Hatay is not only a great point from which to enter Syria, but an interesting city in its own right. It’s home to some important religious sites and houses one of the best Roman mosaic museums in the world (and definetly one of Turkey’s best museums).
The city has 2 names: Hatay and Antakya (the name which dates back to its Arabic roots). The ancient city of Hatay was largely populated by Jews, who developed into the earliest Christians.
Start your trip with a visit to the Cave Chruch of St. Peter, 3 km northeast of town. Cut into Mt. Staurin, it is believed to be the first place of worship for Christians, where both Saints Peter and Paul preached. There is a small pool of water to the right of the altar. The water is thought to cure sickness.
The other religious site in the Hatay area is the Monastery of St. Simeon. Built in the 6th century, the 3 churches are now in ruins, but worth the trip out to see the pillar from where St. Simeon preached. (Stylites, Christian ascetics who chose to spend their lives atop a pillar, are a sect founded by Simeon the elder.)
If the delicately carved churches do not sell themselves, it’s worth a trip to the monastery for the views….they stretch across a wide valley all the way to the Mediterranean.
The Antakya Archaeology Museum is sure to be the highlight of your vacation, housing mosaics from the 1st-5th centuries AD. While some are fragmented, a surprising number were excavated almost fully in tact and are truly impressive in their delicate detail. From traditional geometric patterns to detailed stories, these mosaics run the gamut of design. A few of note: Narcissus admiring his reflection; a raven, scorpion and pitchfork attacking the evil eye; and one depicting animals so large it takes up a whole room. The majority come from the seaside town of Daphne, which explains the recurring water motif.
The city is only a few hours from the city of Adana. Tripology can find you great deals on cheap flights from Istanbul to Adana, or from the states. Indicate where you’d like to travel on the free travel request form, and our expert travel agents will get in touch with you to start planning your Turkey vacation within the day.
As far as entering Syria, you need a Visa to enter as an American citizen. Visas can be obtained in the embassy at home or in Turkey. If you are patient and have a day to waste at the border though, it is often possible to get them at your point of entry. (We don’t really recommend this, but it is possible. Just have patience.)