Turkey Trotting: And back to Antakya I go…

Antakya vista from Mosaic Hotel

A few weeks back myself and Solo_ojo headed to Antakya. My first round there last year proved to not be enough time spent in the city and its exterior environs. Antakya is located in the Hatay Province in southern Turkey near the Syrian border.

Antakya's sweet Pedestrian walkway that is lined with some cool buildings. Solo_ojo is on a mission for coffee...

peek-a-boo renovations in disrepair giving us a glimpse into the past

typical alley

rooftop circuitry

pretty wrought iron abounds

the city's abundant foliage tumbles over their doors

You (history buffs) might be more familiar with its name in ancient times: Antioch. Early Christians gathered here and it’s actually said that this is the place where the term ‘Christian’ was first coined as being followers of da man himself- Jesus of Nazareth. Several Christian communities still remain here from their modest beginnings when St. Paul and St. Peter were hanging out in these parts.

I always find street art interesting in  every Turkish city...

inside of the Orthodox church

for Dad and Davido and Dr. Kolohe K Kitty Kat

window decorations...

another architecturally incredible minaret

Of course, Antioch goes back much further than the Christian era… Archaeological excavations have given dates going back as far as the 6th Millennium BC. More recent, Alexander the Great was here as the Roman Empire extended down into the region, as well as Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. Oh yea, it’s also an important Crusader site…

the dizzy-inducing wallpaper at the Mosaic Hotel, described as an "almost boutique hotel"

Front and center the "almost boutique" Mosaic Hotel...

I visited all types of religious structures on this trip: mosques, churches (both Catholic and Orthodox), a synagogue (looking very ordinary and unassuming I might add), as well as a Korean church- which I originally mistook for being the Catholic church… heh heh.

The archaeology museum is not to be missed. It could possibly rival the Zeugma in Gaziantep in terms of mosaics, but where the Zeugma dominates is in the layout of the museum with many of the mosaics laid out on the floor and you can walk over them on foot bridges. This is remarkable and it was a shame to not be able to do that with the ones on display on the floor in Antakya. Some of them cover so much area that it is hard to see the individual details from side angles. The museum did have a high viewing area though that you could walk up to (precarious, short winding steps). I bought some books- of course. This seems to be a no-brainer for me; museums and books…

Zeus doing his thang...

"The Evil Eye" mosaic from the 2nd century AD

It's interesting to note that a dog, a scorpion and a bird are all attacking The Evil Eye... Gruesome

This mosaic is entitled "Negro Fisherman" from the 2nd century AD.  Notice he is depicted as being, shall we say, well endowed

My foot as seen from atop the viewing deck. It's as if I'm taken back to the 2nd century AD walking on this mosaic...Yea, that's right everybody has a fantasy they want to live out and this just happens to be 1 of my many...

guarding the entrance to something important

more guard creatures

spillage canals of sorts- otherwise known as a sacrificial alter...

The old part of the city is charming. The bazaar is, like every other bazaar in Turkey, a treasure chest. I never really know what I’m looking for when I first arrive, but I usually manage to find something. I found a bolt of silk fabric here and bougtt 2.25 yards to replicate an awesome dress that a friend designed back on Maui last year. The dress is going to be AWESOME!!!  I recall the  last time I wore it (unfortunately way too long ago) was when entertaining a gentleman friend in Istanbul last summer. It is a real winner of a dress for sure and I’m excited to have a twin made… Yes, I definitely need more exposure in this frock!

Solo_ojo and I met Feridae, a lovely Kurdish chick originally from Bingöl, at the pension we were staying at, ‘Belkis Ev Pansyion’ or something like that.  We convinced her that we were cool and to travel with us ‘local American with little money’ style… She got it, and we had a ball. We headed south one day towards the border to a village- Samandağ. From there we headed to a beach community, Cevlik, where the famous “Titus Tunnel” is located. So Vespasianus/Titus were like a dynamic duo father/son team (both became ((Roman)) emperors).  The tunnel was built (by Jewish slaves mostly) to divert the Orontes River. So they cut a channel along and through solid rock. The tunnel is massive and pretty cool. I suggest to anyone in the area to give it a go! Don’t forget to bring a flashlight. Try not to lose your phone as you might see it’s demise. Solo_ojo had an unfortunate accident with his prized camera. Beer was needed at this point in the story…

in Cevlik: beach or Titus Tunnel... decisions decisions

view from the trail to the tunnel


another vista from the trail. Here we are looking towards Syria

360 degree views were amazing

it's hot with the sun high up in the sky beating down upon us

Solo_ojo and Feridae on da trail

the bridge leading down some stairs to... the tunnel!

Titus/Vespasian Tunnel entrance

the other side of the rainbow of sorts...

we're going in deep

pausing to relish in the history

We are nearing the other end here and brilliant sunlight is beaming down upon us

looking up to the heavens: literally a slice of heaven illuminated

in through the out door. There is a decrepit set of stairs on the left-hand side that you can see. The bottom portion has eroded away. So many amazing sights to soak in here.

canal uphill of the tunnel

break time with water and fresh fruit

backside entrance pathway

Roman script with Vespasian's name engraved near the back entrance to the tunnel

some cave tombs a bit further along

inside the burial chamber

Feridae looking inquisitive

letting a little light through

the innards full of empty tombs cutout from the rock

Feridae relaxing

my foot relaxing

Afterwards we rewarded ourselves with cold drinks (ahem... beer mostly) and mezes. We then proceeded to the beach below to get our tans on.  While this part of the Mediterranean is not pristine, it was nice to jump in after a long hike on a very hot day.  Granted, there was some plastic bags floating close to me. Lodging onto me actually. It was strange. But what made it tolerable was trying to teach Feridae how to not be afraid of the waves. This was delightful as noticed by not only both of us with our laughs (Feridae got mouthfuls of water while laughing), but by the rest of the peeps enjoying their day at the beach. My bikini might have been a little over-the-top for the peeps to deal with, but I didn’t really care…

The beach at Cevlik

Solo_ojo getting his sleep on

We hitched a ride all the way back into Antakya with a soldier.  I wanted to ask so many questions, but tried to just keep my mouth shut… Feridae was our translator as he didn’t speak any English.

Some of my favorite places from my first trip here were revisited. For example, the handicraft place next to the mosque and Catholic church that sells the sour cherry liquor… Yea I definitely hit up that shop. Also the cool coffee café. The café is pretty much the only place in SE Turkey that resembles the kind of coffeehouses I’m used to in America and Europe, etc. I think we hit up that place a few times daily. 

I can’t blog and exclude comments on Hatay cuisine. First of all, the region is known for hummus (ground-up chickpeas and tahini), which is difficult to find in the rest of the SE region. I find this strange because of the close proximity to Syria- just a stone’s throw across. The feel of the city is definitely a fusion of Arab-Turco customs/traditions/cuisine, etc. Künefe (a popular hot cheese Turkish sweet) is also considered to hail from Antakya.  I’ve been hip to the Pomegranate syrup/salad dressing for a while now so that was not a new discovery there.  The usual Turkish kebap varieties abound there as well.

Belkis’ Ev Pansyion (ev= house in Turkish) is a very sweet bed and breakfast located in the central historic part of downtown. It is near everything that I like about Antakya. A divine restaurant, Leblon, is right across the cobble pathway from her place, as well as the coffeeshop less than a block away. 

Belkis' Ev some some of her flock of animals

favorite coffeeshop in SE Turkey for sure

Belkis’ courtyard is full of vibrant life. It’s like a sort of animal kingdom with cats, dogs, birds, turtles, etc all roaming around freely. Her trellis was covered with vines choke full of fruit. There was enough shade everywhere to keep out the sun beating down on the pavement during the heat of the day. Everybody (only 5 rooms) gathers in the courtyard and talks story. This I always find delightful. The house is her husband’s childhood  house and it is filled with so much character. I met her daughter, Rana, too as well as other family members and friends of hers. She is a charming woman and I highly suggest for anybody going there to book your accommodations with her.

Leblon Restaurant across from Belkis' bed n breakfast. Food is solid, and rooftop seating to book looking over a large mountain with a cool castle in disrepair. Cold Efes too...

The bus ride back was tolerable. A 4-hour ride put us back into Gaziantep at 11pm, and I was back home by midnight. Just in time to crash for a few hours and wake up at 7am to return to work. All in all a fantastic mini-vacation weekend Turkey Trotting.