Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Turkey’s Sacred Ruins

For souls in torment, your helpful guidebook might say, there’s no better destination than the holy sites of Turkey’s Hatay province. I rediscovered the area’s sacred legacy on a recent visit to the frontier between Turkey and Syria, some 35 years after I had lived briefly in Hatay as a boy mesmerized by the dreamy sensation of ancient time. My physician father roamed the hospitals of the province, a tendril of Turkish territory that juts into Syria along the Mediterranean. During his work trips, he often took me to see mysterious ruins.

This past June, I returned to Hatay to report on the border-crossing stories of refugees fleeing war-torn Syria. I stayed with other colleagues at a hotel in the little town of Harbiye, about six kilometers from Antioch en route to the mountainous border. Antioch is the provincial capital, famous for its spicy approach to Turkish food, for founding the earliest Christian churches, for the river Orontes threading like a ganglion of history along its length. Modern Antiochenes surprise visitors with their relaxed and mild secularism—no women in black veils here; lots of flesh and shapely clothing and fraternizing between the sexes.

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