Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Simeon Stylites the Younger

            Simeon Stylites the Elder may have been the first ascetic to climb a pillar and stay there until his death (in 459), but he was not the last one.
            Simeon Stylites the Younger was born in Antioch in 521. We are told that he grew up in the neighbourhood called Cherubim. This quarter was close the old Daphne Gate where Titus has placed cherubs taken from the Jewish temple in Jerusalem at its destruction in the year 70. During the time of the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II the southern part of the city wall had been moved further south so that it followed the torrent Phyrminus opposite to where the barracks are located today. What happened to the cherubs is not known, but the quarter kept the name of Cherubim. It was situated somewhere in the area between the Habib-i Neccar mosque and the mosque called Sarımiyye.[i]
           About Simeon Stylites the Younger we are told that "from his childhood he was under the special guidance of Saint John the Baptist and adopted an extremely ascetical way of life."[ii] If the assertion is true that the Habib-i Neccar Mosque used to be the Church of St. John the Baptist, it is safe to conclude that Simeon's home was close to that spot. It will be remembered that a side chamber to the mosque has a sarcophagus with the name of John the Baptist on it.
            Simeon was an ambitious boy. When he climbed his first pillar he was only about seven years old. We are told that he chose a spot close to another stylite named John. But Simeon grew, and so did his pillars. When John died, the asceticism of Simeon became even more austere. Eventually he ended up on a pillar between twelve and sixteen tall on the top of a small mountain between Antioch and the Mediterranean. The Mountain of Miracles it was called, due to the miracles Simeon was believed to have worked.
           In time a small group of buildings somehow materialised around the pillar on the otherwise empty mountain top. East of the pillar there was a church dedicated to the Trinity. To the west there was an atrium, an entrance to the complex and places where monks and pilgrims could stay. Later on, churches were built to the north and to the south of the octagonal square where the column was standing.

A plan of the complex
(Verdier, "A Medallion of Saint Symeon the Younger")

What is left of the column today

Today the locals call the ruins Manastır (Monastry) and between the mountain and the Mediterranean there is a small town called Samandağ (Turkish for the Mountain of Simeon). From the mountain there is a marvellous view: towards the west is the Mediterranean, to the south Mount Casius (Arabic: جبل الأقرع  [jabal al-aqra']) with its 1.700 metres, and to the northwest the Orontes valley and Antakya (Antioch). When the weather was good Simeon could spend hours just enjoying the view – if this is something stylites do. At least he could scrutinise all what was going on inside the monastery. The problem was bad weather, gale and rain.
           It has been claimed, though, that the stylites had a roof over their head. The peculiar roof of the minarets of old mosques in Antakya may have been inspired of the roof of the stylites. [iii]

Minaret in Antakya

Medallions with pictures of the stylite made to his honour, though, indicate that all there was on the top of the pillar was a wooden platform of about five square metres with a railing around it. Besides the column there was a sort of staircase carved out of rock. People who for various reasons wanted to consult Simeon could climb the stairs and converse with him. This block of stairs can still be seen beside the remains of the column. [iv]

            We are told that Simeon climbed his pillar on the Mountain of Miracles in 551. He died in 597 and was buried close to his pillar where his mother Martha had been buried in 551. At his death he was about 76 years old. [v]
            We may wonder what makes a man spend most of his life on the top of a pillar. At least we know that the inspiration was not from Christianity as we know it from the New Testament. Jesus and his apostles did not advocate asceticism and although the apostle Paul said: "I give blows to my body, and keep it under control," [vi] he did not speak about asceticism. The context and Paul's own life show us that he spoke of self-control and self-sacrifice. Interestingly Wallace-Hadrill has this comment about Manichaeism (a non-Christian dualistic religion that flourished in the East from the third century onward): "The ascetic demands which were an offence to Persians and Muslims were precisely the attraction for the Christian monks in Syria." Very likely asceticism was a notion imported from the East. [vii]
            It seems, though, that some other influence was at work as well: If a boy five or seven years old finds it interesting to sit on a column, somebody must have made the idea look attractive. The name the parents had chosen for their son had been taken from the other stylite named Simeon who had been sitting on a pillar halfway between Antioch and Aleppo. We are told that it was Simeon's mother Martha who suggested that a monastery was built around the column on the Mountain of Miracles. Martha spent most of her time at the base of the column and she was depicted on some of the medallions made in honour of the stylite. She has even been regarded as a saint. Whatever her motives may have been, she came to share the fame of her son.

Lately a platoon of huge windmills has been put up around the ruins on the Mountain of Miracles. It is a weird experience.

[i] Glanville Downey, A History of Antioch in Syria from Seleucus to the Arab Conquest (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961), 553-557.
[ii] Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, Online Chapel, accessed September 25, 2011, http://www.goarch.org/chapel/saints_view?contentid=65.
[iii] M. Grazia Zambon, Domenico Bertogli & Oriano Granella, Antioch on the Orontes (Parma: Eteria, (no year)), 95.
[iv] Philippe Verdier, "A Medallion of Saint Symeon the Younger," The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, Vol. 67, No. 1 (Jan., 1980), 17-26, accessed September 25, 2011, http://asketikos.info/pdfarticles/verdier.pdf
[v] According to Catholic Encyclopedia, accessed September 27, 2011, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13795b.htm. According to Verdier Simeon died in 592.
[vi] First letter to the Corinthians chapter 9 verse 27 (The Bible in Basic English).
[vii] D.S. Wallace-Hadrill, Christian Antioch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 25.

Friday, 9 September 2011

The Colonnaded Street / Kurtuluş Caddesi

            Antioch was founded in 300 B.C. by the Seleucid king Seleucus I (d. ca. 281 B.C.). The city was built according to the so-called Hippodamian plan where the streets were straight and met at right angles. The city was fairly rectangular. To the one side a long wall followed the river Orontes and parallel to this there was a wall following the present streets of Kurtuluş Caddesi and Süreyya Halefoğlu Caddesi from the point where the street Kırk Asırlık Türk Yurdu Caddesi meets Kurtuluş Caddesi to the point close where Süreyya Halefoğlu Caddesi meets İzmir Caddesi. At this point a road is coming in from Beroea (today: Aleppo). This road most likely continued along the city wall towards the south. Most travellers very likely entered Antioch through the Eastern Gate (later changed to the Middle Gate as the city grew towards the north).

            The ill-famed king Antiochus Epiphanes (175-163 B.C.) incorporated the city quarters between the wall and Mount Silpius into the city calling it Epiphaneia after himself. A new gate was built close to the present junction of Kurtuluş Caddesi and Kırk Asırlık Türk Yurdu Caddesi. This gate was later called the Cherubim Gate as the Roman general Titus is said to have put up cherubs from the Jewish temple in Jerusalem at this gate.

            With this new addition to the city, the road from Beroea (Aleppo) to Daphne (Harbiye) some kilometres further south went right through the city.

As mentioned above, the city had grown towards the north and a big bean-shaped island in the middle of the river Orontes had been incorporated. The Eastern Gate was now situated close to where Mount Staurin meet Antakya Reyhanlı Yolu near its junction with Atatürk Caddesi. This made the thoroughfare through Antioch more or less three kilometres long.

            As time went by, this street was to grow in importance. Herod the Great, the ruler of Judaea, financed some improvement of the street, and also the Roman Emperor Tiberius (A.D. 14-37) has been credited with some contribution. When the street was finished it was 27 metres wide: nine metres for the street itself and nine metres for the colonnades on each side of the street where shops of various sorts were located. The saying goes that the Roman Emperor Anthonius Pius (A.D. 138-161) had the street paved with Theban granite.

On the picture above we see the course of the Colonnaded Street from the Cherubim Gate (that was located at the crossroad near the bottom of the pictures) up to Mount Staurin (the small mountain just beside the street). The densely populated area to the left used to be the original Seleucid city. The populated area to the right, up the slopes of Mount Silpius, is roughly equivalent to Epiphaneia. On the left side of the street, opposite Mount Staurin, there is a green area. This is where the bean-shaped island used to be. Today there is no island as the eastern branch of the Orontes has dried up.

            During the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II (A.D. 408-450) the street was extended towards the south and a new wall was built from a point close to the present waterworks on the slopes of Mount Silpius to a point close to where the streets Kurtuluş Caddesi and Hastane Caddesi meet. There a new gate called the Daphne Gate, or the Golden Gate, was built. Thus the quarters of Rhodion (today probably the quarter of Güllü Bahçe: Rose Garden) and Kerateion were incorporated into the city.

The picture above shows the quarters that were added to the city by Theodosius II. The Daphne Gate was located just behind the building with the white roof in the foreground. The quarter of Kerateion was somewhere in the area to the right of Kurtuluş Caddesi and Rhodion most likely to the left. The torrent of Phyrminus came down through a gorge in Mount Silpius. Now it is hidden under the street that is entering our picture above the barracks in the front. It is continuing down towards the Orontes under the houses between the two curved streets in the left side of the picture.

            Today the part of Antioch or Antakya that is situated east of the river Orontes has shrunk. Consequently, only about half of what used to be the Colonnaded Street runs through densely populated parts of town. In the downtown area the old street is hidden several metres under the present level. Furthermore, Kurtuluş Caddesi is a very narrow street compared to the Colonnaded Street, measuring only about a third of the old street.

Nearly a hundred years ago and during the time of the French occupation in the thirties, beautiful houses were built in this street. Later ugly concrete boxes were put up beside them.

            Lately some renovation of the Kurtuluş Caddesi has begun. At least the facades of the old houses are being renovated and it is said that also the shops eventually will have a front similar to that of old.

            Some discussion has been going on about closing the street to traffic turning it into a sort of pedestrian street as has been done with Hürriyet Caddesi (popularly called Saray Caddesi) close to the Bridge. It has been suggested that a "nostalgic" tram like the one in İstiklal Caddesi in Istanbul should run along the street. Also horse drawn gigs like those on the islands across from Istanbul have been suggested. [i] However, this solution would leave the city with the same stench as that on the island Büyükada.

            It is sad that Antakya, like many other Turkish cities, has suffered from the widespread lack of appreciation for history. Nevertheless, it is good to see that many locals now try to preserve the values they have inherited from the past.

Kurtuluş Caddesi towards the south

Kurtuluş Caddesi, the southern extension

[i] "Antakya tarihi ve kentsel SİT alanları sürdürülebilir koruma-geliştirme planı," Güney Rüzgarı, sayı 140, August 2011, pages 9-12.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Province and capital

The practice of naming a province after the provincial capital and vice versa is not something new. It reminds me of the prophet Jonah whose sarcophagus allegedly stands in a room next to the Habib-i Neccar mosque in Antakya. [a]

According to the biblical account the prophet Jonah had to go to Nineve, the capital of Assyria, and proclaim its doom. In the book of Jonah (chapter 3 verse 3) it is said that Nineve "was an exceeding great city of three days' journey." (מהלך שׁלשׁת ימים)

This has been taken as a wild exaggeration. The Commentary on the Old testament of Keil and Delitzsch ventures this explanation:
"But Nineveh was a great city to God (lē'lōhı̄m), i.e., it was regarded by God as a great city. This remark points to the motive for sparing it (cf. Jon_4:11), in case its inhabitants hearkened to the word of God. Its greatness amounted to “a three days' walk.” This is usually supposed to refer to the circumference of the city, by which the size of a city is generally determined. But the statement in Jon_3:4, that “Jonah began to enter into the city the walk of a day,” i.e., a day's journey, is apparently at variance with this. Hence Hitzig has come to the conclusion that the diameter or length of the city is intended, and that, as the walk of a day in Jon_3:4 evidently points to the walk of three days in Jon_3:3, the latter must also be understood as referring to the length of Nineveh. But according to Diod. ii. 3 the length of the city was 150 stadia, and Herodotus (v. 53) gives just this number of stadia as a day's journey. Hence Jonah would not have commenced his preaching till he had reached the opposite end of the city. This line of argument, the intention of which is to prove the absurdity of the narrative, is based upon the perfectly arbitrary assumption that Jonah went through the entire length of the city in a straight line, which is neither probable in itself, nor implied in בּוֹא בָעִיר. This simply means to enter, or go into the city, and says nothing about the direction of the course he took within the city. But in a city, the diameter of which was 150 stadia, and the circumference 480 stadia, one might easily walk for a whole day without reaching the other end, by winding about from one street into another. And Jonah would have to do this to find a suitable place for his preaching, since we are not warranted in assuming that it lay exactly in the geographical centre, or at the end of the street which led from the gate into the city. But if Jonah wandered about in different directions, as Theodoret says, “not going straight through the city, but strolling through market-places, streets, etc.,” the distance of a day's journey over which he travelled must not be understood as relating to the diameter or length of the city; so that the objection to the general opinion, that the three days' journey given as the size of the city refers to the circumference, entirely falls to the ground. Moreover, Hitzig has quite overlooked the word וַיָּחֶל in his argument. The text does not affirm that Jonah went a day's journey into the city, but that he “began to go into the city a day's journey, and cried out.” These words do not affirm that he did not begin to preach till after he had gone a whole day's journey, but simply that he had commenced his day's journey in the city when he found a suitable place and a fitting opportunity for his proclamation. They leave the distance that he had really gone, when he began his preaching, quite indefinite; and by no means necessitate the assumption that he only began to preach in the evening, after his day's journey was ended. All that they distinctly affirm is, that he did not preach directly he entered the city, but only after he had commenced a day's journey, that is to say, had gone some distance into the city. And this is in perfect harmony with all that we know about the size of Nineveh at that time. The circumference of the great city Nineveh, or the length of the boundaries of the city of Nineveh in the broadest sense, was, as Niebuhr says (p. 277), “nearly ninety English miles, not reckoning the smaller windings of the boundary; and this would be just three days' travelling for a good walker on a long journey.” “Jonah,” he continues, “begins to go a day's journey into the city, then preaches, and the preaching reaches the ears of the king (cf. Jon_3:6). He therefore came very near to the citadel as he went along on his first day's journey. At that time the citadel was probably in Nimrud (Calah). Jonah, who would hardly have travelled through the desert, went by what is now the ordinary caravan road past Amida, and therefore entered the city at Nineveh. And it was on the road from Nineveh to Calah, not far off the city, possibly in the city itself, that he preached. Now the distance between Calah and Nineveh (not reckoning either city), measured in a straight line upon the map, is 18 1/2 English miles.” If, then, we add to this, (1) that the road from Nineveh to Calah or Nimrud hardly ran in a perfectly straight line, and therefore would be really longer than the exact distance between the two parts of the city according to the map, and (2) that Jonah had first of all to go through Nineveh, and possibly into Calah, he may very well have walked twenty English miles, or a short day's journey, before he preached. The main point of his preaching is all that is given, viz., the threat that Nineveh would be destroyed, which was the point of chief importance, so far as the object of the book was concerned, and which Jonah of course explained by denouncing the sins and vices of the city. The threat ran thus: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh will be destroyed.” נֶהְפָּךְ, lit., overturned, i.e., destroyed from the very foundations, is the word applied to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The respite granted is fixed at forty days, according to the number which, even as early as the flood, was taken as the measure for determining the delaying of visitations of God." [b]

This may all be very correct. Another explanation, though, might be that the three days journey relate to the whole province. The book of Daniel (chapter 3 verse 1) speaks of an image of gold set up "in the plain of Dura, in the province of Babylon." The word translated "province" is מדינה (medîne) and does not refer to the city itself. If the Babylonian Dura in question is close to Tell Hariri in Syria it is rather far from the city of Babylon.

It reminds me of the Turkish workers who came to Europe many years ago. When you asked them where in Turkey they came from many answered: "From the capital, from Ankara." Nevertheless, it showed up that they came from Haymana about a hundred kilometres south of the capital.

I have had a similar experience in Egypt although in the reverse. Once we took a taxi from Cairo to Memphis but when we had to return to Cairo the driver lost his way. Consequently he started to ask people on the road: "Which way to Egypt [Misr]?"


[a] For reasons unknown this Antiochene Jonah has been identified with the apostle Paul. However, Paul's Jewish name was not Jonah but Shaul. Stories run wild in this area. See http://wowturkey.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=17883.

[b] Keil & Deltizsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, e-Sword, Version 9.6.0.

Antakya or Hatay

It seems that certain persons believe that somebody in Turkey want to have the name of Antakya changed to Hatay and this has created some stir in certain waters. What is behind it is this: The Turkish identification cards that show the personal data of the citizen also show the province and the city where the person was born. For at Turk born in Antakya the province would be Hatay and the city Antakya.

Nevertheless, most Turkish provinces take the name of the capital of the province. Thus the province of Konya (Iconium) has Konya as its capital. In police reports and other documents where the person's identity is described, the word Centrum [Merkez] is often used instead of the name of the provincial capital.
Now, the provincial capital of the province of Hatay is not just any city, it is Antakya, Antioch of old, the Queen of the East. To change its name to "Centrum" is to many of the locals something close to sacrilege.
In an article in the newspaper Milliyet[i] (August 16, 2011) İlber Oltaylı writes that the motivation behind this is not nationalism but simply inexperience or lack of good manners.
This, however, is contradicted by Emre Can Dağlıoğlu who in the newspaper Taraf of August 20, 2011, page 14 has an article with the headline "How Antakya really became Hatay." Dağlıoğlu writes: "In short, the attempt of erasing the name of Antakya is not 'inexperience' as Oltalı would have it. Although the derogative term 'so-called' is used on the practice it is in fact 'a nationalistic administrative measure,' part and parcel of Turkish assimilation policy."
Whether the observation of Dağlıoğlu is correct or not, I do not know. Both names are in fact foreign to Turkish. The word Hatay is derived from the word Hittite. When the great Hittite empire in central Anatolia collapsed a number of small Hittite principalities survived along the present border between Turkey and Syria. Today only the name Hatay survives as it was used by the Turks in the early twentieth century.[ii] At that time the founder of the Turkish Republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, said that the province had been a homeland for Turks for four millenniums. This may sound strange as it is common knowledge that the Turks only made their entry into Anatolia (or Asia Minor) after the battle of Malazgirt (or Manzikert) in 1071, but as Mustafa Kemal regarded the Turks as descendants of the Hittites, he at least to some extent had a point.[iii]
Whatever the case, even if the name of Antakya administratively were changed to Hatay Centrum following the procedure applied in the case of other provincial capitals in Turkey, nobody would forget that this city is the one called Antakya, Antâkiye or Antioch. This city has got its name inscribed into history for good and for bad. It is not easily forgotten. Two thousand years ago it was the third most important city of the Roman Empire and during the time of the Byzantines it was often frequented by the emperors. Every now and then ruins and mosaics from the past are found under the streets and at other places where excavation is done.
It is with Antakya as with Istanbul or Jerusalem: You may change its name, but it will not disappear.

[i] İlber Oltaylı, "Hatay'daki büyük görgüsüzlük," accessed August 31, 2011,  http://cadde.milliyet.com.tr/2011/08/16/YazarDetay/1426402/Hatay_daki_buyuk_gorgusuzluk
[ii] "HATAY, the name given by the Turks to the Sanjak of Alexandretta, at the time of the crisis of 1936-9." The Encyclopaedia of Islam, Vol. 3 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1986), 273
[iii] Compare Wikipedia, "Genetic origins of the Turkish people," accessed August 31, 2011, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genetic_origins_of_the_Turkish_people. According to the chart less that 50 % of the gene pool of Anatolia is typical for people of Central Asia.