Iskenderun Tourist Attractions
South coast (Eastern Mediterranean)Situation and CharacteristicsIskenderun, (formerly known as Alexandretta), the most important Turkish Mediterranean port after Izmir, lies on the south side of the Gulf of Iskenderun within the wooded foothills of the Amanus range, perhaps on the site of the ancient Alexandria Scabiosa.
The present-day town has little to offer the visitor and is very hot in summer. The harbor, the largest and the best on this stretch of coast, and sheltered by the surrounding hills, handles considerable shipping traffic. Around the harbor, which has a large jetty, are various modern installations (grain-stores, etc.).HistoryThe city of Alexandria, on the Issicus Sinus (Gulf of Issos), was probably founded some time after Alexander the Great's victory in the Battle of Issos (333). The town was intended to be the starting-point of the great caravan routes into Mesopotamia, but after Alexander's death the Seleucids preferred Antiocheia (Antakya) and Seleukeia Piereia. In the third century the town was destroyed by the Persians. In the fourth century it was known as Little Alexandria; the epithet Scabiosa reflects the fact that leprosy was prevalent in the area. After a period of decline under the Ottomans at the end of the 19th century, Iskenderun expanded from an insignificant harbor into the present town.
Belen (alt. 500m/1,641ft), 14km/9mi southeast of Iskenderun and situated some way up the Topbogazi pass (750m/2461ft), is a summer resort popular with people from Iskenderun. Evilya Çelebi's record (1640) shows that even in the 17th century Arabs and Turks, some of them citizens of Aleppo, used to spend the summer months here. Having been from antiquity a staging post on an old trade route, the town boasts the remains of an aqueduct as well a mosque and caravanserai dating from the 16th century.
The houses of Sogukoluk (now Güzelyala) can be seen across the valley to the southwest of Belen. This elegant summer village with its lovely view over the Gulf of Iskenderun, was built in the early 20th century as a holiday retreat for the rich burghers of Aleppo, Antakya, Reyhanli, Kirikhan and Iskenderun. Now it enjoys a less salubrious reputation, frequented by the crews of ships lying in the port of Iskenderun.
About 10km/6mi north of Iskenderun is Arrian's Pass (Derbent), a narrow passage between the sea and the hills. In medieval times the pass, then probably a frontier and customs post of Little Armenia, was known as Passus Portellae or Portella. On the pass can be seen Jonah's Pillar, a remnant of a Roman building which is variously interpreted as a Seleucid triumphal arch, an obelisk, the remains of a fort and a triumphal arch erected by Pescenius. The 13th century writer Willebrand of Oldenburg records a legend that Alexander's remains were deposited on this "gate of liberation" so that the kings and princes who had been compelled by Alexander to bow their heads before him should still have him above them in death. According to local seamen the pillar marks the spot where Jonah was cast ashore by the whale.
600m/660yds northeast of Jonah's Pillar, higher up (altitude: 91m/300ft), are the remains of an Armenian castle which in medieval times protected the pass and provided accommodation for travelers. Its name of Sakal Tutan (Tearer out of beards) refers to the bandits who lay in wait here to attack and plunder caravans. It has also been known, at different times, as Nigrinum, Neghertz (Middle Castle) and Kalatissia.
The little town of Payas is situated on the former Roman bathing resort of Baiae. Some of the ancient remains can still be seen.
The road north of Iskenderun continues over the plain. This area close to the coast, extending to the Deli Çayi, is believed to be the scene of the Battle of Issos (333), in which Alexander the Great defeated the Persian King Darius III in a decisive cavalry encounter.The exact site of the ancient town of Issos has not been established with certainty. It lay at the innermost tip of the Gulf of Issos and in Xenophon's time was a large and flourishing city. It is said to have been renamed Nikopolis (City of Victory) after Alexander's victory.
At Yesilkent (Erzin), to the right of the main road, lies an extensive area of ruins, formerly thought to be the site of Issos but identified by the Austrian archeologist Rudolf Heberdey (1864-1936) as the town of Epiphaneia, mentioned by Cicero as the place where he established his camp. According to Appianus, Pompey resettled pirates here, and according to Ammian this was the birthplace of St George, murdered in 361 as Archbishop of Alexandria.From the main road can be seen the 116 surviving arches of a large Late Roman aqueduct which, made from volcanic rock, cross the plain in a gentle curve. The acropolis of the ancient city was probably on the nearby hill. To the south of the hill extends the main part of the city, with the remains of walls (probably belonging to a temple) and a colonnaded street.The main road then continues over the pass of Toprakkale and joins the road from Adana to Osmaniye.