The Port of Gemlik is at the tip of the Gulf of Gemlik on the southeastern shores of the Sea of Marmara off the Aegean Sea in western Turkey. It is about 50 nautical miles southeast of the Port of Istanbul across the Marmara. Known as Kios until 1922, the Port of Gemlik's Greek residents were moved out of Turkey during the population exchange. Today, about 70 thousand people live in the City of Gemlik.
The Port of Gemlik, known locally as Gemport, is actually about three kilometers southwest of the city. The area is world-famous for its Gemlik olives and olive oils, and the popular Kursunlu beaches lie within the Gemlik district.
During the 2nd millennium BC, the Hittites occupied the region known then as Bythinia. During the 12th Century BC, Indo-European races, the Mysians and the Phrygians, settled here after migrating from Europe. The Thracians occupied the region in the 10th Century BC, and they lived there until Hellenic Greeks, the Milesians, colonized the settlement, establishing several cities including Kios (today's Gemlik) in the region of the Bosphorus Strait that connects the Black and Marmara Seas.
The Milesian colony of Kios prospered from 625 to 555 BC due to its excellent strategic position as a port and trading hub. In 553 BC, the Lydians and Persians took control of Asia Minor, and the residents of modern Gemlik, then called Kios, paid tribute to their new rulers in return for relative independence.
In 446 BC, Athenian forces pushed the Persians back into the mainland, and the city of Kios became a member of the Delos Alliance from 466 to 412 BC. However, Athens' defeat at Sicily brought the Persians back to Gemlik/Kios, and they held the settlement until 334 BC when Alexander the Great arrived to retake the territory.
During the era of Alexander, Gemlik/Kios reached its cultural peak. The first gold coins in history were created there in 330 BC. The city became an important commercial center for Asia Minor. After Alexander's death, struggles for power within the Macedonian leadership led to a harsh decline in the city's fortunes. An assault on the city by the King of Bythinia, supported by King Philip V of Macedonia, ended in the massacre or enslavement of the citizens of Gemlik/Kios. In the end, Philip's actions brought the might of Rome down on Greece, ending Macedonian power and influence forever. After 74 BC, Rome controlled the region.
Under Rome, Gemlik/Kios had an independent constitution and, although supervised by a Roman Consul, the city maintained its Greek culture and commerce. It was a popular summer resort for Roman rulers. From the early 2nd Century AD, Christianity grew quickly in the region. The apostle Paul visited the region. When Gemlik/Kios' Roman ruler, Plinius, sought help for stopping the spread of the new religion from Emperor Trajan, a bloodbath ensued.
When western Rome fell, and the Byzantine Empire came into power, Gemlik/Kios was made an Archbishopric. As part of the Byzantine Empire, Gemlik/Kios became an important city and a favorite resort for the Emperors. Emperor Justinian founded a military school there. However, Gemlik/Kios was located at the crossroads of both trade and military routes, and the area was plagued by war between the Byzantine Empire and its enemies. Gemlik/Kios was invaded by Goths, Arabs, Crusaders, and the Seljuks.
The Seljuks ruled the area from the 11th to 14th Centuries, and they built a navy and established the first shipyard in Turkey in Gemlik/Kios. Unfortunately, the shipyard was destroyed by Emperor Alexios I in his attempt to protect the Byzantine Empire from the Seljuks.
Gemlik/Kios was severely damaged during the Crusades. In the late 11th Century during the First Crusade, the Crusaders made Gemlik/Kios an important military base, calling it Civitot. During the Fourth Crusade in the early 13th Century, the city was captured by the Franks and given to knights who held it until Constantinople retook the city in 1261 AD.
In 1326 AD, Osman I led the Turks in conquering much of what would become the Ottoman Empire and Turkey. In 1336 they captured Gemlik/Kios and destroyed the city. After three years, the residents were allowed to return to the city. Populated by uneducated fishermen and farmers, the city residents took the Turkish language and lived in general poverty. During the period from 1656 to 1710, when Murat IV ruled the Ottoman Empire, conditions in Gemlik/Kios improved. Greek residents, many of whom were skilled shipbuilders, were employed at the Turkish Military Shipyard in Gemlik/Kios. After Murat IV's death, however, conditions again became difficult for this mostly-Greek population.
For a brief time in the early 19th Century, Mahmout II granted relative freedom to the Christian Greeks in Gemlik/Kios. Greek culture thrived, and trade increased. When Kemal Ataturk, the first President of the Republic of Turkey, came to power after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in 1923, tensions between the Greek and Turkish populations increased. In August 1922, the Greek population of Gemlik/Kios boarded eleven cargo ships bound for Greece, changing forever the character of the city of Gemlik.