Tuesday, October 11, 2011


From Şanlıurfa, we headed southwest to Hatay. The city of Antakya is known to history buffs as Antioch.

Antakya continues the grand Turkish tradition of being home to very old and historically significant places. Here, it's the rock-cut church of St. Peter, the oldest place where Christians congregated in secret and arguably the oldest Christian church of them all.

Most of what you see there now isn't nearly that old; the facade was built by Crusaders, and there was restoration work done in the 19th century. But it's still a place of great historical significance, and there are very old details that survive, such as the escape tunnel that worshippers would take if approaching authorities were spotted.

The guidebook claims that the church is a fairly easy walk from central Antakya. The reality is that while the church is indeed walkable, much of that is past a strip of small-industrial and mechanical shops -- not a terribly inspiring walk, in other words, and downright unpleasant on a hot day.

The Antakya Archeology Museum on the main traffic circle doesn't look like much from the outside. Looks are deceiving, however -- on the inside it's a spacious and fascinating look at a collection of Roman mosaics and sculpture, well worth the eight lira.

Hatay is of special importance to my wife because her grandfather's family comes from here -- they're Armenians from Musa Dagh who fled persecution in the early part of the 20th Century. We made a special trip to the one Armenian village remaining in the area, which she wrote up on her own blog.

Armenian and Arab influences are strong in Hatay, which was part of Syria until the late 1930s. Before we went I worried that the unrest in Syria would adversely affect our trip, as I'd been reading reports of Syrian refugees crossing into Hatay. As it turned out, while in Hatay I saw or heard nothing of the nearby problems (which may be due more to our obliviousness than to anything else).

Hatay cuisine is much more Arab-influenced than in the rest of Turkey. For instance, hummus is for some reason not widely eaten elsewhere in the country, but it's common in Hatay. There was a small eatery near our hotel that served excellent hummus. We only learned on our last visit there that the guy who ran the place was ethnic Armenian, and what we'd been eating was Armenian hummus, cousin to what J. had been raised on.

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