We departed our Istanbul hotel by 6:30 this morning to make our 8:30 flight to Adana, a city in the south central region of the country. Upon arrival, we boarded the bus that will now gradually carry us all the way back to Istanbul. While the original plan was to just hit the road for Antakya, we were sidetracked on the way out of Adana by two sights along the way.
One was a grand-looking mosque called Sabanci Merkez Cami. It was only constructed in the last few years, but it is modeled after two of the region’s most famous mosques, and it is said to be the largest mosque between Istanbul and Saudi Arabia. As we walked inside the building, snapping pictures and visiting quietly, we were approached by an intelligent-looking young man, who turned out to be the “man of the mosque”. He recited for us (“sung” is more accurate) a few portions of the Koran, which our Turkish guide translated for us.
On an aside, our Turkish guide is a wonderful man. In his mid-thirties, he is very quick to smile and seems genuinely tickled to show us his homeland. We call him Dell, which is short for a more complicated name. Our Canadian guide, Charles, has never dealt with Dell before, but he is quite tickled about him so far. As far as we know so far, Dell was raised Muslim and came to Christ as an adult. We’ve only heard slivers of his story and anticipate that he will share more with us as we go.
The second sight we saw on the way out of Adana was a bridge. It crossed the river right near the mosque and dated back to the 100’s or 200’s. Constructed by the Roman Empire, it has been shockingly durable, being used for traffic (buses and more) up until last year! When the last time you got 1800 years of use out of anything?! Those Romans!
The bus ride to Antakya was uneventful and a bit dozy, as we all caught up on a few sleepful moments missed last night. Truth be told, the whole day was a little bit dozy.
Arriving in Antakya, we had a quick lunch at a donair shop before taking in the Archealogical Museum. Most of this museum is filled with mosaics discovered in the floors of ancient homes in this area. Some are shockingly detailed. They are signs of the wealth of some, for sure, but their images also teach much about the religious ideas of the days as many of the mosaics depict gods and goddesses of the Romans and Greeks. While the mosaics were something, the most interesting room in the museum was the one that was easiest to miss: It contained artifacts from way before Christ’s time. One was a large stone with carvings that showed Assyrian soldiers coming. It was dated to the 600’s or 700’s BC. Another was the front steps and carvings from a Hittite temple, dated back to the 1200’s BC. Those dates blow my mind when I stop to think about them.
We followed up the museum with a trip to the Cave Church of St. Peter. Some claim this to be the earliest “church building” in the world. Its appearance has been altered in centuries gone by, but some believe that this is where Peter himself used to regularly meet with Antioch’s first-century believers—wild to even think about when you’re standing right there! While we were there, one of the men with us (a New Testament professor) shared about his thoughts on the early church in Antioch. I confess that those were the hundred-pound-eyelid parts of my day, so I relieved there’s no test on his presentation.
We ended the day with a visit to the peak of Mt. Silbius, which overlooks the whole city of Antakya. We were there in time to catch the end of the sunset and to hear the evening prayer calls go up from every mosque in the city. I don’t know why, but I found those few moments some of the sweetest of the day: Hearing the musical, Arabic invitations to prayer rising up from all over a city of Regina’s size, with the first cool moments of what was a cooker of a day… somehow it just seems special.
Today was a long day, so I expect a far better sleep tonight than last night—hopefully, I’m not disappointed.
Good night from the city once known as Antioch.