Charismatic Antakya


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Middle East » Turkey » Mediterranean » Antakya
February 6th 2015
Published: February 6th 2015
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The cobbler on the street corner
It's not my first visit to the Hatay region of Turkey. I visited Antakya (formerly Antioch of old) and some notable nearby sights back in 2013 when I last travelled the country. On that trip I clocked up a number or towns and cities along the Black Sea coast and in the East, but Antakya stuck firmly in my mind as being the most unusal. I hadn't even considered visiting until by chance I met a fellow traveller, an Englishman called Ben, who professed an interest in going that way. We parted company shortly afterward but during our brief stay we occupied two of the guestrooms at the Catholic Church off Kurtulus Rd, a stone's throw away from the Orontjes River which flows through the heart of the city, and in the proximity of a variety of other community organisations both religious and non-religious. These include a Korean war veteran's office - did you know that Turks were involved in that conflict? - and a Taize centre. Backing onto the Catholic Church is a mosque and I am told there is a synagogue nearby too.


During our brief stay we occupied two of the guestrooms at the Catholic Church off Kurtulus Rd, a stone's throw away from the Orontjes River which flows through the heart of the city


At that time (2013 visit) Ben and I were introduced to Barbara, a

Memek at the sink in Barbara's charming little kitchen
German lady (former nun) who ran the Taize centre. I knew nothing about Taize then and still know very little but I was impressed by what she aspired to do - foster peace and co-operation amongst people of different beliefs, cultures and religions through the medium of music and story-telling. I felt then that I could have, in fact should have, spent more time here. Thus I made a pledge to return which I have finally realised two years later.

I will write more about the community in due course - I am here for another 2 days - but at this juncture I am very keen to share with you some of the great pictures I have been able to take of the city and the people who inhabit it. Like most Turkish cities I have visited it is has a hustle and bustle about it which makes it photogenic and engaging. Along the adjacent street there are a number of different artisans for instance. Some weave woolen rugs on hand looms, yet others are spinning silk. On the street corner near Sermaye Cami (the mosque I mentioned) is a cobbler who seems to work arduously all week

Just one street amongst many in the convulted alleyways of the old quarter flanking theeastern hills.
in his open-air stall with its eclectic collection of inners, uppers, laces, threads and an antiquated machine of some sort. It's a street that's very much alive with creativity!


Like most Turkish cities I have visited it is has a hustle and bustle about it which makes it photogenic and engaging.



The nearside neighbourhood on this side of the aforementioned road is a network of alleyways and cobbled streets, evidently very old. A good number of the buildings are unoccupied and have been for many years Barbara tells me. Many have fallen into disrepair and were this undesirable. Viewing the city from a vantage point to the south-east (the city is flanked by steep hills) I could see how the city had obviously grown in the other direction where acres of apartment blocks now stood. Anyway, times change and today Barbara tells me that these previously overlooked buildings in the old quarter are now becoming trendy for those of means. I for one can see the appeal. It is marvel what Barbara has done and continues to do with the buildings in the vicinity of her abode. She is presently emplying several labourers and tradesmen to renovate an adjacent house, recently vacated by the occupants who decided to move to a more modern apartment. Plumbing, toilets, basins and

A typical mix of businesses and houses in the more level stretches of old town
electrics are being installed, roofs retiled and stone walls and floors reparied. Right now most of the existing rooms are unoccupied but during the summer months the numbers will increase. With the new additions I guess she can accomodate two dozen or so visitors.


Plumbing, toilets, basins and electrics are being installed, roofs retiled and stone walls and floors reparied.



I have with me my clarinet which I play during the morning and evening prayers. Like I said I was unfamiliar with the Taize format but what I have seen of it I like. The instruments are mere accompaniments to the choral verse which is repeated several times or more like a mantra. The combination is very pleasing and despite some initial difficulty I have come to enjoy the daily routine. Barbara has a paid helper in the form of Melek, a Christian lady from a village near the Syrian border. She has a sweet, harmonious voice and joins Barbara in singing the verse while I play my clarinet and Barbara strums her guitar. Her husband Bibe (pronounced Bee-beh) comes on occasional but I got the impression he would rather be elsewhere! He does odd jobs and helps Melek in the kitchen preparing the meals. Melek is a wonderful cook and I

A rather new and elegant footbridge spans the river downstream from Ata Koprusu (Bridge)
wish I could take her with me back north when I return next week. I might have to make do with some of her pomergranate syrup and olive oil.


The instruments are mere accompaniments to the choral verse which is repeated several times or more like a mantra.




Additional photos below
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Balancing my camera on the metal handrail on one of the pedestrian bridges over the Orontjes near the new mall.


A view downstream from the same footbridge in the evening.


An avenue in Antakya Beleyidesi Parki (Municipal Park) echoes a French influence of bygone days when the Hatay was governed by France.


A stone basin and fawcett Barbara restored in the courtyard of the guesthouse where I stayed.


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