province which are situated on the Aegean shores and they are lined up respectively to the north. The region is under the influence of a typical Mediterranean climate with mild and rainy winters and hot, dry summers.


In antiquity

Ayvalık was located in the ancient region named Aeolis in antiquity. The ruins of three important ancient cities are within a short driving distance away from Ayvalık: Assos and Troy are to the north, while Pergamon is to the east. Mount Ida (Turkish: Kaz Dağı) which plays an important role in ancient Greek mythology and folk tales (such as the cult of Cybele; the Sibylline books; the Trojan War and the epic poem Iliad of Homer; the nymph Idaea (wife of the river god Scamander); Ganymede (the son of Tros); Paris (the son of Priam); Aeneas (the son of Anchises and the goddess Aphrodite) who is the protagonist of the ancient Roman epic poem Aeneid of Virgil) is also near Ayvalık (to the north) and can be seen from numerous areas in and around the town center.



Various archeological studies in the region prove that Ayvalık and its environs were inhabited as early as the prehistoric ages. Joseph Thacher Clarke believed that he had identified it as the site of Kisthene, mentioned by Strabo as a place in ruins at a harbour beyond Cape Pyrrha. Kisthene was further identified by Engin Beksaç of Trakya University, as Kız Çiftlik, near the centre of Gömeç.

The Ayvalık Region was studied by Beksaç in his survey of the Prehistoric and Protohistoric settlements on the Southern Side of the Gulf of Adramytteion (Edremit). The survey showed different settlements near the centre of Ayvalık which appear generally to relate to the Early Classical Periods.[citation needed] However, some settlements near the centre of Altınova were related to the Prehistoric Period, especially the Bronze and Iron Ages. Kortukaya, identified by Beksaç in his survey project in the 1990s and early 2000s, aids understanding of the interaction between the peoples of the interior and of the coast. Kortukaya is one of the most important settlements, along with another settlement, Yeni Yeldeğirmeni, near the centre of Altınova.

Traces of a hillfort were identified by Beksaç on Çıplak Island or Chalkys. Some Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Pottery fragments related to the Aeolians were found on the same island. Two tiny settlements, near the centre of Ayvalık, were settlements in the Peraia of Mytilene.

Pordoselene, near the centre of Ayvalık, was also an important settlement in Antiquity. The remnants were on the eastern part of Cunda Island, near the sea. All the archaeological data was related to the Classical and Medieval Ages.

The constant threat posed by piracy in the region during the previous ages did not allow the islet settlements to grow larger and only Cunda Island (alternatively known as Alibey Island, known among the Greeks as Moschonisia, literally “The Perfumed Island”) could maintain a higher level of habitation as it is the largest and the closest islet to the mainland.

After the Byzantine period, the region came under the rule of the Anatolian beylik of Karasi in the 13th century and was later annexed to the territory of the Ottoman beylik (principality), which was to become the Ottoman Empire in the following centuries. The locals contributed with their economies to the Greek struggle for independence, including the famous Psorokostaina.

In 1821, following riots, the male population was massacred, and women and children were sent into slavery. As reported by the them British Ambassador Lord Strangford, Osman Pasha, having accepted the submission of the Aivaliotes, carried his indulgence so far as to permit them to retain their arms – that matters remained perfectly tranquil in the town, till the sudden appearance in the offing, of a large squadron of the Greek insurgents, induced the inhabitants to hope that it had come to their succor, and that they might make another attempt at revolt with better success. They accordingly rose en masse, and butchered about fifteen hundred Turks. But the squadron (the appearance of which in the bay had been merely accidental) having in the meantime sailed away, the Turks recovered their courage, and an indiscriminate massacre of the Greeks.

As of 1920, the population was estimated at 60,000. It had a small port, exporting soap, olive oil, animal hides and flour. The British described Aivali (Ayvalık) and nearby Edremid (Edremit) as having the finest olive oil in Asia Minor. They reported large exportations of olive oil to France and Italy. However, the oil industry in Ayvalık suffered during the First World War due to the deportation of Christian populations in the area (some of whom fled to the Greek islands in the Aegean Sea), who were the primary makers of olive oil.[4] Alarmed at the decline of the industry, the Turkish government brought back 4,500 Greek families to the area in order to resume olive oil production. Despite receiving wages, olive oil producing Greeks were kept under government surveillance.

Until 1922, Ayvalık was almost entirely populated by Greeks. Anecdotal evidence indicates that, immediately after the defeat in the naval Battle of Chesma (Çeşme), the Ottoman admiral (later Grand Vizier) Cezayirli Gazi Hasan Pasha and his men from the ships who survived the disaster were lodged on their way back to the capital by a local priest in Ayvalık, who did not know who they were. Hasan Pasha did not forget the kindness shown to his sailors in the hour of need, and when he became Grand Vizier, he accorded virtual autonomy to the Greeks of Ayvalık, paving the way for it to become an important cultural center for that community in the Ottoman Empire during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The town was controlled by the Greek Army on 29 May 1919 and consequently taken again three years later by Turkish forces under the command of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk on 15 September 1922. A part of the population managed to depart to Greece. However, a significant part of the local males were seized by the Turkish Army and died during death marches in the interior of Anatolia. Among the victims was the Christian clergy and the local metropolitan bishop, Gregory Orologas. Following the Turkish War of Independence, the Greek population and their properties in the town were exchanged by a Muslim population from Greece, and other formerly held Ottoman Turkish lands, under the 1923 agreement for the Exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey. Most of the new population that replaced the former Greek community were Muslim Turks from Mytilene, Crete and Macedonia. One could still hear Greek spoken in the streets until recently. Many of the town’s mosques are Greek Orthodox churches that have been converted into Muslim mosques.


Modern Ayvalık

Today, the population of Ayvalık is close to 30,000, which significantly increases during the summer due to tourism. Ayvalık and its environs are famous for the highly appreciated quality of olive oil production, which provides an important source of income for the local population. Ayvalık and the numerous islets encircling the bay area are popular holiday resorts. The largest and most important of these islets is Cunda Island (Alibey Island) which is connected to Lale Island, and thence to the mainland, by a bridge and causeway built in the late 1960s. This is the oldest bridge in Turkey that connects lands separated by a strait. Both Ayvalık and Cunda Island are famous for their seafood restaurants which are located immediately at the seashore.

Ayvalık also has two of the longest sandy beaches of Turkey which extend as far as the Dikili district of İzmir nearly 30 km (19 mi) to the south. These are the Sarımsaklı and Altınova beaches. In recent years, Ayvalık has also become an important point of attraction for scuba divers with its underwater fauna.

Ayvalık is in close proximity to Bergama (ancient Pergamon), which is another important attraction for tourists, with its ruins dating back to antiquity. The Gulf of Edremit, Mount Ida and the ancient cities of Assos and Troy to the north; and the coastal resort towns of Dikili (near ancient Atarneus) and Foça (ancient Phocaea) to the south; are also within driving distance for daily excursions. Ferries operate daily between Ayvalık and Mytilene in nearby Lesbos Island, Greece.

Ayvalık International Music Academy (AIMA) was established in September 1998. Students receive master-instructed classes for violin, viola and cello. The academy brings together students from all over the world and gives them a precious opportunity to work with distinguished masters of their branch.

USA-based Harvard University and Turkey’s Koç University have established a joint project in Cunda Island of Ayvalık and run a Harvard-Koç University Intensive Ottoman & Turkish Summer School every summer.

With its rich architectural heritage, Ayvalık is a member of the Norwich-based European Association of Historic Towns and Regions (EAHTR).


Notable people

  • Photis Kontoglou, writer, painter and iconographer
  • Elias Venezis, author
  • Gregory (Orologas) of Kydonies, Metropolitan of Kydonies, ethnomartyr, arranged for majority of Greek population to leave for Greece via the International Red Cross, but was himself executed by Turkish authorities
  • Stratos Pagioumtzis, Greek rebetiko singer
  • Konstantinos Tombras, operator of the first printing press in the town and the first press in Greece
  • Georgios Tombras, Greek soldier of the Macedonian Struggle and First Balkan War

Cunda Island

Cunda Island, also called Alibey Island, , is the largest of the Ayvalık Islands archipelago in Turkey, which was historically called the Εκατόνησα (Hekatonisa) or Μοσχονήσια (Moschonisia) archipelago in Greek. It lies in the Edremit gulf on the Turkey’s northwestern coast, off the coast of Ayvalık in Balıkesir Province, Turkey, with an area of 23 square kilometres (9 sq mi). It is located 16 kilometres (10 miles) east of Lesbos, Greece.

Cunda Island has a typical Aegean resort town. There are frequent bus and ferry services to Cunda Island from the town center of Ayvalık. Cunda Island is connected to Lale Island, and thence to the mainland, by a bridge and causeway built in the late 1960s. This is the first and currently the oldest surviving bridge in Turkey that connects lands separated by a strait.

For some months in 1922, the island was the see of a Greek Orthodox metropolitan bishop, while the neoclassical mansion of the last metropolitan, Ambrosios, who was executed by the Turkish army, still survives on the seafront of the island’s town center. On September 19, 1922 several hundred of the Greek islanders were killed on Cunda during the Greek genocide, only some children were spared and sent to orphanages. The next year, following the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) and the population exchange between Greece and Turkey, the few remaining islanders were forced to leave for Greece and were replaced by Cretan Turks and Turks from Lesbos. The main landmark of Cunda Island remains the Taksiarchis Church (Turkish: Taksiyarhis Kilisesi). The large, former Greek Orthodox cathedral was abandoned and dilapidated, but has now been restored.

Poroselene bay in the north of the island is among Cunda’s main sights. In antiquity, it was the home of a dolphin which saved a drowning boy, mentioned by Pausanias.

In 2007, after a two-year work, all 551 buildings in Cunda Island were inspected and registered by the Turkish Science Academy and Yıldız Technical University Faculty of Architecture, as part of the “Culture of Turkey inventory project”.

USA-based Harvard University and Turkey’s Koç University have established a joint project in Cunda Island and run a “Harvard-Koç University Intensive Ottoman & Turkish Summer School” every summer.

The Ayvalık Strait Bridge connects Cunda Island with Lale Island.