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Antakya - Hatay Photo Album - Sermaye Cami

Antakya or Hatay as its official name is today, was founded in 300 BC on the banks of the river Orontes (present Asi) as Antioch-ad-Orontes by Seleucos Nicator one of Alexander's generals. Antakya grew quickly to become a city of half a million people and, under the Romans, became one of the centers of Christianity. Saint Peter spent some time in Antioch between 47-54 AD and, together with St. Paul and St. Barnabas, founded one of the world's first Christian communities. Antakya was also the starting point for the first of St. Paul's travels in Anatolia in 47-49 AD. The city survived a massive earthquake in the 5th century killing 250,000 people and was later fought over by Persians, Byzantines, Arabs, Armenians, Seljuks, Crusaders and Mamluks. The latter literally wiped out the city and it never regained its former glory.

After the first World War, Antakya was part of the French protectorate of Syria until 1939 when it became independent as the Republic of Hatay (capital city Iskenderun aka Alexandretta). After a short period Hatay joined the Republic of Turkey on 23 July 1939.

Present day Antakya is a prosperous and charming city near the Syrian border divided in two by the river Orontes or Asi as it is called nowadays. On the west bank there is the modern city with its wide boulevards and on the east bank is the scenic old Arabic town with its small alleys. Most people visit Antakya for its Archeology Museum with the world famous collection of Roman mosaics. Click here for images of the mosaics.

The relatively large number of churches still bear testimony of Antakya's importance to Christianity. The most important church is the tiny Cave-Church of Saint Peter(Sen Piyer Kilisesi) which is generally considered as the world's first Christian church and is located up a hill, about 2-3 km from Antakya's center. In 1983, the Church of St. Peter was declared a Holy Site by the Vatican. It was also in ancient Antioch that the saints gave their new religion the name Christianity. Antakya remains the titular seat of five Christian patriarchs and there still live some 1200 Christians in Antakya. The majority, some 250 families, are Orthodox of the Arabic rite and worship in the Syrian Orthodox Church. This fine building was rebuilt with Russian assistance in the 19th century after a devastating earthquake destroyed its predecessor. The church contains some beautiful icons. The Protestant church was established in 2000 by a Korean Methodist mission and is housed in a former French Consular building. As a symbol of religious tolerance, Antakya's Catholic church is next door the Sermaye Cami (Sermaye mosque). The beautiful ornate minaret of the Sermaye Cami is depicted on most tourism posters of Antakya. The Habibi Neccar Camiidates from 636 AD and is known as the first constructed mosque of Antakya. After being damaged by an earthequake, it was reconstructed during the Ottoman period in 17th century but the minaret kept its former appearance.

The blending of Turkish, Arabic and French flavours has resulted in the high quality cuisine for which Antakya is known. Hummus is served here on a regular basis, while this meal is rarely found in the rest of Turkey. We had a very tasteful dinner in Antakya Evi (Silhali Kuvvetler Caddesi) where the speciality Antioch Kebap is highly recommended. Also the humus is very tasteful and you can drink alcohol. The outside of the restaurant looks a bit worn out, but inside it is a clean and pleasant place where you sit in elegant rooms to enjoy your meals and raki. Apparently Antakya Evi is closed on Sundays, at least it was when we returned. The other restaurant we tried was Antik Han at Hürriyet Caddesi 19/1. Although looking small downstairs, surprisingly upstairs it is a rather large place with several rooms that can accommodate lots of clients. The hummus also tasted splendid here.

We visited Antakya during our 2004 journey throughout Mediterranean Turkey and spent two nights in Hotel Onur (36 rooms with TV and air conditioning, single about 18 EURO, e-mail: onurhotel@hotmail.com, Tel. +90-326 216 22 14 +90-326 216 22 14 ). It is a clean place with a very friendly and helpful staff. They did ask to pay each night in advance.

Antakya was also the setting in some novels and films. It was in Antioch ad Orontes that Ben Hur had his famous wagon ride and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade had the Republic of Hatay with Alexandretta (Iskenderun) as historical setting.

Here are the photos of Antakya - Hatay, click on the thumbnails to see a greater picture

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