The small coastal resort of FOÇA, 86km north of İzmir, is an attractive and welcoming place, where the charming cobbled backstreets are lined with Greek fishermen’s cottages and a few more opulent Ottoman mansions. A very worthwhile and relaxing stopover, it’s sometimes called Eski (Old) Foça to distinguish it from its smaller and less interesting neighbour 25km further north, Yeni Foça, which is unlikely to appeal to international visitors.

Derived from the ancient Greek for “seal”, the name “Phokaia” refers either to the suggestively shaped islets offshore, or to the handful of Mediterranean monk seals that still live in the local waters. They’re monitored and protected by the Turkish Underwater Research Foundation, but you’re most unlikely to see any on a boat tour. Frankly you’d need to be a seal to really enjoy the sea here which, thanks to strong currents and a sharp drop-off, is notoriously chilly for much of the year.

Thanks to a pervasive military presence, much of the nearby coast is in any case out of bounds to visitors. Foça’s naval base houses the Turkish Amphibious Brigade, and is the only location in the country where marines are trained.

Ancient Phokaia

Foça stands on the site of Phokaia, founded around 1000 BC by Ionian colonists. Great seafarers, the Phokaians plied the Mediterranean as far as the Straits of Gibraltar, founding numerous colonies, including (around 600 BC) Massalia, now Marseilles.

Little now remains of the ancient town. The most striking remnant, 8km east of modern Foça, is the Taş Ev, an unusual tomb cut from the rock in the eighth century BC, squatting beside an Ottoman bridge and a modern cemetery. A small, much later ancient theatre marks the east entry to Foça, while some mosaic pavements from a Roman villa, including a portrayal of four Bacchus heads and birds, have been unearthed about 150m southwest.

Beskapılar fortress

The oldest intact structure in Foça itself is the waterfront Beşkapılar fortress (open for art exhibitions). Originally Byzantine, it was much modified by successive occupiers, including the Genoese, who occupied the castle until the Ottomans seized it in the fifteenth century. Two interesting mosques from that era bracket Beşkapılar: the unheralded but beautiful Fatih Camii, and the Kayalar Camii, at the summit of the castle enclosure, sporting a distinctly lighthouse-like minaret.

The harbours

Foça’s castle headland splits the bay into two smaller harbours. The northerly, more picturesque Küçükdeniz is where most of the action takes place, along seafront Reha Midilli Caddesi, while bleak, southerly Büyükdeniz is of interest only as the point where ferries from Lésvos dock and the fishing fleet is anchored. Neither bay has a decent beach, though that doesn’t stop bathers from establishing themselves on the slightly grubby shingle or launching themselves from platforms at rocky Küçükdeniz.

Beaches

Some excellent beaches are dotted along the scenic 20km of road that separates Foça from Yeni Foça. However, they’re either only accessible on foot, or by paying fees of up to TL15 to the campsites that own them, such as People, 5km out, and Kosova, 2km beyond. The best sand is at Acar Kamping (after 10km), but 700m before that, paths from the roadside lead down beneath some high-voltage power lines to a succession of idyllic coves opposite an islet. Alternatively, Mambo Beach Club, 5km short of Yeni Foça, usually allows free access to the beach if you patronize their snack bar.

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