Antakya has always seen many foreigners. Arabs, Byzantines, Selcuks, Ottomans and the crusaders passed this way, as did Alexander the Great, who commemorated his victory over the Persians at Issus in 333 BC by founding Alexandretta, today the commercial port of Iskenderun.
Little remains of nearby ancient Antioch, once one of the greatest cities in the Hellenistic world and the third largest city in the Roman world (after Rome and Alexandria) with a population of half a million. Former was Hatay, now called Antakya; its old quarter is nonetheless a fine example of a Middle Eastern town. Its most evocative Roman remains are the magnificent mosaics from the local villas in the Archeological Museum. Among Turkey’s most important works of art, they depict mythological and hunting scenes, and tableaux of animals, birds and fish.
Antioch was also a major center of early Christianity. St Peter founded the first Christian organization here between AD47 and 54, and St Peter’s Church is considered to be the oldest Christian church. Built into a grotto, the facade was added by crusaders in the 12th century, while its mosaic floor is from the 4th or 5th century.
Many of the Archeological Museum’s mosaics came from Daphne, now the charming village of Harbiye set in a bucolic valley south of Antakya. To southwest near the coast, Seleucia ad Pieria was Antioch’s port city. It is worth visiting for the spectacular 1,400m water tunnel built during the reigns of Titus and Vespasian in the 1st and 2nd centuries.
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