Jun 19, 2011

What Angelina did not see: Hatay

I have been meaning to write this but now that Angelina made it to the refugee camps in Hatay (aka Antakya-not to be confused with Antalya!), it is a must. I went to Antakya in the spring of 2010 as the last stop in Turkey (after which I jumped to Syria). It was before the Arab Revolution shook the region and landed Syrians in refugee camps at our border which Angelina visited. It is too bad that the region comes to headlines with all this since it is one of the most interesting and completely underrated places in Turkey.

The frescoes at Antakya Archeological Museum are well preserved.

The most interesting thing about the town is that it as closest as one can get to the old multicultural Turkey, before Armenians were sent to their death in the deserts of Syria; Greeks were exchanged with the Turks in Greece and other Christians and Jews were scared off with Wealth Tax and similar incidents. Indeed, there are so many Christian denominations in the town, one gets confused. I did not even know that there was a Turkish Catholic Church before getting there. Antakya also hosts the only Armenian village in Turkey called Vakıflı. I was there in Easter so I was also surprised to see that the municipality wished a good easter to the Christians. Now that's something that has been long missing in this country.

Men in the streets of Antakya playing back gammon.

A scene from Antakya's 90 years old Affan Kahvesi.

The specialty of Affan Kahvesi in Antakya: haytalı.

The unassuming Affan Kahvesi from outside in Antakya.

Antakya is the last province to join Turkey and in some Syrian maps it is still shown as part of Syria. Not surprisingly, many people speak Arabic as their first language but a different multiculturalism permeates the city. But the hit of the town is definitely the Archeological Museum which is the second largest fresco collection in the world. For more on the mosaics at the time museum click here. 

Back streets of Antakya around Habibi Naccar mosque.

Staples of Antakya: daphne soap and pomegranate syrup, sold everywhere.

The cuisine in Antakya is amazing and one the best places to taste is the Harbiye district amid the trees. Hummus which is rare in Turkey is easily found here and is yummy! Also, you must taste the desert called künefe which contains melted cheese in it. 

Arab influence in the mosque architecture in Antakya:
Habibi Naccar mosque.

A stroll in the bazaar is a must to buy daphne soap as well as pomegranate syrup (perfect for salads) which is like balsamic but of course much betterJ. Close to the bazaar, you can see the old houses of Antakya, even a synagogue. In the same neighborhood, head to Affan Kahvesi, a 90 years old coffee house and taste the special desert called haytalı.  

Cave Church of St. Peter in Antakya.

Antakya makes a wonderful weekend getaway from Istanbul as it is easily reached with frequent daily flights. I stayed in the pretty central boutique hotel Liwan but I read in the tripadvisor that some guests complained about the noise. For more on the hotel, see here. Lastly, one must not leave Antakya before heading to the Cave Church of St. Peter, dating from 2 AD! For more on Hatay (Antakya) click here.