Reality of Turkey: Earthquakes
I thought it was about time to revisit the regions that the recent earthquakes hit in Turkey. Let us reminisce about the good old days and see the impact on the historical sites.
Turkey has been familiar with earthquakes throughout history. We will focus on the southeastern part in this post. About 260.000 people had lost their lives in a 7.5 magnitude earthquake in A.D. 115. Another 250.000 people had died in A.D. 525. One-third of Antakya was destroyed in the previous big earthquake in 1872. Although the official number will always be far from it, the two devastating earthquakes on February 6th, 2023 are believed to have caused 150.000 deaths.
These beautiful historical cities have suffered from catastrophic earthquakes dozens of times in history and were rebuilt each time. Just as our ancestors did, we shall do the same, rising from our ashes.
The most damaged city out of the 10 impacted, has been Hatay. Can you imagine -if you were lucky to survive - waking up to a morning where the city didn’t exist any more 🙁 ? So devastating…
Remnants of ancient Abrahamic history were destroyed when an earthquake flattened much of Antakya in southern Turkey last month, but many hope the city can rise from the rubble as it has done over centuries of disasters and conquests.
Established by the Seleucid Empire in 300 BC, Antakya, formerly Antioch, home to Jews, Christians and Muslims, changed hands between Greeks, Romans and Ottomans. Having joined the mainland 16 years after the establishment of the republic in Turkey, Hatay has two big districts such as Antakya and Iskenderun.
This is what Antakya used to look like. Let’s not forget and document. The ancient city streets, where old Antakya houses are at, have a specific and complicated order since they’re crossed vertically. Generally narrow and with water channels passing in the middle, these stone streets also aim to break the wind and prevent floods. And dead-ends called “zokmak” can be seen often.
Antakya houses are made of indigenous yellowish white limestone mud-bricks. Architecture of Antakya houses, surrounded with high stone walls, rooms lined up around the porch, consisting of mostly single and two-storey houses, reflects the way of life, customs and traditions of the local people. The same layout is seen in all houses, except for some little details added up by the owners according to their financial situations.
It is thought that the first construction of Sarimiye Mosque took place in the first half of the 14th century and took its present shape as a result of the repairs made at various times. After the earthquake the minaret built in the 16th century, has toppled.
In antiquity, there was most probably a pagan temple in place of the Habib-i Neccar Mosque. Concurrently, the status of the building was changed from church to mosque and from mosque to church. However, it was rebuilt in 1275 and in 1853 after an earthquake leaving the standing minaret original. Do not confuse the minaret of Sarimiye Mosque though.
The mosque was named after Habib'i Neccar, a carpenter, who lived in the time of Jesus Christ who was believed to be martyred for calling people to the religion of Allah. Thought to be the first mosque in the land of Turkey today. This is the damage of the last earthquake
Ulu Mosque was at the heart of Antakya as one of the oldest mosques of the town. It was built in 1268 by the Memluks.
Carved into the side of Mount Staurin in the Antakya region of the Apostle Peter's early ministry, around 38-39 AD, the Saint Pierre Cave Church is recognised as the world's very first cathedral, according to UNESCO. The Church and its surroundings played a significant role in the early days of Christianity and the spread of this belief. Thankfully, after the earthquake the world's first cave church in Hatay remains largely intact. Only the recently built retaining wall of the historical church was slightly demolished.
The building of the Antioch Protestant Church used to be the Antakya branch of Banque de Syrie et du Liban, which was established in Beirut, an extension of Banque Impériale Ottomane. It was founded in 1924. Today it's completely ruined.
The historical Greek Orthodox Church in Antakya, one of the most prominent 10 churches in Turkey, was one of the several buildings tumbled to the ground.
The Cathedral of the Annunciation, also known as the Alexandrian Catholic Church was built between 1858 and 1871 by the Order of the Carmelites. The ministry in the cathedral has been in charge of the Order of Conventual Franciscans since 2003. The cathedral was badly damaged when its roof and part of its walls collapsed in the last earthquake.
Greek Orthodox Church of Saint Nicholas in Iskenderun, historically known as Alexandretta, is another devastated site. However, Mar Circos Church survived the massive tremors with minor damages and became an aid collection center.
What's the good news in all this? Thankfully Hatay Archeology Museum is left relatively unscathed, with world-renowned artifacts and mosaics undamaged after Maraş earthquakes.
This incomparable museum contains one of the world's finest collections of Roman and Byzantine mosaics, covering a period from the 1st century AD to the 5th century. Many were recovered almost intact from Tarsus or Harbiye (Daphne in ancient times), 9km to the south.
Along with mosaics, the museum also showcases artifacts recovered from various mounds and tumuli (burial mounds) in the area, including a Hittite mound near Dörtyol, 16 km north of İskenderun, and a Palaeolithic-era cave called Üçağızlı Mağarası near Samandağ.
Antakya Sarcophagus (Antakya Lahdi), a spectacularly carved marble tomb from the 3rd century with an unfinished reclining figure on the lid, is the highlight of Hatay Archeology Museum.
Among the museum's highlight pieces are the full-body mosaic of Oceanus & Thetis (2nd century) and the Buffet Mosaic (3rd century), with its depictions of dishes of chicken, fish, eggs and bread. Thalassa & the Nude Fishermen (5th century) shows children riding whales and dolphins, while the fabulous 3rd-century mosaics of Narcissus & Echo and the Drunken Dionysus depict stories from mythology. Among the museum's quirkier mosaics are the happy hunchback with an oversized phallus; the black fisherman; an obese infant Hercules strangling two snakes.
There is an inscription “EUФPOCYNOC” meaning “joy, cheer up, be happy, join life” on the panel where the male skeleton figure is depicted in a relaxed and pleasant way.
The colossal statue of King Šuppiluliuma III, was found in Tell Tayinat Mound in the Amik Plain. Made of basalt stone, the work belonging to the Late Hittite Kingdom Period is a unique work with its rather large size, beard and three-dimensional construction, impressive eye depiction, and many other features. There is also a Luwian language inscription on the back of the 1.5 meters high and 1.5 tons king statue.
Gaziantep Fortress, whose history dates back to the Hittite Empire era, is one of the historical structures that was heavily damaged on the first day of the earthquake. It was expanded into a castle during Roman rule.
Kahta Castle in Adiyaman, despite the renovations from a few years back, suffered damage as well. It was built as a defense center that also served as a shelter where the royal family could come in times of danger, connected by a secret passage from the capital of the Commagene Civilization, Arsemia.
The Dexiosis Column in the Karakuş Tumulus (one of 6, well, 4 surviving) belonging to the Commagene Kingdom period in Adıyaman is among the destroyed structures. Located in the 2,000-year-old Karakuş Tumulus of Kahta district, King II. The Pillar of Handshake, which features a relief of Mithridates shaking hands with his sister Laodice, is in fact a mausoleum belonging to the women of the Commagene Royal Family. The 10-meter column appears to have been laid on the ground in blocks. It is stated that the column will be re-erected in accordance with its original form in the coming days.
Thankfully, the earthquakes that hit 10 cities didn't harm some important historical sites. Göbeklitepe, (in fact claimed not to be) the oldest temple site discovered in the world, did not suffer any damage . No damage was detected on the sculptures during the initial investigations on Mount Nemrut in Adıyaman either. The ancient city of Zeugma in Gaziantep also survived the earthquake undamaged.
You can take a look at my previous post on the region to have a better idea. It's a detailed itinerary to visit not just Hatay but also Adiyaman, Diyarbakir, Mardin, Urfa, Gaziantep.
P.S. Demolished photos of sites and those marked with * are from the press
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