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How the Antioch region is preparing to welcome tourists again

Updated: Jun 4, 2021

by Anita ROBERT, SHOM, UNHCR, May 2021

Author: Anita Robert
Typical Restaurant in Hatay

The opening of Hatay Expo 21 which was scheduled to take place in April, has been postponed for six months due to Covid. This great universal horticultural exhibition will be an opportunity for the region of Antioch, Hatay, to return to the map of tourist destinations.

Due to its proximity to Syria, this province in southwestern Turkey has been deserted by foreign tourists over the past ten years. It is still classified as a risk zone by many Embassies. But that shouldn't last. The New York Times got it right. He cites Antioch (Antakya in Turkish), in the list of the 52 places to see in the world in 2020.

Hatay Expo 21 subtitles its event: “garden of civilizations”. The region can indeed claim to be one of the cradles of humanity. At the crossroads of the routes leading to Anatolia, Mesopotamia and the Middle East, Hatay has been home to 13 different civilizations. Third city in the Mediterranean world after Rome and Alexandria under the Roman Empire, it is there that the first Christian assembly began to emerge from Judaism, then that the first mosques were built outside Arabia. This is also where the Silk Road led to the Mediterranean.

Even today, church bells can be heard ringing alongside the chants of the muezzin in the old town of Antioch. Its nickname of Barış Şehri ("city of peace" in Turkish) reflects this important cultural mix.

The collection of the Hatay Archaeological Museum ( is a testament to this past greatness. Some pieces, such as the famous bust of Hittite King Suppiluliuna, are over 3000 years old.

But what makes the magic of this place are its mosaics. Archaeologists have found entire sections of mosaics in the Hatay region. To see them in their real size, to be able to observe each scene in detail, is to dive into history and to feel like a guest in an ancient Roman villa.

Very recently, in 2009, a 1000 square meter mosaic was discovered on the construction site of a luxury hotel in the city center. Dating from the 4th century AD, it has moved with time and the movements of the earth, which today gives it the wavy shape of a flying carpet. The owners of the Museum hotel ( have changed the plans so that the public can see the mosaic in its place of origin, which is very rare.

The organizers of Hatay Expo 21 intend to continue this tradition. A 1600 square meter mosaic is being built at the exhibition site. “We applied for the Guinness Book,” confess Expo consultant Hakan Arslan.

However, Hatay Expo 21 is not banking on its past to keep tourists coming back, but on its future. Member of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network since 2017,, Hatay pursues the label's mission: "to place creativity and the creative economy at the heart of their development plans in favour of safe, resilient, inclusive and sustainable cities, in line with the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. ”(UNESCO).

What makes the Hatay region creative today is its gastronomy, resulting from an agriculture that increasingly relies on organic. "Good food for good life" will be one of the main themes of Expo 21. The opportunity for the region to show its initiatives in the field.

A non-profit association opened in the heart of the old town in 2019 to promote the gastronomy of Hatay. Its young and dynamic manager, Ipek Aslan, explains: "We want to show that cooking here is not only recipes, but also a cultural heritage". In addition to a restaurant that is always full (the prices are low and the chefs excellent), the adjacent rooms of this former Ottoman hospice host various workshops in a setting that traces the history of Turkish culinary traditions.

Thus, one Saturday morning in the Seljuk room, four women are taking a cooking class. “I came from Adana,” says one of them, a doctor, “because although I know these recipes, there is always to be learned from a professional! ".

Legacy of influences from the Middle East, Anatolia and the Mediterranean, Hatay's cuisine also has the distinction of using a wide variety of spices that are harvested from the mountains surrounding the valley. The always bustling bazaar stalls include thyme (served as a salad), bay leaf, giant fennel, herbs for tea, and all kinds of medicinal herbs. The sale of spices and herbalists account for 60% of the region’s GDP. A new museum dedicated to herbs and medicinal plants will be inaugurated on the occasion of the Universal Exhibition.

Hatay Expo 21 should open for good on December 10 2021, for a period of six months. Certain spaces, in particular an Academy of gastronomy, will remain on site. You have plenty of time to prepare to (re) visit to the Antioch region!

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