There are a lot of cities that claim to be a "crossroads of civilization," many even in Anatolia. But Hatay really has as good a case as anywhere in the world to be given the term. Hatay is home it ancient Mesopotamia, where multiple religions rose up, and where civilization as we know it today originated.
And there’s so much to see, a home to all three of the great monotheistic religions, an important province to the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans and the Ottomans. And, set right on the shores of the Mediterranean, it’s also a beautiful spot surrounded by incredible natural scenery. It comes as no surprise, then, that this beautiful nature and the fusion of millennia’s worth of civilizations has led to a cuisine that is out of this world as well!
So if you could only see just one piece of history, one piece of nature, eat one dish and explore one religious beauty in Hatay, what it would be? Let’s find out, shall we? 😉
The Home of History
Hatay Archaeology Museum: Antakya Sarcophagus
This 3rd century sarcophagus, known in Turkish as the "Antakya Lahdi," is an incredible ornate tomb whose marble work looks as if it was sewn on, featuring a reclining figure on its lid. It is a Sidemara type sarcophagus, named after the town where this time of sarcophagus was first discovered.
The sarcophagus is quite large and almost completely undamaged, a work of art that would stand the test of time in any age of history, though two of the statues’ heads are missing. Three people were buried inside the sarcophagus, a man and two women. We do not know their identities.
Heading out into Nature
Samandağ is an important seaport originally founded by the Seleucids in 310 BC as Seleucia Pieria, although there is evidence of Epipaleolithic Period settlement at Çevlik. In ancient times, it was the port (St. Paul’s first voyage to Tarsus began here) for Antioch which was the capital city of the province. The remains of a Doric-order temple can be seen. During the Roman period, the town used to be a naval base. The ancient harbor was located at the mouth of the Asi River. During the Roman period, the town was a naval base. The ancient harbor was located at the mouth of the Asi River, which constantly threatened to fill the harbor up with alluvium from the mountains. To prevent this, the Tunnel of Titus (a covered channel measuring 1,330 meters long) was built in the 1st century AD by the Roman Emperor Vespasian. Carved into the limestone cliffs near the tunnel are twelve rock tombs that date back to Roman times, the largest and most famous of which is the one known as Beşikli Cave.
If you have to try one dish in Hatay, you might as well make it the region’s most famous dessert. Künefe is one of the richest of all the Turkish desserts, with a crispy, buttery kadayif shell packed with oozing hot cheese and topped with clotted cream and syrup and sprinkled with ground pistachios.
It’s usually cooked in round, shallow pans that are specially designed just for künefe, and it’s comparatively difficult to make. The best künefe makers tend to be well known and in the southeast in Turkey you’ll see people making künefe one the streets by stretching out the cheese as they prepare to put it in its kadayif shell.
Church of Saint Peter
This church is one of the world’s oldest, and it’s believed that it’s mentioned in the Bible itself and Paul passed through here. Now, this cave church plays host to pilgrims who pass through. Some mosaics remain from its earlier days, though its current form was rebuilt in the 19th century.