8 September 2009:
This place goes by many names. Officially it is known as Antakya, but people here call it Hatay (name of the region Antakya is in), and in ancient times it is also known as Antioch. And the last reason, Antioch, is why I'm here in the first place. With a name this famous, it is not difficult to imagine how much history this place has. Not to mention that Antakya is located just next to Syria, just in case I feel like jumping over to the other country.
The overnight bus from Kayseri stopped almost everywhere along the way, and leaving at midnight, we arrived in Hatay almost at 8am. I counted Ningde, Adana and Iskenderun. Could have been more but I was trying to get some sleep as well. As the bus pulls into the Hatay otogar a few km out of the city, many touts come up asking if we were going to Aleppo, Syria. The bus company should have a servis bus to go to the city. Mine did but the bastard didn't want to go to the city center and made me walk 2km. Cursed him to lowest depth of Hades.
Totally dead when I got to the hotel so time for a shower and a quick nap. Which I did. 10am came and I was out looking for breakfast and indulged myself in a large 2 orders for brunch.
Hatay is divided by a dirty river with low flow and just about anything you can imagine floating on it. I swear one day there will be dead bodies floating down this river. Imagining what it was like in the old days. Maybe a nice mountain stream and a roman stone arched bridge?
1130hrs: Antakya Archeology Museum, the first stop. 8TL gets you in. At first the entrance is anything but impressive, till you reach the first room. In short, countless mosaics from archeological sites near Antakya/Hatay, namely Daphne. And the other impressive collection, at least to me is the coin collection that spans the early Roman empire, to the Byzantines, and to the Ottoman. I don't believe they missed n emperor or sultan. That IS one amazing collection if there was one. The mosaics are nice too, but they should have called this the Antakya Mosaics Museum plus a little more. Definitely worth the visit and the entrance fee.
On the way to see the working places of worship in town, stopped by a juice shop. The guy asked about the Leica M6 I have in my hand and soon we were talking about Kiev and Yashica cameras. Showed me b&w prints of Antakya/Hatay in the 20s and later years. One building remain recognizable but everything else is different now. Then he showed me the way to the backlanes to experience the old streets of Antioch during the old days. Not a good time to take photos now but will be back another time when the light is better.
Couldn't take it any further, lack of sleep on the way here is taking its toll. Would be better if I go back to the hotel and get an hour of microsleeping and then proceed out the city to see the first church or St Peter. Right after I will walk back to old Antakya and shoot some b&w photos of the tight lanes and the balconied houses.
1626hrs: Had my nap, and walked a few kilometers out the city and turned right up to the lower slopes of a mountain past some small workshops. It is properly signposted so you will never get lost. Eventually I get to St Peter's cave church, entrance fee 8TL with a lot less to see than the same amount charged at the Archeology Museum.
It was probably a real cave back then, unlike those carved churches I saw everyday in Cappadocia. But successive regimes have added to it. The crusaders added a wall and built a narthex inside while taking care of Antioch, quite apparent when in the church. The Catholic church added some stone furnitures and added a statue of St Peter on top in a hole in the wall. I could have thought it was Zeus or one of the pagan gods if not for the description. And a previous pope even went to declare that this place is holy and is fit for pilgrimage, according to the description.
But it is good to be reading all about it back in school and now being in Antioch. Just have to add a little imagination and see how they went about their chores avoiding the Roman forces. Have to remember at that time Christianity was just another outlawed cult. This cave church even has an emergency escape, which is lighted, but I guess people at that time were much smaller than contemporary Homo Modernus, so I will not attempt to lodge myself in the escape hatch. No idea where it leads to anyway.
On the way out, a street seller told me to climb the hill to see more stuff. And he sent his eldest son along. So we went up some steep shortcuts and met 2 turkish couples who speaks a little english. First sight was the exit of the emergency tunnel I saw in the church. And it is at least 50m higher than the cave church! the path is steep and it is easy to fall down the mountain if not careful. The group told me to follow them and we walked a little downhill to a sculpture of Mary, said one, and the girl said it is Hades. Looks more Mary-ish to me, but I need to research this one later as it looks older than the church.
Went back down to town with the group and we chatted a little. A guy is a short film maker and his girlfriend is a sculptor and they are from another city, in Antakya for a holiday. We walked to the old parts of the city on sundown and parted as I wanted to explore the side streets of Antakya/Hatay. As the sun is almost disappearing over the horizon, good that I was just down to my last frame of Tri-X, so I loaded in a roll of Neopan 1600 and started going into Oguzlar Caddesi, which goes uphill.
1842hrs: Passing by Kantara Camii, this is where I get to see the friendly nature of Antakyans. People on the streets willingly asked to have their photos taken, kids fighting to be in the frame as well. Even old men chatting on the streets asked me to take their photos. On top of that, the small crooked lanes, along with architecture where houses have covered balconies that stretches over the lanes makes it look interesting, even more so as the buildings are never even. Some houses have doors opened to look in and some have comfortable courtyards with sofas where the family just gathered and relaxed.
1905hrs: On the way back to the Merkez centre of the city, I passed by a pide bakery. This turkish pizza looks like real pizza but instead of being a circular shaped dough, this is shaped like an eye. Of course forgetting the pupil. This shop in the back streets still cook it is a big brick oven, and while I was looking at them making it, the old boss came up and gave me a pide to take away. I tried to refuse, but I believe it might not be good to refuse a musliman's hospitality, I offered to pay, but its free. And to make things worst, he even cut it for me and took out a tomato and sliced it right there at the bakery for me to break fast with them. So I did, listening to the father-son team talking. I was told, in turkish, by the old man that he was an arab and moved over from Syria. Soon, a neighbour came by and offered everyone Turkish coffee. Didn't really expect all these. The pide was a bit too much of a mouthful, so when I couldn't finish, they even packed it to go for me. We said our goodbyes and offered million thanks, and I was on my way for a little walk after a full dinner. Should have done the fasting today!
Not too much more to do tonight but to return to the hotel for a nice shower and early sleep. The hotel doesn't have wifi internet, but that is ok. A day without checking my email will not be a disaster.
9 September 2009: Slept for more than 9 hours last night. Fresh from that, at 8am it is time to explore the outskirts of Antakya. First off, breakfast as the hotel does not supply any. It is an issue as most shops only cater to the lunch crowd, so had to settle for a pistachio bar from the petrol station. Right after its a minibus to Samandag and then a little walk down the road for another minibus, this time to Cevlik.
0949hrs: Finally got to Cevlik, right here by the Mediterranean sea. I believe this is my first time at the Med, at least in the last decade. Cevlik used to be the port of Antioch. If it really was, now it doesn't seem that way. Just a row of seaside restaurants that are mostly closed backed by a mountain. The beach sand is dark brown in colour and very dirty with plastic artifacts from today all over the place.
The reason to come here is the Vespasianus-Titus diversion tunnel. Not difficult to find as it is signposted when the right turn comes up just before Cevlik. Along the way up the hill to the tunnel, there is a signboard explaning the old city of Seleuceia Pieria. I don't see too much of the city standing other than the signboard and indications of its old city wall.
1020hrs: 3TL gets you into the tunnel area. Having tea and sesame crusted bread offered by the 2 old men guarding and manning the entrance. They speak only Turkish so we don't talk much. They even gave me a bread wrapped in newspaper to bring on my trip, and an offer to fill my small mineral water bottle with real 'mineral' water.
The tunnel so far looks like a big drain cut into the rock. Some sections so far is about a few storeys deep, as I follow the outdoor path above the tunnel.
1053hrs: I am taking a very slow walk, not that it is far to walk. Am now at the Besikli Cave Tomb Monument. According to the signs here, this is where the leaders of Seleuceia Piera are buried. The complex does look big but I do not intend to explore the insides of an ancient burial cave, vacant or not.
1124hrs: While walking a little further from the necropolis, I stumbled upon the ruins of Seleuceia Piera. Nothing but the base of the buildings are left and they are arranged in terrace on the slope of a hill. Looks like someone recently burnt the undergrowth so the base is quite distinct. Look for blocks of stone arranged geometrically. It has a nice view of the plains and the Mediterranean sea. It is now apparent that the tunnel/drain was carved out to divert water away from the town. Like a big ancient monsoon drain for the town. I am the only person here today, and my GPS is alive and well and blogging at the ruins. Wondering if I should take a bite out of the bread I was given.
1228hrs: Took a slow walk back to Cevlik and had some time at the empty beach. A storm seems to be closing in from the sea, so time to head back to Antakya. Refilled a bottle of water and small can of promagranate juice, plentiful here. A dolmus minibus awaits me at the town's sole bus stop and it is time to head back.
Along the way, we passed bare but concrete houses and most of them have a few tanks of water perched on top of its roof, looking like water storage tank and another one for hot water, judging from the solar panels. There are small farms everywhere, and the dolmus travels a little faster than jogging speed. I'm sure he is waiting for passengers to pile up and get to Samandag with a little more than me in the bus. I'm enjoying the ride.
1342hrs: Back in Antakya. Think it it time for a light meal. Stopped at a local fast food restaurant and ordered some aubergines plus a small local pie (the name sounds like Kaitas) and salad side. In all restaurants here in Antakya, you get an additional side side of mint leaves, green chillis and lemon wedges. Not sure what you go with them, but love those fresh mint leaves, which I completely demolished during the course of a meal. And a cup of Ayran completes the late lunch.
Weather is getting cloudy, with signs of cumulus, the type that generates a storm. Since it is still early, contemplating checking out Harbiye, ancient Daphne where most of the mosaics in the museum yesterday are coming from. I have seen dolmuses that goes there in one of the streets near here yesterday. I'll go have a look. Too early to call it a day. Just 1426hrs.
1450hrs: Boarded a crap smog spewing morris-like dolmus to Harbiye on Kartulus Caddesi going southwards. GPS goes on tracking the whole route. Shouldn't be too far this one.
1518hrs: Arrived in Harbiye. The dolmus goes up an incline most of the way, passing 2-3 storey houses along the way. Wouldn't say these are posh houses. Eventually the bus will turn a sharp right and right after a valley will show up on the left. The dolmus then goes all the way to the end of the road at a small hydroelectric plant and a hotel-restaurant by that same name.
The path down the slope is quite obviously touristic. Stalls line both sides, and wide enough for 2 cars to go down its dirt track. But all restaurants here and a pitiful little stream that is being crafted into a waterfall, diverted into restaurants so some tables are placed in the inch deep flow. Nothing to see here. If the mosaiced city is here, it is not easy to find it.
On the way back on the same dolmus system, the bus would go up the hill close to St Peter's cave church, and the view at the top of the mountain is good. The sun was shining directly at the city and mountain so shooting it then would be a total shadowy shot, so I just looked. Eventually it stops at a Dolmus station with many buses going all over the place. I logged the coordinates into my GPS for the next time.
1931hrs: My last night in Antakya and I will eat big tonight at Anadolu Restaurant. Ordered hummus and eggplant meze for starters and chicken skewer (tavuk sis) for hot dish. And the hummus was amazing, after the cold dishes I was already stuffed. And the usual sideplate of mint leaves, and lemon was there, this time plus fresh parsley leaves, which i stick into the mouth every here and then. Full like crazy, dont think I can move after, so I will finish it off with a cup of cay to end it. I was joking when I started this paragraph about eating big but I may have outdone myself this time. Well done Antakya. I shall fast tomorrow.
10 September 2009: 0813hrs: Out of the hotel after having to look for the receptionist and wake him up on the couch. Half awake, he calculated correctly my room fare for the 2 nights. Then time to catch bus 17 to the Otogar. It stops at the kebab shop at the end of Istiklal Caddesi close to the popular bridge in the city center. Stops at a bus station that heads South and cost 1TL. Ah well, details. And soon in 15 mins of slow crawl while the driver chats with a passenger and texts on his mobile, I'm at the otogar, having a cay.
Will be taking the 9am bus to Kayseri, but stopping at Adana today, and leaving this area for Istanbul tomorrow afternoon, nearing the end of my trip.
I have come to like Antakya. Not a place to stay for long for sure, it's a medium sized town with the occassional syrian car driving around. They tend to love the nice cars there, and saw a few, ironically, American SUVs. Think the Turks drive crazy? I think the Syrians are crazier. Here too, everyone thinks I am Japanese, but if you don't ignore them, they can be extremely friendly. Twice I was invited to join them for a meal with complete strangers. I attribute this to islamic teaching, but I guess there is a little bit of this habit for arabs more than other muslims. For example, you never get complete strangers being so inviting in Malaysia. I would keep away from gangs of youth calling out for you, however. Just common sense and laws of probability.
History wise, this place is just amazing. I'm sure there are other areas in Turkey that are better, Istanbul being one of them, but everyone has Istanbul in their itinerary. Antioch, the great principality of Antioch, however is one of those places where it takes some imagination to recognize the splendour of this place. Cevlik, for example, the ruins there plus the Vespasian and Titus tunnel... It takes a few hours hike along the tunnel and along the ruins of the town to know what this place was like a millennium ago. Had a feeling of the place which I didn't have before I started, partly due to the fact I didn't know about the place before. Harbiye is a place that is a little more difficult to imagine, but still, putting the mosaics in the museum and the location is still possible. Antioch itself is no different, the old city still stands, and walking around it gives an idea what life is like during it's heyday.
Continue to Adana and Tarsus...