Eastern Turkey

Mor Gabriel Monastery, Mardin
Mor Gabriel Monastery, Mardin

Christian saints Paul and Peter, and Jewish patriarchs Abraham and Job are just a few of the names that made their mark in eastern Turkey. It is in many ways the northern rim of the Holy Land. According to legend, Sanliurfa, in the south eastern corner of Turkey, is the cave where Abraham was born 4000 years ago.
Harran, 20 minutes distant, is a community of hive- like homes where the great warrior of Islam, Saladin, was born. Mardin, just three hours north, towers over the Syrian desert from atop a steep mountain. Rich in Arabic architecture, the town has one of the oldest Christian sects, the Syrian Orthodox. North of Sanliurfa, amid some of the highest mountains in Turkey, lies one of the country’s most awesome sights, the tumulus of King Antiochus at Nemrut mountain. If caves in the dry hills of Mesopotamia helped spawn the canon of thought that is Christianity, then it was the Mediterranean Sea that carried that seed abroad. Saint Paul was born in Tarsus, a town near the Turkish city of Adana, where Antony first met Cleopatra. In its prime, Antakya was the third largest city in the Roman world, after Rome and Alexandria.
Though little of Herod’s Antioch survives, the world’s first cathedral, on the outskirts of town, does. A tunnel at the back of the church leads into the porous mountains interior.
Antakya lies on both sides of the Asi River. The city’s great archaeological museum is the highlight of any journey to Antakya. The Roman mosaics are the most beautiful in the world. There are several modest accomodation facilities ranging from pansiyons to three star hotels in Antakya, in addition to those in nearby Harbiye.
The short ride to Harbiye passes through landscape that looks more like Tuscany than Turkey, with soft rolling mountains that give way to rich green valleys. In the valley, several open- air restaurants sit around a waterfall. Many of the tables are actually placed in the water and diners roll up their pants legs and sit down to delicious plates of grilled meats as the water runs over their feet. Hatay features many historic sites that are within easy reach, with a rental car, from Antakya. At its northern end lies the battlefield of Issus, where Alexander the Great routed his Persian nemesis, Darius.