Nemrut Dağı and Antakya (ancient Antioch)

Nemrut Dağı

Nemrut Dağı

We drove to Nemrut Daği, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is probably the most common image everyone sees of Turkey. I have to say I found the “heads” a bit bizarre but could see why Antiochus I (69-34 BC) built this funerary mound where he did. Looking around, you are above the clouds and do feel on the top of the world.

Cave Church of St Peter

Cave Church of St Peter

Antakya (Antioch), different to everywhere else in Turkey in every which way, is only 60 miles from the Syrian border crossing and indeed once was part of Syria under French rule. It was a bit of a trudge from Nemrut Daği but I am glad we went. It is a happy buzzing town steeped in history. Established in 300 BC by one of Alexander the Great’s officers, the city became an important centre for religion. What is possibly the world’s earliest Christian church, the Cave Church of St Peter (or Sen Piyer Kilisesi), inside a cave carved into the mountain, is found here. Nearby is Habib-i Neccar Camii, built in 636 AD making it Antakya’s oldest mosque and one of the first built in Anatolia.

Habib-i Neccar Camii

Habib-i Neccar Camii

For me the biggest attraction was the Antakya Archaeological Museum. They have a mosaic collection (mostly from the 2nd and 3rd century) that is the envy of most other museums (the largest mosaic collection in the world is apparently in the Bardo National Museum in Tunis). For a carpet lover, there is a lot of food for thought. Looking at the mosaics and the repeating geometric patterns in the borders it does make you wonder. Quoting verbatim from Oriental Carpets by Volkmar Gantzhorn “Who or what actually influenced whom? Were lasting, imperishable textiles – carpets – created here in these mosaics, or are our carpets no more than a transportable, textile substitute for just such lasting mosaics?” While the reference is to the mosaics in the Church of Zahrani, South Lebanon, the style of mosaics being referenced are the same as seen in Antioch.

Oh, and the cuisine in Antakya was completely different to anything else we came across in Turkey. The mezze including hummus and oruk (bulgur wheat stuffed with minced meat) were delicious although I personally found the much touted künefe (“shredded phyllo”) to be a bit disappointing.

 

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