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.Read More
Zeugma Mosaic Museum
Zeugma Mosaic Museum
The superb new Zeugma Mosaic Museum, slightly inconveniently located on the ring road north of the city centre, exhibits a superb collection of mosaics rescued from the once-luxurious Hellenistic/Roman border city of Zeugma, now virtually submerged by the Birecik dam on the Euphrates.
On the ground floor, where visitors enter, arrows direct you along the best route around an incredible array of mosaic floor panels, taken from the houses of wealthy citizens at Zeugma. Particularly impressive are the re-creations of Roman peristyle villas, complete with their original mosaic flooring and wall frescoes. The mosaics themselves, most of which portray scenes from Classical Greek mythology, including Perseus and Andromeda, Eros and Psyche, and Pasiphae and Daedelus, are well labelled in English.
Below ground level, a section is devoted to the bathhouse of a gymnasium complex, including mosaics, water pipes, toilets and the under-floor heating system – and a magnificent bronze statue of the god of war, Mars. The first floor holds yet more wonderful mosaics, including a superb scene of Zeus kidnapping Europa. The mosaic panel that has become a symbol of today’s city, the enigmatic face of a young female known as the “Gypsy Girl”, gets a darkened room all to itself.
The free, 15-minute video on the history of Zeugma that’s shown at regular intervals, to the left of the entry turnstiles, is well worth catching.