|Our day in Antakya with Baba, Fatma, Sabahattin, Sinan and me.
A one hour car drive from Iskenderun over the mountains takes you to the old capitol of Hatay Republic (which joined Turkey in 1939), Antakya.
We began our tour of the Mosaic Museum, the second largest mosaic collection in the world. Striking mosaics covered the walls and many floors. Also on display was a sarcophagus dating back 3000 years. Its ornate carvings and historical perspective took a while for us to absorb as we took many pictures of it. The bones of the deceased were on display in a cabinet nearby. I thought that the ancient people were short, but the bones of the tallest one were taller than me. We moved to the next room and had a brief tour of the different "ages" with artifacts dating from the Paleolithic times to 5000 BC to 300 BC to 1000 AD. Very fascinating to track the ages in this type of display. Turkey is rich in history whose reach can be found everywhere in the world.
We were a bit hungry after leaving the museum, so we went to the best 'kunefe" pastry maker in town. Kunefe is a dessert whose origins are tracked to this very city. It is layers of a noodle pastry and mozzarella-type cheese covered all melted together with simple syrup poured on top. It was fantastic.
We had borrowed Mahmut's car for this trip and Sinan was our driver. I am glad he was driving as there is no way I would have been able to traverse this town with out getting into an accident. Two lane roads become three as drivers maneuver around each other to make their turns. Traffic circles lead to more traffic circles and sometimes the light looks red to me, but everyone seems to go through it. Sinan skillfully toured us through this mayhem of driving chaos.
We went to St. Peter's church next. St. Peter had built the first Christian Community church in the hillside over looking Antakya. It was carved out of the stone mountain and had a hidden exit passage that went through the mountain and up so that they could escape persecution. The stone naturally has water that pools to the right of the alter. It is said that these waters heal. As my throat has been scratchy and I have an inkling of a cold, I anointed myself with the water. (two days later, no change).
We climbed the mountainside to see the exit way of the secret passage and took photos of the city below. Goats were happily being herded just ahead of us. What a mix of tradition and modern times. A large stone carving of Karon also stares at the city below. He is carved above St. Peter's Church into the mountain façade. Karon takes the dead across the river to the otherworld in a boat.
Next stop on the Antakya tour was the birth of the Daphne tree. This is located in a small town out of the city. It is said that Daphne was the most beautiful women ever born. Apollo fell in love with her, but it is forbidden for a God to fall in love with a mortal. Daphne prayed to Mother Earth to protect her from Apollo as she was frightened. Mother Earth opened her hands and took Daphne under her protection. Since this, Daphne's body became the Daphne tree, and Daphne tear's became the waterfall from this mountain spot. This city was also the one of the oldest Olympic cities in History.
The soaps and oils made from the Daphne tree are considered the best in the world for its cleansing and beautifying elements. Sinan's sister ordered a case of the soap and oils for us to take home. This tourist stop, like so many in Turkey, is not protected. So local merchants cover the area with restaurants and litter is everywhere. If you look up through the branches of the Daphne tree and the orange trees and listen to the rushing water of Daphne's tears, you can appreciate how beautiful this spot once was.
After drinking some Chai and eating fresh picked oranges, we headed up the mountain for more striking views of the city just before sunset. Then we picked up some shish kebab beef for our feast that night and headed home.
For those following our travel notes- I forgot to add the Galata Tower history. The first man to take flight in history was in Istanbul around the 1800's. He flew his flying contraption over Galata Tower. The Ottoman Sultan's thought that if God wanted man to fly he would have given man wings, so he ordered the plane and everything pertaining to it destroyed, including its creator who was killed. The Turks have a different history about flight and the Wright Brothers are the second to take flight.