After the Battle of Ipsus in 301 BC, Seleucus I Nicator won the territory of Syria, and he proceeded to found four "sister cities" in northwestern Syria, one of which was Antioch, a city named in honor of his father Antiochus (very passionate about founding cities, he is reputed to have built in all nine Seleucias, sixteen Antiochs, and six Laodiceas). This particular Antioch eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the Near East. The city was the capital of the Seleucid Empire until 63 BC, when the Roman Empire took control. Under the Romans it was the 4th largest city in the empire and the seat of the governor of the province of Syria Palæstina.
This city is famous since forever, and a point of pilgrimage, as an important centre of early Christianity, with some of the first non-hidden churches. Today it takes pride in being a truly multicultural place, where you can hear prayers in many different tongues. Many sects of Christianity (Greek Orthodoxy, Syriac Christianity, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism to name a few) and Islam (Sunni and Alawi), as well as Judaism, are all represented with their dedicated temples in Antakya.
Ethnically, Arabs constitute almost half of the population and most of the rest are Turks. Arabs in the city speak the Levantine (Shami) dialect of Arabic, which is also prevalent in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan.
Antakya rests in the hammock-like valley of the Asi River, also known as the Orontes, with mountains rising rather steeply and pine-covered immediately to its southeast, and more distantly and barren in the northern outskirts. At summer nights, the river valley brings over a much-appreciated breeze from the not very far but invisible sea.
An administrative reform in 2014 divided the southern neighbourhoods and suburbs of the city into a separate Defne municipality, limiting Antakya municipality to the city centre and the north. However, for all intents and purposes they form a single city, which is covered in its entirety in this article.
The 'Havas' bus runs from the airport hourly to the city centre for 9 TL, and takes around 20–30 minutes. If you need to get back to the airport, the Havas leaves from the front of the 'Buyuk Antakya Hotel' (on the river, close to the central square; it is a huge resort style hotel, you can't miss it) every half hour most days, but check the Havas website for specific departure times. This is a lot cheaper than a taxi! You will have to flag the Havas bus down from the front of the hotel, as not many people use this service, so make your presence known as it drives past.
You can also use dolmuş taxis in order to get to the city center. Many dolmuş taxis wait just in front of the airport and as soon as any four customers are gathered, the taxi heads towards the city. The taxis charge approximately 10 TL per person. All in all, if you accept to share the taxi with other passengers, taking a cab is TL Havaş as the taxi drops you off in whichever part of the city you want to get out while Havaş only stops at specific points.
Has Turizm operates comfortable buses from all major cities in Turkey. From Istanbul, there are two services daily, leaving at evening and night, taking about 16h 30min and costing 600 TL as of Oct 2022. (When booking online, their list of destinations doesn't include 'Antakya', select 'Hatay' instead.) There are also bus connections with Aleppo, Syria.
The 1 bus station (otogar) is located about 7 km northwest from the city center. Once you arrive look for minibuses to take you within walking distance of the center. Many of the hotels are located on Istiklal street.
To get from Antakya to Aleppo in Syria, the best option is to catch a bus from the central bus station (otogar) outside of town. It's too far to walk there, but there are bus connections from the town centre. The journey to Aleppo should cost you 10 TL (2009). The last bus (during Ramadan) leaves at 11:00 in the morning! This might be different outside of Ramadan, though. You can also try to catch a taxi from the town centre, which can be fairly difficult, as you normally have to wait until there are enough people sharing the taxi. The journey should cost you around 25 TL each if the taxi gets full. If you don't want to wait, you can pay for the whole taxi and depart immediately, which is going to be about 100-120 TL.
It is possible to cross the border step by step. You catch a bus to the Turkish border control, hitchhike to the Syrian border (which is about 5 km away, and you are not allowed to walk) and then take a taxi from there to Aleppo. You should be prepared for an extremely time-consuming trip. There's no other possibility to get from the Turkish border control to the Syrian one than waiting for a car to hitchhike. This can take some hours. At the Syrian border neither buses nor taxis are to be found, so you will have to hitchhike again. Most people will charge you for hitchhiking, and normally they will try to rip you off. Speaking Turkish and/or Arabic will certainly help, but if you don't, this trip is going to be really difficult. Apart from that it's more expensive than the direct bus.
From İskenderun, take D817 south and join D825 past Belen. (The entirety of this route is also marked as E91 in signage and maps.) This is a good divided highway, if somewhat winding while crossing the Belen Pass (the ancient Syrian Gates) through the Amanos Mountains. Another approach from that direction, particularly if you have time, is to follow the scenic coastal road down from Arsuz via Çevlik to Samandağ and then to take D420 east to Antakya.
From north of İskenderun (e.g., Adana), don't waste any time on slow and congested D817; take toll motorway O-53 instead.
From Gaziantep in the northeast, you can either head south on D850 to Kilis, then follow D410 along the Syrian border to join D825, or take one of D400 or O-52/E90 (toll motorway) west to Nurdağı to join D825 there. D825 runs across the dusty plains in the inland-facing side of the Amanos Mountains.
D825/E91 continues south to Yayladağı border post, to eventually reach Latakia (signposted Lazkiye), and D420 heads east to Cilvegözü border post near Reyhanlı on the road to Aleppo (Halep), but both approaches are unfeasible as of 2022 due to the ongoing Syrian Civil War.
The centre is walkable and all points of interest are close to each other. For the sights in the east, you will need transportation — they aren't very far from the centre and the route is flat, but the walk is dreary amidst industrial areas and lacking shade. For the sites further in the outlying areas, a car at your disposal is the best (and often the only) choice.
Parking space is hard to come by in the centre, and when you do, it's charged 9 TL (Oct 2022) an hour. The sites in the east all have adjacent car parks, free of charge.
Public bus line 401 is a frequent service along D420 to Samandağ, all the way to its seaside suburb Deniz.
- 1 Republic Square (Cumhuriyet Meydanı). The central square is a good place to start your trip. It was modelled by the French during their rule of the city as the modern centre of Antakya, with contemporary monumental buildings on the corners of the streets converging here. Anticlockwise from the north, these are the parliament building of the short-lived independent State of Hatay (see Hatay: Understand for details), now a cultural centre, with a residential mansion (now a restaurant) just behind it, the main post office, the city council, the main police station, and the former Mosaic Museum (the local archaeological excavations began during the French rule), now the City Museum, by the river. An ancient stone bridge connected the square to its counterpart in Old Antakya (Köprübaşı, "bridgehead") on the eastern bank of the Asi, but it was demolished and replaced by the current plain structure in the 1950s or '60s, when the very word of "progress" reigned supreme and put any thought of historical preservation aside.
- 2 Büyük Antakya Parkı. This park is just in the midst of the city, by the river and behind the City Museum. Many locals visit the park during the day, and especially early in the morning to keep fit. There are many open air tea houses within the park, hence it's the address to go for a tea or coffee or hookah when the weather is nice.
- 3 Kurtuluş Caddesi (from the bridge, walk gently uphill Kemal Paşa Cd and turn left). This is one of the throughfares of Old Antakya, eventually becoming D420 to the eastern districts described below. The street is lined by historic buildings — those with an unmistakable European influence are from the French period. About 5 m underneath is Herod Street, ancient Antioch's colonnaded street. Torches were lit atop these columns every night, as such this was the earliest illuminated street in the world. There is a talk of bringing it to the surface but given the possible adverse effects this would have on the modern traffic circulation of the city, it is likely to be destined to remain forever as talk.
- 4 Habib-i Neccar Mosque (Habib-i Neccar Camisi), Kurtuluş Cd (on the corner of Kurtuluş Cd and Kemal Paşa Cd). In Islamic tradition, Habib Al-Najjar ("the beloved carpenter") was a local carpenter. He met with Jesus' disciples arriving in the city to preach, became the earliest local to convert to Christianity, and was lynched for this soon after. The mosque, built by the Rashidun Caliphate in the 7th century when they ruled the city — making it the earliest mosque within Turkey — is believed to be on the site of his execution, but it's more likely it was converted from a church, which in turn was converted from a pagan temple. Subsequently, as the city changed hands between various powers, the building got converted and reconverted to a church and a mosque several times. The current structure is from the 19th century, Ottoman, built after an earthquake wreaked havoc on the former version, but the minaret is older: note its witch hat-like cone, which is a common style all over Hatay, but basically nonexistent elsewhere in the country. There is a shrine to Habib in an underground chamber accessed by two flights of stairs, and the tombs in the courtyard are variously believed to contain the remains of Jonah, John, Peter, and Paul. Free.
You can buy a pass covering all of the sites in this part of the city for 150 TL (Oct 2022). Otherwise, each requires a different ticket, prices of which are provided in the listings below.
- 5 Necmi Asfuroğlu Archaeological Museum (Necmi Asfuroğlu Arkeoloji Müzesi) (below the Museum Hotel). Daily 08:00-19:00. In 2009, during the earthworks in preparation of a hotel construction, a curious bit of ancient Antioch was discovered. So they remodelled the hotel to a steel structure raised on pillars, and what was to be the foundation, now an archaeological site, was made a museum. On-site exhibition includes an ancient road pavement, showing significant flood damage from the adjacent creek, the ruins of a bathhouse with its basic layout still discernible, and large patches of well-preserved floor mosaics. 65 TL.
- 6 Church of Saint Peter (Saint Pierre Kilisesi) (The church is about a 30 minute walk from the central square. To reach the church you need to cross the bridge, walk through the bazaar and at the end (when you exit the bazaar) make a left and go on for about over a kilometer — the church will be visible up on the hillside. By car, it is very prominently signposted all over the city.). Daily 08:00-19:00 (summer), 08:00-17:00 (winter). A must-see in Antakya. This is one of the oldest churches of Christianity. In its original form, it was a cave on a cliff face over the city, with very tight passages forming a maze within the cliff, dug just in case the worshippers felt the urge to hide. The current stone façade was added in the 19th century, together with the domed brick structure just behind it taking up about half the volume of the cave. There is also an altar and a very Catholic-looking marble statue (1932) of St Peter overlooking it. 65 TL.
- 7 Demir Kapı (Bab-ı Hadid) (start heading up the river from near the Church of St. Pierre. The trail can is accessed by walking up hill between two houses near the end of the road. It then continues above and eventually past the houses along that road.). A beautiful ruin of one of the Byzantine city gates (or, according to some sources, a dam) amongst gorgeous mountain scenery, just outside of the city. You can head up the trails starting from either side of the river.
- 8 Hatay Archaeological Museum (Hatay Arkeoloji Müzesi), Maşuklu Mh Atatürk Cd (5 km northwest of the centre; beware of the older descriptions which might lead you to the former Mosaic Museum, which is now the City Museum). Daily 08:30-19:00 (Apr-Oct), 08:30-17:00 (Nov-Mar). The local archaeological museum has the second largest collection of classical mosaics in the world — the exhibit is so rich that you'll have to content with just a short peek at many of what would be centrepieces of any museum elsewhere, unless you want to devote a whole day, or two, here. The museum also features a good coin collection, artifacts from the Iron and Bronze Ages found in sites nearby, with recreations of those sites, a very impressive marble sarcophagus (out of several) with great reliefs, and a replica of a very detailed medieval map of the part of the world between Britain and Babylon. A virtual tour is available here. 65 TL.
Towards the sea
- 9 Monastery of Saint Simeon (St Simeon Manastırı) (22 km southwest of Antakya, 6 km off D420 to Samandağ, signposted). Daily 08:00-19:00. St Simeon the Younger (521–597) was a stylite, ascetics who lived their lives atop pillars. This monastery is the site of his final pillar out of several. This is an extensive, lofty site among the mountains, but the buildings are in ruins — the only intact part of Simeon's pillar is its base. The series of wind turbines over the ridge has taken some of the rural tranquility away. Free.
- 10 Vakıflı (Վաքըֆ Vak'ëf) (25 km from Antakya, north of Samandağ). Vakıflı is a pretty village near the Mediterranean coast and the Syrian border, and is the only remaining ethnically Armenian-majority village in Turkey (and one of the very few in the world anywhere outside Armenia). It has a pleasant bed-and-breakfast converted from the old schoolhouse and is renowned for its homemade wines, known locally as the Ermeni şarabı ("Armenian wine"). Moses' Tree (Musa Ağacı) 2.5 km north of the village is a very old plane tree believed to have grown from Moses' staff he sticked into the soil and watered with the elixir of life. See below for another nearby site associated with Moses.
- 11 Hz Hızır Türbesi, Deniz, Samandağ (in the seaside suburb of Samandağ, 27 km from Antakya). This is an Alawite pilgrimage site, enclosed in a modern circular building in a traffic island. The plastered rock inside is believed to be where Hızır/Al-Khidr and Moses met. It's uncertain if Hızır — an Islamic figure believed to possess a great wisdom but not mentioned in the Quran, and associated with St George among the Balkan Christians and with land spirits of pre-Islamic Turkish beliefs — was a historical individual and not just a personification, and Moses most likely never made that far north, but beliefs are beliefs. Frankincense odour emanating from the censers constantly fills the air even on the approach, and there is a tradition of circumnavigating the shrine counterclockwise three times before entering and three times again after stepping out so it's just as well that the building is in the middle of a roundabout. Free.
- 12 Çevlik (31 km from Antakya). This is a small seaside village with low-key accommodation and numerous eateries dishing out fish sandwiches. Perhaps hard to believe today, but this was Roman Seleucia Pieria, a major seaport serving Antioch. A very scenic road leads northwards from here, along some of the most isolated stretches of the Turkish Mediterranean to Arsuz.
- 13 Titus Tunnel (Titüs Tüneli) (near Çevlik). Daily 08:00-19:00 (summer), 08:00-17:00 (winter). The Titus Tunnel is a Roman engineering marvel. During the reign of Emperor Vespasian (69-79 AD), the Roman governors of Seleucia Pieria decided to divert a river. They put Roman legionnaires, sailors and prisoners to work cutting a channel along and through the rock for about 1.4 km (nearly a mile). Continued under Emperor Titus (79-81), inscriptions tell us it was completed during the reigns of the Antonine emperors decades later. Today the channel is dry, but still worth a visit. A small parking area and entrance is just inland from the beach at Samandag. A path ascends along the channel, open to the sky, up and down steps and rocks, to where an arched limestone footbridge crosses. Above the footbridge, the channel continues into the solid rock. You'll need a powerful flashlight/torch to continue. 25 TL.
- 14 Bakras Castle (Bakras Kalesi) (32 km from Antakya, 5 km off D825, signposted). Originally a 9th-century, Byzantine castle built to protect the southern approach to the Syrian Gates across the Amanos Mountains, this was rebuilt by the Knights Templar about two centuries later. It later served the Cilician Armenians who repaired it, and was abandoned in the 13th century after a victory by the Mamluks under Baibars over them. This is a lonely site, and there are reports of alone women getting stalked, so appropriate caution is in order.
- 15 Bayazid Bastami Shrine (Beyazıt Bestami Türbesi) (49 km from Antakya, off D825 past Kırıkhan; there is a tiny signpost at the turn-off). Bayazid Bastami (9th c.) was a Persian Sufi mystic. The site was originally a castle on an outcrop, and later probably was a retreat for ascetic dervishes. Although one of the sarcophagi inside is claimed to contain the remains of Bastami, the connection with him is uncertain: it's likely he was buried in Semnan Province of Iran he was native to, and another shrine in the Bangladeshi city of Chittagong also claims to be his resting place. A graveyard belonging to the family of Tayfur Sökmen, the only president of independent Hatay, in the courtyard attests this is the Islamic spiritual centre of the area. Come this way for a view on the plains below — a transitionary area where the landscape gradually changes from Mediterranean to desert. Free.
- Belen northwest is described at İskenderun.
- Thanks to the groves of bay laurel (Laurus nobilis) in the surrounding countryside (see the myth of Daphne below), laurel soaps (defne sabunu, also garlı sabun locally) are unique to Antakya within Turkey, although the area they are traditionally manufactured extends beyond the border and these soaps are better known as "Aleppo soap" in English. They are made of local olive oil mixed with laurel berry oil, and are said to have benefits on skin and hair. The laurel berry oil, even in the saponified form, is known to result in an allergic reaction in some people, though, so it's worth skin-testing in a small area before investing in a large amount.
- 1 Uzun Çarşı (Long Market) (access from Kurtuluş Cd). This is the bazaar area, a jumble of covered pedestrian alleys opening into small plane-shaded squares, with rows of clothing, souvenir and local foodstuff stores, and kebab restaurants.
Thanks to the Middle Eastern influences, the local cuisine is among the most delicious in Turkey. Even a single plate of plain old tavuk pilav (chicken & rice), exactly what is implied by its name in the rest of the country, can develop into a feast here, with all the spices and sauces going into any dish.
There are many restaurants in the city centre, but most of them serve döner and other fast food. In order to seek local cuisine, try Anadolu Restaurant (in Saray Cd), Sultan Sofrası Restaurant (in Köprübaşı) or Sveyka Restaurant (in Kurtuluş Cd). As for döner restaurants, Restaurant Nuri and Restaurant Abdo (both in Saray Cd) are the most famous ones for et döner (beef döner) whereas Kebo, a tiny place located in Atatürk Cd, is the most famous place for tavuk döner (chicken döner).
- 1 Hürriyet Cd, a pedestrianized historic street south of the bridge and a block east of the river in Old Antakya, is a strip of restaurants with tables lining the sidewalks.
- Ornikos, Pisirim Merkezi, Fish Market Area. To eat like the locals, go to the Fish Market and buy a couple of fresh ones from the iced bins, then take them to the nearby cafe Ornikos where for a small fee you can have your fish cooked and served up with house salad and a beer.
- 2 Harbiye, ancient Daphne, is a pretty area with waterfalls and dense forests about 10 km south of Antakya. In Greek mythology, this is where Daphe, fleeing a lustful Apollo, transformed to the first bay laurel tree of the world to become invisible to him. The area has many restaurants and locals frequently go there for long dinners.
One of the must eats in Antakya is a dessert called künefe — Hatay's take on the Middle Eastern knafeh. This is a shredded pastry with cheese melted inside; the contrast between sweet syrup and lightly salty cheese accounts for a great relish. There are many künefe houses scattered in the city, but they are especially concentrated in the main square of Old Antakya, Köprübaşı. Hatay Künefe and Kral Künefe, both in Köprübaşı, are among the most famous künefe houses in the city.
- 1 Cabaret Bar, Hürriyet Cd (Central Antakya). An upstairs bar which opens out on the first floor of the building, with a balcony, and front windows overlooking the pedestrianised street below. In June 2011, there was a live band playing Turkish covers, and it looks like live music is a regular feature. Beers are inexpensive and the waitress service good. Located in Saray Caddesi.
- Ottoman Palace. A five-star thermal resort and spa convention center.
- Hotel Mozaik, İstiklal Caddesi 18 (Sultan Sofrası Üstü), ☏ . Located in the city center, the hotel rooms are very clean. 75 TL with breakfast for a single room, 100 TL for a double..
- 1 The Liwan Hotel, Silahlı Kuvvetler Cad No:5, ☏ . Only boutique hotel in Antakya. The building was used as presidential residence of the former Syrian president. Central location with walking distance to historical places.
- 2 Savon Hotel, Kurtuluş Cad. No:192, ☏ . Former soap factory converted to a hotel in 2001, located in the old city area of Antakya, between the Mosaic Museum and the Church of St. Peter.
- Sami Akar Saray Otel, Zenginler Mah, Hürriyet Cd. No: 3 (A multi-story building in the pedestrianized street.), ☏ . Cheap and cheerful, popular with down-on-their-luck freelance journalists. Hot water, wi-fi, simple breakfast served 07:00-10:00. Rooms are clean and relatively quiet. Singles start at 364 TL.
- Antik Beyazit Hotel, ☏ . Kind of a modest place but not without a morning breakfast option.
- Kavinn Butik Otel, Zenginler Mah, Prof. Ataman Demir Sk No:15, ☏ . An inn with a Turkish authentic feel that has a great breakfast. 289 TL.
Telephone code of Antakya is 326.
- With extensive transportation links to the Syrian city of Aleppo, Antakya was the jumping off point of most overland travellers into the Middle East before the conflict in Syria. From Istanbul to Cairo describes one of the popular routes.
- Gaziantep to the northeast features a museum with another fascinating collection of mosaics.
|Routes through Antakya|
|Ends at (W E) ← İskenderun ←||N S||→ Yayladağı/Kessab → Becomes Route 1 → Latakia|
|Kahramanmaraş ← Türkoğlu ( E) ← Nurdağı ( W / E, W / E) ←||N S||→ Merges with|
|END ← Samandağ ←||W E||→ Cilvegözü (Reyhanlı)/Bab al-Hawa → Becomes Route M45 → Aleppo|