Asia Minor Travel & Tours - Your Guide to Turkey

Antakya (Hatay)

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Antakya is one of the most interesting and entertaining cities in southern Turkey. The city is culturally diverse, with its mixture of Arab and Turkish speaking people, as well a Christian minority. The French years (1919-1939) left behind beautiful boulevards and the city seems to have its own architectural style. The ancient Orontes River (Asi River) divides the city in half.

The ancient name for Antakya was Antioch ad Orontes, founded in 300 B.C. by Seleucus I Nicator. After the Seleucid domination came to an end in 83 B.C., the city was declared capital of the Roman Province of Syria. It turned out to be one of the wealthiest cities under the Roman Empire.

Antioch was one of the earliest centers of Christianity. Under Roman rule, a sizeable Christian community developed in the area. St. Peter lived here and St. Paul and Barnabas used the city as a missionary center. In fact, it was in Antioch that the name Christian was first used.

Under the Byzantines, Antioch continued to prosper and was often compared to Rome. Control of the area was fought over by the Persians, Arabs, Byzantines, Selcuks, and the Crusaders until it was destroyed by the Egyptian Mameluks in 1268. The Ottomans took the city in 1516. After World War I, it came under French jurisdiction. Finally, in 1939 Antakya was added to the Republic of Turkey.

The main reason to visit the city is its marvelous Antakya Archaeological Museum, or Mosaic Museum, where a great collection of Roman and Byzantine mosaics can be seen. The Grotto of St. Peter, a cave church where St. Peter is believed to have preached and where Christians met in secret, is also a popular site.

Southwest of Antakya is Seleuceia ad Pierea, Antioch’s ancient port near Samandag. An interesting site to see is the impressive Titus Tunnel, a huge canal gouged from rock during the 1st century A.D. in an attempt to prevent the river from silting the harbor. Also worthwhile is the 6th century Monastery of St. Simeon, Stylites the younger.


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Last modified: 
February 25, 2014