All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to email@example.com.
Page revised in December 2020.
All images © by Roberto Piperno, owner of the domain. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Page revised in December 2020.
This page deals with monuments and sites which are located in the north-eastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea and belong to the historical regions of Cilicia (today Cukurova) and Syria, as shown in the maps here below. Part two is dedicated to Roman floor mosaics which were found near Antioch.
Map of the region covered in this page
This region was strategically important as it allowed access to Asia Minor and Europe (through the Cilician Gates in the Taurus range), to Mesopotamia and Asia (through the River Euphrates) and to Egypt (through the River Orontes) and Africa. Sumerians and Hittites, Assyrians and Persians fought to control the region until in 333 BC Alexander the Great defeated the Persian army at Issus and ensured this land to the Hellenized world for more than a thousand years.
Archaeological Museum of Naples (from Pompeii): floor mosaic depicting the Battle of Issus between Alexander the Great and King Darius III of Persia; (insets) Alexander and a Persian horseman
Darius went a little to the north and took the city of Issus, imprudently
leaving Alexander behind him to the south, who hearing that Darius had
crossed the mountains, advanced to meet him, and encamped among the hills of Cilicia in a place only broad enough for two small armies to
engage. Darius advanced towards the river Pinarus,
and Alexander having drawn him into the fittest place that he could desire, the battle ensued, which determined the empire of the world.
Richard Pococke - A Description of the East and Some Other Countries - 1745
At the death of Alexander the region became a key part of the empire founded by Seleucus, one of Alexander's generals. The Romans conquered it in the IInd century BC at the end of the three Macedonian Wars. The Arab expansion reached this area in the VIIth century AD, but in the Xth century the Byzantines re-established their rule. In 1097 the First Crusade created a feudal state (Principate of Antioch), which lasted until the XIIIth century. From this time on Seljuks, Armenians, Egyptians, Venetians and the Kings of Cyprus all competed for control of this area; eventually in 1517 Sultan Selim I conquered it and expanded the Ottoman Empire to Syria and Egypt. After World War I part of this area was included in the French Mandate of Syria. It became part of Turkey in 1938.
Tas Kopru (stone bridge) and in the background Sabanci Camii; (left inset) Hittite relief in the Museum of Adana; (right inset) detail
of Ulu Cami, a mosque built in the XVIth century which shows the
influence of Arab architecture in the use of black and white stripes
Adana is located at the centre of the coastal plain of Cilicia and today it is the fourth city of Turkey with nearly 2,000,000 inhabitants. Its landmark is the modern mosque erected by Mr. Haci Homer Sabanci, owner of a large corporation. The building is a sort of compilation of different styles, but it is clearly inspired by the mosques of Istanbul. Adana has some other interesting monuments which you can see in a page dedicated to this city.
(left) Main gate; (right-above) courtyard; (right-below) Ottoman fortress
Near the town of Payas there is a very interesting complex of XVIth century buildings aimed at supporting trade between Constantinople and Syria. The Ottomans had a very well organized land trade system, based on regularly planned caravans and on a series of hans where caravans could safely rest and buy provisions. The han (caravanserai) near Payas is named after Grand Vizier Sokullu Mehmet Pacha and it consists of stables for horses and camels, of a bedesten (a covered bazaar), several hammam (baths) and mederse (theological schools) and a mosque; the caravanserai was protected by walls and by a small fortress.
Venetian or Genoese Fortress
Less than a mile away another very small fortress shows a different origin. The design is clearly Italian and most likely the fortress was initially built by the Crusader Principate of Antioch and then upgraded to respond to the needs of artillery warfare by the Venetians to protect their trade in the area (Cyprus which is not far away from the Asian coast, was a Venetian possession until 1571).
(left) Views of the sea promenade (in the background of the lower photo: the Rock of Gibraltar at the opposite end of the Mediterranean Sea - photo taken on April 1, 2002); (right) monument to Ataturk
Scanderoon is a tolerable port, the ships
lying not far from the shoar. Tho' it is the port of Aleppo, yet it is now only a
miserable poor town, that has rather the appearance of a small village. Pococke
Alexandretta (in Turkish Iskenderun) was founded by Alexander the Great in 333 BC, after the victory at Issus. It is the first of many towns named after him. The development of Alexandretta was relatively limited as a few years later Seleucus founded another port in the area (Seleucia Pieria) which became the most important of the region. Today Alexandretta has a busy industrial harbour (oil, steel, cement) and a very fine sea promenade, but almost no evidence of its ancient past.
Antioch (today called Hatay or more often Antakya) is named after the wife of Seleucus, who enlarged a town founded in 307 BC by Antigonus, another of Alexander's generals. It was called by the Romans Antiochia ad Orontes with reference to the river which crossed it. Its springs are in Lebanon and it has a south-north direction; you may wish to see it at Hama. Antioch soon became the most important city of the area. In the IInd century AD it had 500,000 inhabitants and with Alexandria it was for several centuries the main centre of this part of the Eastern Roman Empire.
(left) The rock where St. Peter's cave is located (near the red flag); the rock has many other caves which appear to have been modified by man; (right) XIXth century fašade of St. Peter's cave
As I approached Antioch, I observed that
the rocky hills were high and steep, and there are some sepulchral grots
in them. (..) Antioch is remarkable in ecclesiastical history
for being the see of the great patriarchate of the east, in which St. Peter
first sat; it was here that Barnabas and Paul separated for the work of the
gospel, the latter embarking for Cyprus. This city is often mentioned
in the Acts of the Apostles, and particularly that the disciples of Christ
were here first named Christians, so that it was called the eye of the
eastern church. Pococke
Antioch played a great role in the early development of Christianity and St. Peter and St. Paul are said to have lived there for many years. A cave in the outskirts of the ancient city is considered the most ancient church and it was visited by Pope Paul VI in 1962.
(left) Box and lid of sarcophagi; (right-above) ancient capital in a mosque; (right-below) re-employment of ancient material
A great part of the walls has been very
much shattered by earthquakes, which have been very terrible and frequent
at this place; (..) the greateft part of the walls are
fallen down, and lie in large pieces on the ground, which demonstrate, that
the shock must have been great that overturned them. (..) Pliny says, that it was divided by the river Orontes, from
which one would conclude that there was a suburb to the north of the
river, of which there are now no signs. (..) Antiquities. There are very little remains within the city of any antient buildings. Pococke
Today Antioch has a very modern aspect and it is rare to see fragments of its past. Excavation campaigns in the 1930s have failed to identify significant ruins of the ancient city; in particular archaeologists looked vainly for a great church built at the time of Emperor Constantine.
Minarets: (left) Habib Neccar Camii (the mosque is located near the assumed centre of the ancient city); (centre) a mosque in the bazaar; (right) Ulu Cami
The present city of Antioch is ill built, the houses low, with only
one story above ground; the roofs are almot flat, made of light rafters
laid from one wall to another, and covered with thin tiles, which seem
to be contrivances to make their houses above as light as possible, that as
they are on a bad foundation they may not sink by the weight above; or
if they chance to be thrown down by earthquakes, that the people in them
may not be crushed by the weight of the roof. Pococke
Because of earthquakes in the VIth century and because of the effects of Arab expansion, Antioch declined. It eventually became the capital of a Crusader state, but this only contributed to reducing its importance as a trading centre; in 1268 it was conquered by the Egyptian Mamelukes who destroyed it.
St. Paul's Orthodox Church
Until within fifty or sixty
years past there had been no Christians here since the city was destroyed
in one thousand two hundred sixty nine by Baibars, sultan of Egypt, who
demolished their churches, which, it is said, were the finest in the
world; and he likewise put most of the inhabitants to death; for at
that time they were mostly Christians. Pococke
St. Paul's was built during the French Mandate when Christians were allowed to build churches of some size.
(left/centre) Old houses of Antioch; (right) a nail decorated door (see similar doors in Kilis)
(left) The canal; (right) arch of the aqueduct
The stream and mountain torrent ran on the west side of
the town towards the south, and consequently must have gone where the
port now is, and, after heavy rains, must have overflown all those parts,
and done much damage; so that, I suppose, in order to carry the stream
another way, that extraordinary work was executed, which Polybius takes
notice of as the only communication the city had with the sea, which, he
says, was cut out ot the rock like stairs. The passage is from
fourteen to eighteen feet wide; the first part from the east, for two hundred
and sixty paces in length, and about forty feet in height, is cut under
the foot of the mountain; the rest, which is about eight hundred and
twenty paces in length, is sunk down from fifteen to about twenty feet
in the solid rock, and is open at top; it ends at the sea, and the last
part is cut down lower, and great pieces of rock are left across the
passage to make the entrance difficult, there being a path left only on
one side, which might be closed upon any occasion. Pococke
Seleucia Pieria was founded by Seleucus to provide Antioch with a port. Its importance was such that at the time of Emperor Vespasian, the Romans cut a canal into a hill to divert a stream which threatened to flood the town. The walk along the (now dried) canal, which includes several tunnels, is very evocative; only a few sections of the fortifications and arches of an aqueduct can be detected in the vegetation which covers the hill where the ancient acropolis was located.
(left) Modern symbol of Daphne; (right) a wood
This hill is a rich spot of ground, and a fine situation, commanding a
view of the sea, of the plain, of the river winding between the hills of
Antioch, not to mention the pleasant country which was the spot of the antient Daphne. Pococke
According to Greek mythology, Apollo (struck by Eros with a golden arrow) fell in love with Daphne, a priestess of Mother Earth and he pursued her. Eros however struck Daphne with a lead arrow, which made her afraid of love. When Apollo overtook Daphne, she cried out to Mother Earth, who, in the nick of time, spirited her away and left a laurel tree in her place. Apollo made a wreath from the leaves of the laurel tree to console himself. The background of this page is based on Bernini's masterpiece Apollo and Daphne in Galleria Borghese in Rome and it shows Daphne being turned into a laurel tree.
The site of the event was identified in a laurel wood near Antioch.
Louvre Museum in Paris: Mosaic of the Four Seasons found at Daphne
With the development of Antioch many villas were built on this site during the IInd - Vth centuries AD and the location became so famous that Antioch was named after it ad Daphne rather than ad Orontes.
Louvre Museum in Paris: Mosaic of the Four Seasons - details
Daphne (in Turkish Harbiye) is today a holiday resort where the citizens of Antioch go to seek some breeze and have a picnic in the woods which surround it. There is very little evidence of the temples built in honour of Apollo and other gods, but walking in the woods is very pleasant.
Move to page two: The
Mosaics of Antioch.