Monday, 18 October 2010


When you visit the Iron Gate you cannot help wondering why there is so much garbage collected on the upstream side of the wall.

One of the locals told us that some years ago the torrent Parmenius where the Iron Gate serves as a dam or barrage swept the contents of an upstream refuse dump along. You may well say that this refuse dumb settled down in front of the Iron Gate.

This explanation is quite acceptable, but one still wonders why nobody has taken the initiative to have all this junk removed. After all, the Iron Gate is one of the places foreign tourists may visit, and what they see will leave them with a strange impression of Antakya.

The attitude towards junk and garbage may be an old one. In Ottoman times the State was not regarded as a juristic person. Any place not owned by anybody was a potential waste dump. This is not how things are today, but people have had their eyes trained so that they do not see the rubbish around them.

The Iron Gate is not the only example. A few hundred metres south of the torrent Phyrminus (or Akakir) there is another gorge between two crags. When it is raining a torrent comes down through this gorge. An old bridge is connecting the two sides. (This bridge may have been on the road between Daphne and the St. George Gate.)  Also the site of this bridge is used as a garbage dump. Even tractors with trailers unload their junk their – as if historical places and garbage dumps were one and the same thing.

The problem may start in school. The teacher may be effective in teaching children to pass exams, but not to take care of nature or their historical inheritance. The two pictures below illustrate what a beautiful green area looks like after the visit of a group of boys fresh from school.

Click to enlarge


Saturday, 9 October 2010

The Iron Gate

It is said that the Iron Gate was built by Justinian, but he may just have improved it. It is situated at the gorge between Mount Cassius and Mount Staurin. Procopius, a Byzantine scholar from the sixth century, gives us the following description:

“It is proper to describe also what he did with the torrent which comes down from these mountains. Two precipitous mountains rise above the city, approaching each other quite closely. Of these they call the one Orocassias [Mount Cassius] and the other is called Staurin. Where they come to an end they are joined by a glen and ravine which lies between them, which produces a torrent, when it rains, called Onopnictes.[1] This, coming down from a height, swept over the circuit-wall and on occasion rose to a great volume, spreading into the streets of the city and doing ruinous damage to those who lived in that district. But even for this the Emperor Justinian found the remedy, in the following way: Before that part of the circuit-wall which happens to lie nearest to the ravine out of which the torrent was borne against the fortifications, he built an immense wall or dam, which reached roughly from the hollow bed of the ravine to each of the two mountains, so that the stream should no longer be able to sweep on when it was at full flood, but should collect for a considerable distance back and form a lake there. And by constructing sluice-gates in this wall he contrived that the torrent, flowing through these, should lose its force gradually, checked by this artificial barrier, and no longer violently assault the circuit-wall with its full stream, and so overflow it and damage the city, but should gently and evenly glide on in the manner I have described and, with this means of outflow, should proceed through the channel wherever the inhabitants of former times would have wished to conduct it if it had been so manageable.” [2]

The Iron Wall – or what is left of it – is still to be seen up behind Mount Staurin where the spurious Church of St. Peter is located. This grotto attracts a lot more attention that the real thing some hundred metres behind it. You hardly meet any tourist if you visit the Iron Gate.

Mankind is more interested in fakes than facts.

[1] “Donkey-Drowner”, the nickname of the torrent Parmenius. During the winter this torrent swelled as it came rushing down between the two mountains and swept away anything in front of it.

[2] Procopius, Buildings – Book 2, Ch. 10:15-18. Evidently there already was some device for that purpose at the place. But most of the masonry is from the time of Justinian. – Glanville Downey: A History of Antioch in Syria, Princeton 1961, p. 551