Cosmopolitan Antioch

This is a view from my hotel window in Antakya, ancient Antioch of SS Paul and Peter fame.

A room with a view

The word ‘Christian’ was first used here apparently and St Peter’s Grotto at the base of Mt Silpius is a big attraction. It was built by knights of the First Crusade in 1098 as an act of devotion to the God of Love after they’d spent an exhausting three days slaughtering the citizens.

I still haven’t had a satisfactory answer to my question of why the city walls seem to be miles away up in the surrounding hills rather than closely encircling the city as they are everywhere else. From the town centre you need binoculars to see them and even then they’re so far distant that they’re barely discernible against the mountainsides. How could 30km of walls be properly defended, and how could troops get up to them in time to repel any attack?

The ‘Meclis’ building in the centre background was the parliament of the briefly independent Hatay region between the French mandate which ended in 1918 and its incorporation into the Turkish Republic in 1922. It’s full of art deco furnishings and a great little cinema with all the original fittings. I enjoyed an iced G&T on the balcony overlooking the ancient River Orontes one evening.

Antakya is completely different to other Turkish cities and has a distinct Arabic flavour from its proximity to Syria. The people are very civilised and tolerant as well, quite unlike the fundamentalist, intolerant crowds you tend to get in places like Konya. A refreshing breeze comes up from the river in Summer, so mosquito nets are not needed, and in the streets mini-skirts and designer sunglasses rub shoulders, as it were, with burkhas and veils.

I was very pleasantly surprised at the cosmopolitan atmosphere and charm, after driving through the concrete wasteland of the Iskenderun (ancient Alexandretta) suburbs further to the west.

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