Rapidly expanding GAZİANTEP, with a population approaching a million and a half, is the wealthiest city in the region. A principal beneficiary of the GAP project, it derives its income largely from textile production and agriculture (and is especially famed for its pistachio nuts). Tourism is now a major industry as well, and many of the city’s beautiful, pale-stone historic buildings – especially its hans and mosques – have been restored and made accessible to visitors, with explanatory display boards in English. The Zeugma Mosaic Museum, whose collection rivals the best in the world, is simply stunning; it alone would make a trip here worthwhile. Unfortunately, its role as a major trade entrepôt and tourist destination has been hit since 2012 by the civil war in nearby Syria – Aleppo, Syria’s second city, is just 100km away. Cross-border trade has dried up, and visitors put off by a bomb that killed nine civilians in August 2012.
Gaziantep has been successively occupied by the Hittites, Assyrians, Persians, Hellenistic Greeks, Romans, Selçuks, Crusaders, Byzantines and Arabs. Locals still call it “Antep”, a corruption of the Arab ayn teb (“good spring”); the prefix “Gazi” (“warrior for Islam”) was added to honour the Turkish Nationalist forces who withstood a ten-month siege by the French in 1920. For centuries Gaziantep held a mixed Muslim and Christian Armenian population. The Armenians were expelled during the vicissitudes of World War 1, but their attractive old quarter remains on a hill above the prominent Atatürk statue in front of the Adliye (court) building. The traditional Muslim bazaar quarter, centred on the castle, lies a short walk northeast of the Atatürk statue.