3 Religions Touched by Massive Quake in Ancient Antakya
Habib-i Najjar Mosque in Antakya, Turkey, was destroyed during the Feb. 6 earthquakes that killed tens of thousands of people, Feb. 13, 2023. (Mehmet Malkoç/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

3 Religions Touched by Massive Quake in Ancient Antakya

The Turkish city known for its rich history and multifaith heritage faces the challenge of rebuilding after losing centuries-old sacred sites

(Antakya, Turkey) Centuries-old places of worship in Antakya, an ancient Turkish city, were destroyed in less than two minutes during the recent earthquakes, leaving many of the city’s residents in despair.

Antakya, a cradle of civilization, is known for its rich history and is home to three of the world’s major monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The damage was particularly severe in Antakya, which is prone to earthquakes.

One of the country’s oldest mosques, the Habib-i Najjar Mosque, built in the seventh century CE on a pagan temple dating back to the Roman period, was reduced to rubble.

Now, only parts of its walls remain intact.

The synagogue, located a few hundred meters away, was also affected, although it managed to withstand the tremors with only minor harm. However, it remains closed and deserted for fear that it is unsafe to hold services in. The ancient Torah scroll, written on antelope vellum, was taken out of the city for safekeeping following the earthquake, and the few remaining members of the Jewish community have since relocated to Istanbul. Unfortunately, the earthquake also claimed the lives of the community’s president, Saul Cenudioglu, and his wife, Fortuna.

The Greek Orthodox church, built during ancient times and reconstructed in 1870 after another earthquake destroyed it, sits across from the synagogue. Workers have started to survey the damage.

Antakya’s history is vast, dating back to 300 BCE. Known in Roman and medieval times as Antioch, the city has endured several previous disastrous earthquakes. Now, it is unrecognizable to many of its residents. Turkish military vehicles patrol the city to keep it safe, as thousands of its residents have left.

Many historically sacred places were devastated in the recent powerful earthquakes, but the Church of St. Pierre was spared from destruction, and the world’s first cave church in Hatay, Turkey, is still intact.

But it’s closed to tourists now as a precautionary measure, something Diloh, a professional guide, says will hurt the city.

He took us on a tour of parts of the devastated area. He has been leading tours in Antakya for years, he told The Media Line he knows the city like the back of his hand.

“Sadly, our city lost many ancient places. Unfortunately, we have big losses. I hope we will rebuild, and tourists will return,” he said.

Despite the devastation, Antakya’s residents are determined to rebuild and preserve their ancient culture. “Antakya has ancient history, and we need to preserve it. Whenever we want to rebuild this huge city, we also need to protect the culture,” Adam Ali, a 24-year-old kindergarten teacher and native of the city, told The Media Line. ” I have so many friends – Christians, Jewish, Alawite, and Sunni. Many of them are in other cities right now. They tell me they don’t have anything in the city now, and maybe they will not return. But when they build the city again, they need to keep our culture. I ask the government not to build on the houses; I ask them to protect our culture.”

The city of around 250,000 people in south-central Turkey was once the ancient city of Antioch and was a key staging point on the Silk Road.

It was also one of the earliest centers of Christianity and important for both Judaism and Islam.

Fourteen centuries of history crumbled in the powerful earthquakes, and the challenge for authorities now is to build new homes for the victims, and with it rebuild as many historic sites as possible.

“We aim to revive our ancient cities with an understanding that will keep our historical and cultural assets alive and also reinforce them against disasters,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in Ankara, the Turkish capital, on March 3.

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