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The exciting history of the city of Antioch, now Antakya

The Hittites ruled here as early as the 17th century BC, later the Assyrians and then the Persians, beginning in 538 BC. After 200 years of Persian rule over the whole of Anatolia, Alexander the Great (356 - 323 BC) changed the balance of power. He was victorious over the Persian king Darius III Kodomannos (c. 380 - 330 B.C.) at Issos in 333 B.C. Even today, the ruins of Issos, where this battle brought about the turning point in the history of the Middle East, can be visited.

In 300 BC, the foundation stone for a new capital was solemnly laid. It was given the name Antioch.

The Romans

At the time of Antiochus XIII, the last king of the Seleucus dynasty (successor to Alexander the Great), Cn. Pompeius Magnus conquered the area for the Imperium Romanum in 64 BC. Antioch became the seat of the legate of the newly established Roman province of Syria and was soon placed under Roman law. Castle walls, the acropolis, the amphitheatre, courthouses, thermal baths and water pipes and representative buildings were erected. By 42 BC Antioch was one of the three largest cities in the world, along with Rome and Alexandria. The walled city was more than just an administrative centre. It was the centre of trade, religion and science in the Middle East. Particularly famous was a sanctuary of Apollo in Antioch's suburb of Daphne, which existed at least until the 6th century, the temple of Diana, and the palace and private houses, which were considered historical marvels of their time. The rich from all parts of the world spent relaxing days here and likewise the most famous artists were drawn to the city where they created important works. Today, the museum is world-famous for its beautiful mosaics from Hatay.

Earthquakes have shaken the city time and again. One of the six major quakes killed 250,000 inhabitants. They were in the Hippodrome at the time of the eruption. At that time, there were about 750,000 or perhaps 800,000 people living in the entire Hatay area; slaves and children were not counted as minors.

Not only the damage caused by the earthquakes had to be overcome. Plague and large fires left horrible traces. The city library, temples and residential buildings fell victim to a major fire in 71 AD.

Emperor Trajan (53-117 AD) ordered the reconstruction of the city and the construction of a 9 km long water canal between Harbiye and Antioch. The construction of the Temple of Diana in Daphne, today's Harbiye, seems to be outstanding. What Emperor Trajan could not complete, Emperor Hadrian (76-138 AD) completed.

The Christians

During this time, Antioch gained great importance for the followers of Jesus' new doctrine. After Jerusalem, the city became the largest centre of the Christians. For Paul, Antioch was the starting point of his three great missionary journeys. He had come here together with Barnabas.

After Peter's miraculous deliverance by an angel (Acts 1-6), he also went to Antioch and exercised the office of bishop. When Paul and Peter met in Antioch, there was a clash between the two apostles. (Gal 2:11)

In July of each year, high dignitaries of all religions commemorate the Apostle Peter. In a service, bread is distributed to the faithful and blessings are given.
According to the story, Matthew wrote his Gospel in Antioch and Luke saw the light of day here.

The foundation of the Christian community in Antioch was attested in the Bible:

"In the persecution which arose on account of Stephen, the scattered ones came as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch; but they preached the word only to the Jews. But some of them, who were from Cyprus and Cyrene, when they came to Antioch, preached also to the Greeks the gospel of the Lord Jesus. The hand of the Lord was with them, and many believed and were converted to the Lord. The news of this came to the ears of the Jerusalem church, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and exhorted all to remain faithful to the Lord, as they had resolved to do. For he was an excellent man filled with the Holy Spirit and faith. Thus a considerable number were won to the Lord. Now Barnabas went to Taurus to seek out Saul. He found him and took him to Antioch. There they worked together in the church for a full year and taught a great number of people. In Antioch the disciples were called Christians for the first time." (Acts 11:19-26)

The people of Antioch, who had long had a preference for monotheism, were quickly taken in by the Christian faith. The first secret meetings of the young community took place in a cave, which is known today as the Cave Church of St. Pierre (Peter's Grotto) and has been recognised by the Vatican as the oldest church in the world.

Due to the large number of visitors, the cave had to be extended and could then also be used as a hiding place during raids. An extensive system of passages through the rock provided escape routes. St. Pierre is a place of pilgrimage for many Christians.

Tyche

After the division of the Roman Empire in 395 BC, Hatay remained part of the Eastern Roman Empire. After an earthquake, it experienced its last flourishing under Justinian (527-65). In 538, the city was conquered and plundered by the Sasandins, a Persian dynasty under King Chrosau I. Justinian had the damage repaired and the city was rebuilt. Justinian had the damage repaired and largely rebuilt the city. Only a few traces of the city wall and other buildings have survived (American excavations of 1932-39). A magnificent colonnaded street stretched for 6 km between two gates. It seems possible that parts of these colonnades were taken to Palmyra and rebuilt there. A bath complex, a nymphaeum, the circus on the island of the Orontes, to which five bridges led, and an imperial palace of Diocletian (284-305) date from the Roman period. In addition to mosaics and a few finds of sculptures and small art, the famous statue of Tyche of Antioch should be mentioned. She was worshipped as the city goddess.

In 639 AD, Muslim Arabs conquered Hatay. Until the Byzantine reconquest of Syrian territories in 968, the claim to rule over Hatay alternated between Arabs and Turks. The renewed rule of the Byzantines was to last only a little more than a hundred years. It was lost again with the conquest of the Seljuks in the Syrian region. From 1085 onwards, the Seljuks ruled the destiny of the city of Antioch.

The Crusades

On the way to conquering the Holy City of Jerusalem, Antioch had to be taken in order to continue the march south in safety. After almost nine months of siege, the city was taken and settled by the Christian army in June 1098. The appointment of a bishop was intended to strengthen the morale of the Christians who were far from home. A mosque was converted into a place of worship.

Again and again, Muslim armies tried unsuccessfully to take the city. It was not until 1260 that the Mamluks succeeded in conquering the city. It was completely destroyed. In 1516, Yavuz Sultan Selim conquered Antioch for the Ottoman Empire during his Egyptian campaign.
After the Treaty of Mondros in 1918, Antioch became part of French rule. In 1938, Antioch was independent for a short time. In 1939, it was annexed by Turkey.

Cave Church of St. Pierre

Today's fašade of the Grotto of St. Peter


Relief on a sarcophagus in the museum

Sarcophagus in the museum


One of the many mosaics in the museum of Antakia

There are many Roman mosaics in the museum in Antakya. Here is a mosaic excerpt.