Entrance Fees: 5 TL each for St. Paul’s Church and the Antioch Mosiac Museum
Getting There: About 3 hours from Incirlik. In the Yellow Zone: Only trips with Outdoor Recreation and ITT allowed. Antioch is a favorite destination for the “U ... Drive” program.
Physical Difficulty: Easy. Stroller friendly.TurkeyTravelPlanner.com
Text and photographs from TurkeyTravelPlanner.com copyright © by Tom Brosnahan & Travel Info Exchange, Inc. Used by permission.
Seleucus I Nicator (321-281), successor to the empire of Alexander the Great, laid out a plan for this city about 300 BC. It became the capital of the Seleucid Empire stretching from Macedonia nearly to India.
The empire facilitated trade, and Antioch became an important point on the Silk Road, with caravans of luxury goods bringing fabulous wealth and a scandalously sybaritic lifestyle. Remnants of this can be seen at Daphne (Harbiye).
Under the Romans, Antioch-ad-Orontes was the capital of the province of Syria with a population around 500,000. It became one of the empire’s greatest cities—only Rome and Alexandria were greater—with a considerable Jewish community.
Saint Peter came here to preach, and Saints Paul and Barnabas used it as their base for missionary work. Converts from the local Jewish community were many, but it was here that the saints decided to expand their mission to Gentiles as well, calling their followers Christians.
Antioch flourished under the Byzantines until in the 500s a violent earthquake ruined it, killing 200,000 people. Later overrun by the Persians, then the Arabs (700s) and the Seljuk Turks (1084), it regained importance under the Crusaders (1098) as the capital of their Principality of Antioch, but conquest by the Mamelukes in 1268 saw its utter destruction.
What the Ottomans claimed in 1516 was only a shadow of its former self, and it later declined to just a village. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following World War I, Ottoman Syria, including Antakya, was placed under French Mandate government. By a plebiscite in 1939 it was returned to Turkey along with the entire Sanjak of Alexandretta, the province now called Hatay.
The Roman/Byzantine mosaics in the Hatay (Antakya) Archeology Museum (Antakya Arkeoloji Müzesi) are the main attraction in this city at the far eastern end of Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, though the city’s long history has left much more behind.
The mosaics, dating from the 1st to 5th centuries AD, are well displayed in lofty halls filled with natural light. Most labels are in Turkish and English. The museum is open 08:30 am to 12:30 pm and 13:30 to 17:30 (1:30 to 5:30 pm), closed Monday.
The mosaics were recovered from Antioch ad Orontes (Antakya), the garden suburb of Daphne (now called Harbiye), from Roman Mediterranean seaside villas, and from Tarsus by archeological teams from Princeton University in the early decades of the 20th century. The museum opened to the public in 1948.
The artistry of the mosaics is amazing: look close, and all you see is little bits of colored stone. Look from the optimal distance and you see distinct images with subtle colors.
The Antakya Arkeology Museum is not just its Roman mosaics, however. Several halls are dedicated to other aspects of Roman and Byzantine culture, with exhibits of marble sarcophagi, coins, pots, tools, glassware and statuary.
You’ll certainly notice the beautifully-carved 8th-century BC twin lions on a column pediment.
Many of these finds were discovered by Chicago Oriental Institute teams working at Cüdeyde, Dehep, Çatalhöyük and Tainat from 1933 to 1938. Others were contributed by Sir Leonard Woolley, excavating at El Mina in Samandağ and at Tell Atchana (Aççana Höyüğü) between 1936 and 1939.
Hatay (Antakya) Arkeoloji Müzesi
Cumhuriyet Meydanı (map)
Gündüz Caddesi No. 1
Hatay (Antakya), Turkey
Tel: +90 (326) 214 6167, -68
Sites to See in Antioch
Saint Peter’s Church
Early Christians held their worship services secretly in this 13-meter-deep (43-foot) cave, now called the Saint Peter Church (Senpiyer Kilisesi). It was here that St Peter was selected as the leader and “first bishop” of the church and the term “Christian” was first used to describe adherents to the new religion, who were proselytized from both the large Jewish community and the even larger number of Gentiles.
St. Barnabas and St. Paul came to Antakya (Antioch) and stayed a year to spread their new faith. Crusaders captured Antioch in 1098 on their way to the Holy Land and built the stone screen wall in front of the cave. In 1863 Pope Pius IX asked Capuchin monks to restore it, which they did. The forecourt of the church and some parts of the interior were used as a cemetery at times. Today the church is a museum. Services may be conducted with the permission of the Directorate of Museums.
The Titus Tunnel (Titüs Tüneli) is a Roman engineering marvel. During the reign of Emperor Vespasian (69-79 AD), the Roman governors of Seleucia Pieria (Samandağ), the port city for Antioch ad Orontes (Antakya), decided to divert a river.
They put Roman legionnaires, sailors and prisoners to work cutting a channel along and through the rock for about 1.4 km (nearly a mile).
Continued under Emperor Titus (79-81), inscriptions tell us it was completed during the reigns of the Antonine emperors decades later.
Today the channel is dry, but still worth a visit. A small parking area and entrance is just inland from the beach at Samandağ.
A path ascends along the channel, open to the sky, up and down steps and rocks, to where an arched limestone footbridge crosses. Above the footbridge, the channel continues into the solid rock. You’ll need a powerful flashlight/torch to continue.
Harbiye, a suburb of Antakya, is perched on a steep forested hillside looking toward the Mediterranean. It has an eventful history.
In Roman times it was called Daphne (“laurel”). Mythology says it was the place where a horny Zeus, pursuing the nymph Daphne, finally caught her and turned her into a laurel tree. Seleucus I built a temple to Daphne here, among the laurels.
To the Romans, Daphne was a place of resort for the rich and powerful of Antioch-ad-Orontes (Antakya). They built sumptuous villas here with beautiful mosaics, some of which have survived and are now on display in the Hatay (Antakya) Archeology Museum.
Most of Harbiye/Daphne is modern cityscape, but your reason for visiting is a steep forested valley with deep shade, numerous waterfalls and water courses, tea gardens and restaurants. Tables and chairs are set by the water, or even right in the water.
In the blazing heat of August in this hot climate, the cool shade and rushing waters of Daphne (defne in Turkish) are a vision of heaven. Not too far from the valley, perched at the edge of a cliff, several elaborate restaurants with fine views welcome diners for more refined meals than the simple establishments in the valley can provide.
In the modern part of the town are several shops selling silk garments made in the area. Antakya was an important port on the Silk Road, so the history of silk-weaving in Daphne goes way back.