Hatay, formerly known as Antakya – the ancient city of Antioch – is unlike anywhere else in Turkey. Originally not part of the Turkish Republic, Hatay – an independent country for one year – held a referendum and decided to become part of Turkey in 1939. In terms of people, Hatay is also unique – it has the last rural Armenian community in Turkey, about half the province are Alawi Arabs, and there is sprinklings of Orthodox Christians and Jews in the province too. Antakya is known for it’s diversity, and the mosques, churches, and synagogue in the city all hold frequent inter-faith dialogues.
In Antakya, definitely make sure to see St. Peter’s Church, the first official church ever used by Christians. Unfortunately it was closed for restorations when I was there, but the mountain behind it was still great for a hike. In the heart of the downtown is also the Habib-Ün Neccar Camii, the first ever mosque in Anatolia. An hour to the west of Antakya, in Çevlik, you find can find Vespasian’s Tunnel – a gigantic hand carved Roman river diversion, as well as tombs and a wonderful view of the Mediterranean.
The food in Hatay also deserves an honorable mention – it is an amazing mix of mezzes, Syrian food, and Turkish food all mixed together into simple amazingness. You can read more about the people of Hatay here, and the history here.
I missed quite a lot in Hatay. Close to Çevlik is the Armenian village of Vakiflik, which is apparently beautiful. Close to here is also something called Musa Ağacı, the Moses Tree. Apparently Moses, in his long wanderings, stuck his staff in the ground here where it grew to become the massive tree standing there today – there are mini-buses to this tree from the town of Samandağ. The town of Harbiye, further to the south of the province, is also supposed to be amazing with beautiful hiking paths and waterfalls.
Getting to Hatay is also not too bad. There are flights into the province from Istanbul and Ankara daily. Bus companies also run routes from the eastern cities – Malatya, Gaziantep, Urfa, Adana etc – to Hatay on a fairly regular basis.
If you want old Turkish history, though, page 6 has got you covered…