Hatay is a province in the southeastern part of Mediterranean Turkey, bordering Syria.
|WARNING: On 6 February 2023, the Hatay region was devastated by a 7.8 magitude earthquake. The situation is volatile and many buildings have been destroyed. Travel in the area should be avoided unless absolutely necessary|
- 1 Antakya, also known as Antioch — the provincial capital is a riverside city with a great Archaeological Museum and is the hub for early Christian sites in the surrounding countryside
- 2 Iskenderun, also known as Alexandretta — the largest city of the province is a major Mediterranean port, with a pleasant palm-lined waterfront
Hatay is a geopolitical oddity: it is the only piece of land annexed by Turkey after its modern boundaries were defined in the Lausanne and Ankara Treaties of 1923 and 1926, respectively. From 1920, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following World War I, the province came under French administration as part of the French Mandate of Syria and was then known as the Sandjak (county) of Alexandretta. However, a significant ethnic Turkish population remained. Perhaps in anticipation of Turkish support in the widely (and rightly) expected upcoming war, the French relinquished control in 1938 under Turkish pressure, and the area appeared on the maps as the independent State of Hatay, a name coined after the ancient Hittites by Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic, to associate the area better with the Anatolian heartland — the Hittites had ruled the area for a long time, and the official stance of that time was that the new republic was the final form and the natural successor of a sequence of states founded in Anatolia, the Hittite Empire included. Following a plebiscite held the next year, it joined Turkey as Hatay Province. Since this happened before the Syrian independence in 1946, the Syrian government had no say in it and has refused to recognize this move to this day; the officially-sanctioned maps published in Syria continue to show Hatay as part of that country, often with dashed lines over the actual border implying some sort of "special administration". There's a local anecdote about how back in the day a Turkish shepherd had to cross the border in pursuit of his flock, and was detained by the Syrian authorities on illegal border crossing charges. He made his case that, per the official Syrian view, he was in Syria all the time, so couldn't be accused of any border crossing whatsoever, and was set free. (It might be just that he was on his lucky day, so don't ever try mimicking his experience.)
It's easy to point out Hatay on maps, even those zoomed out to show entire continents: due to its political history, Hatay is where the southern border of Turkey, which otherwise is roughly a line in an east-west direction, extends significantly southwards. The other geographical feature helpful in picking it out is that it's on the very northeastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea, where the northern coast curves into the Middle Eastern shores stretching south (traditionally known as the Levant). So there are lots of beaches, mainly serving the locals, although the time-honoured centre, Antakya/Antioch, is inland.
Hatay takes pride in its multiculturalism: the native population is roughly divided in half between ethnic Turks and Arabs, the latter of whom in turn are divided into three main faith groups: Sunni Muslims, Alawites, and Eastern Orthodox. The province is also home to Turkey's only remaining rural Armenian community (also one of the few anywhere outside Armenia), as well as a handful of Assyrians (Syriac Orthodox & Catholic) and Maronite Catholics (of Lebanese descent). Refugees from the ongoing Syrian Civil War are numbering up to a third of the native population. Therefore the local culture, cuisine in particular, forms a continuum between the rest of Turkey and the Middle East proper. There is also some architectural legacy from the French, particularly in Antakya and İskenderun.
Turkish is the dominant language throughout the province; locals often speak it with an accent. The Syrian dialect of Arabic is the native tongue for many, especially in the south.
Domestic flights are available to Hatay Airport between Antakya and İskenderun, about 25 km north of the former and 45 km southeast of the latter. The nearest international airport is in Adana to the north.
The only significant station within the province is in Iskenderun, which welcomes trains three times daily (morning, around noon, and evening) from Mersin via Tarsus and Adana.
The main road connecting the province to the rest of Turkey is the toll motorway O-53. There are also secondary highways, some of which eventually reach the border posts on the Turkish-Syrian border.
The port of Madenli south of İskenderun has a fast ferry service from Northern Cyprus run by HADO, affiliated with Hatay Metropolitan Municipality. The ferry links with Israel and Egypt are geared towards trucks bypassing the conflicts in the Middle East and do not accept foot passengers.
The bike path along the scenic coastal road from Arsuz to Çevlik is the longest uninterrupted cycle lane in Turkey.
Künefe is the most celebrated local treat — so much so that the building in which the national assembly of independent Hatay convened in Antakya housed a künefe speciality shop named Meclis ("parliament") for a time. This is the Hatay version of knafeh, a Middle Eastern dessert made of shredded pastry with a layer of cheese inside. Enjoy while still hot, when the cheese is melted into the rest of the ingredients.
The telephone code of the province is 326, which should be prefixed with 0 when calling from elsewhere in Turkey, or with +90 when calling from abroad.
With two border posts (with roads leading to either Aleppo or Latakia), Hatay is usually a jump-off for trips into Syria to the south and east (or was, before the civil war there began). The neighbouring Turkish regions of the Cilician Plains to the northwest and Southeastern Anatolia to the northeast share many cultural traits with Hatay.