"Antakya" Hatay by maykal

Hatay Travel Guide: 37 reviews and 121 photos

Just a few kilometres from the Syrian border, Antakya has a long history, beginning life as Antioch in the 4th century BC. Looking at a map, Antakya and the Hatay region extend down into Syria, and seem quite remote from the rest of Turkey...indeed maps printed in my old Syrian textbooks show Antakya as a Syrian province, and the Arab influence is very clear, hummus and kunefe in the restaurants, Fairouz playing in the cafes, Arabic spoken in the markets, and more than a few cars with Syrian numberplates.

In between stuffing my face with kunefe and hummus, I spent a few days tramping the streets of the old city, which reminded me a lot of old Damascus. I found cafes in renovated mansions, Syrian refugees in a park, a church hidden in a cave, a couple of conmen capitalizing on the Syrian refugee situation, some enormous ducks, litter-strewn waterfalls, and an amazing collection of mosaics in the archaeology museum.

Aside from anything else, it wasn't quite as cold as the rest of the places on my Turkey trip, being as far south as you can go. I wasn't expecting January to be tropical, but it was nice to be able to walk around without being wrapped up in scarves and multiple layers and try not to slip on icy streets. It was even warm for a few hours!

I liked the feel and look of Antakya, maybe because it brought back memories of living in Syria a decade ago. It was disappointing that the city's star attraction, the Sen Piyer Kilisesi, an ancient church built into a cave on one of the hillsides on the outskirts, was undergoing restoration work and was closed...it would have been nice to have been told this when asking for directions at the tourist office (who I assume would have known), but I did still get to enjoy the views of the skyline at sunset.

Many people have asked me since returning whether the conflict in Syria could be felt, Antakya being very close to the border. Well, it could and it couldn't. Antakya felt like a lively city, as normal as anywhere else in Turkey, but with added Syrian car number plates everywhere. Just south of the city, in Harbiye, a resort-type place with some scruffy litter-strewn waterfalls, locals were in no doubt which side they were supporting, with carpets on sale with a certain president's face on. But apart from that, there was little to show that Antakya is a stone's throw from Syria, and the bulk of the refugees are housed in camps at other crossing points miles away.

One or two opportunists did accost the handful of tourists at breakfast, trying to get us to hand over large amounts of money to help refugees, but the stories were always the same...no, it wouldn't be possible to meet the refugees needing the money, no they couldn't travel to Istanbul by bus and absolutely had to travel by plane that very afternoon, etc... The hotel owner actually warned me against talking to one individual who was a constant presence at the hotel entrance, and I think it is safe to say that any money handed over would not have benefitted any Syrians. I did see the local Red Crescent and another official charity collecting on a couple of occasions around the city, which was a much better way of donating.

Anyway, back to Antakya...an atmospheric place, not the prettiest in Turkey but certainly very different to other Turkish cities...definitely worth a visit, even if it's just because you fancy a change from the standard Turkish food. You can certainly eat well here!

  • Last visit to Hatay: Jan 2013
  • Intro Updated Aug 31, 2013
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