Although Gaziantep, tucked away in the southeastern corner of Anatolia, seems like a rather remote location for a short trip, the city's history and its rightfully famous cuisine make it well worth the roughly one and a half hour plane ride.
Where to stay
An esteemed pillar of the Turkish hospitality industry, the Divan hotel group continues to expand and has now opened a sleek luxury hotel just 4km from Gaziantep’s historic city center. There are 125 guest rooms and 48 suites of varying sizes. The spa features a jacuzzi, hamam, sauna, and steam room ideal for relaxing after a long day shopping as well as an indoor swimming pool and fitness center, where you can work off any extra pounds gained from the inevitable overindulgence. Mücahitler Mahallesi, Sani Konukoğlu Bulvarı No.92/A, Şehitkamil; T: (0342) 999 13 33
Traditional: Anadolu Evleri
Located in the heart of the Şekeroğlu Mahallesi in the winding old streets behind İmam Çağdaş, Anadolu Evleri consists of four lovingly restored Anatolian style houses based around a central stone flagged courtyard. Antique furnishings lend character to the 14 individually designed rooms, which are on the rustic side but reflect the original nature of the buildings. Choose one with high ceilings and lots of windows to fully appreciate this special place. Şekeroğlu Mahallesi, Köroğlu Sokak No.6, Şahinbey; T:(0342) 220 95 25
You can fly to Gaziantep airport, 20km south east of the city center, with Turkish Airlines, Pegasus, Atlasjet, Onur Air, and Anadolu Jet. From there, the Havaş bus runs regularly taking around 30 minutes to reach the center of town.
Wandering through Gaziantep’s old streets can be a little disorientating, not least because of its jumbled layout. Every street feels different, at once the cobbled streets of a Provençal French village, the souks of Northern Africa, the backstreets of Valencia, or the bazaars of the Middle East. Yet, this seemingly confused identity is understandable given Gaziantep’s history and location. Not only was it built on an important crossroads, much like Istanbul, but, as one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, it played host to the Hittites, Assyrians, Persians, Hellenistic Greeks, Romans, Seljuqs, Crusaders, Byzantines, and Arabs – all of whom left their particular marks. These factors gave rise to a truly cosmopolitan city.
Still known to many as Antep (derived from ‘good spring’ in Arabic), the city’s name ac- quired the Gazi prefix (meaning ‘war hero’) as a tribute to her inhabitants’ heroic efforts of hold- ing out against invading French forces during the Turkish War of Independence in 1920.
Lately, Gaziantep has been experiencing something of an economic boom, primarily the result of the Southeastern Anatolian Project’s (GAP) irrigation and hydroelectric power generation schemes. As industry and agriculture continue to flourish, house prices are on the rise, while people from neighboring regions, as well as from Syria, flock to the city. This newfound wealth is paving the way for renovation and renewal all around the city center.
The evocative architecture takes its character from the classic Northern Mesopotamian tradition of life’s main faculties built as part of sprawling mosque complexes. Rows of domes, high archways and inviting doorways form the backbone of the historic center. The origin of the castle, which looms over it all, is thought to date back to Roman times, but the structure that remains today mostly dates back to the Mamluk reign. (Unfortunately it wasn’t possible to visit at the time of print due to reconstruction works).
One of the most pleasant neighborhoods is Bey Mahallesi, just a ten minute walk southeast from the castle. Here, the traditional Gaziantep houses are made from light-colored soft calcareous havara or keymik stone and are typically just one or two storeys high. The area has a proliferation of cozy cafes and intriguing museums devoted to as far ranging subjects as toys, ethnography, and Atatürk. Despite the renewed interest, life goes on here as usual – washing is strung out to dry, women in floral şalvar trousers and brightly colored headscarves sit and gossip in shady doorways.
A Shoppers Pararadise
The historic center is mostly a joy to walk around, apart from during the hottest summer months. The many bedestens (covered bazaars) ring with the continual hammer of metal on metal, as the city’s renowned coppersmiths skillfully shape everything from double-handled sahan (pans) to long handled cezve (Turkish coffee pots) to ornately decorated serving plates. All of these make excellent souvenirs, as do the kutnu textiles, which come in a dazzling array of striped colors. These shiny woven fabrics are made from silk warps (lengthwise yarns) and cotton wefts (crosswise yarns), using a technique that was brought to Gaziantep in the 16th century from neighboring Syria and is kept alive by local craftsmen.
Gaziantep’s center is also a must for food enthusiasts. Hollowed out dried aubergines, peppers, courgettes, and even cucumbers, hang like edible Christmas decorations, just waiting to be stuffed with a spiced rice mix. Colorful spices that border the narrow streets are heaped up into aromatic pyramids. Ones to look out for are pul biber (red pepper flakes), saffron, and sumac (this sour ground berry can also be bought in liquid form). You can also pick locally produced versions of nar ekşisi, the sweet and sour pomegranate reduction, though make sure they don’t contain added sugar. Don't worry about excessive luggage; If you’re based in Turkey, you can easily arrange for your goods to be delivered via cargo.
Gaziantep is also famous for its hand-stitched leather shoes known as yemeni, produced by local craftsmen, the köşker. They come in ruby reds, royal blues and mustard yellows, as well as the classic black and brown. These impossibly comfortable soft flat shoes are made from five types of leather, including water buffalo hide for the soles, and goatskin tops, and are stitched together with beeswax coated cotton threads. Hayri Usta, the most famous producer in the area, has even provided shoes for Hollywood blockbusters, including Harry Potter. Şehitler Caddesi No.64, Şahinbey; T: 0535 432 43 33
The impeccably preserved mosaics found at Zeugma Mosaic Museum, many of which date back to the second and third century A.D., are some of the best in the world. They were discovered in 1995, at the Hellenistic/Roman settlement of Zeugma, just east of Gaziantep. Although the importance of the original settlement was known, it wasn’t until the site was threatened, due the creation of the Birecik dam, that the wealth of treasures was discovered and properly excavated. The mosaics now on display at the museum would have previously decorated the floors of the villas built by wealthy merchants on the banks of the Euphrates.
Yet Zeugma was burnt to the ground by the Parthians during the mid-third century, while the mosaics covered by the burnt debris survived in near perfect condition for almost 1800 years. They now adorn the walls of this ultra-modern yet atmospheric museum, and some of their original settings have been brought to recreate the look of Roman peristyle villas. It’s here too that Gaziantep’s most famous pair of eyes look out forlornly, watching all those who enter her darkened room. The mosaic fragment thought to be Gaia (Goddess of the Earth) was dubbed the Gypsy Girl, for her wild hair and dangly earrings, was created with a specialized technique to bring her to life, allowing her haunting eyes to follow visitors around. Mithatpaşa Mahallesi, Hacı Sani Konukoğlu Bulvarı, Şehitkamil; T: (0342) 325 27 27
Even if you weren’t interested in Gaziantep cuisine before, the briefest of stays at Emine Göğüş Culinary Museum is likely to have sparked a certain curiosity. This small (but perfectly formed) museum is a homage to Gaziantep’s edible offerings, containing a huge amount of information and the main components of the region’s cuisine, along with traditional cooking implements, videos, and occasional demonstrations. Karagöz Mahallesi, Sadık Dai Sokak No.16, Şahinbey; T: (0342) 232 66 16
Longing for more weekend getaways? Check our Travel section for ideas on where to go, when to go there, and what to do there once you arrived.