Located on the ancient silk road trading route, Gaziantep is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, and the sixth largest and most populated city in Turkey. Located in the Southeastern Anatolia Region, 120 km (2 hours) North of Aleppo, Syria.
Over the course of its 8,000 year long history, Gaziantep has been home to numerous civilizations empires, kingdoms, and states. From the Palaeolithic and Neolithic ages, Assyria and Hittites, to the rule of Alexander the Great, Seleucid, Roman, followed by the Byzantine, Seljuk, and Ottomans. The historical silk road trading route passed through the city connecting Mesopotamia, Egypt and Anatolia.
Formerly known as Aintab (Antep), originally meaning ‘good spring’ in Arabic (a place where water wells up from the ground), the prefix ‘Gazi’ (meaning war veteran) was later added in 1920 after the the city defended themselves against the French in the Turkish War of Independence. Today the names Antep and Gaziantep are used interchangeably when speaking about the city, mostly out of habit.
THE ULTIMATE FOOD JOURNEY
Gaziantep has a reputation for its tasty food and is famous for kebabs, baklava and everything in-between. In 2015 UNESCO named it a Creative City of Gastronomy. There’s even a Culinary Museum (Emine Göğüş Mutfak Müzesi) here that walks you through Gaziantep’s culinary culture and history through its tools, preparation and preservation techniques, cooking methods and recipes of local dishes. If you know nothing about Antep’s famous cuisine, this should be your first stop upon arrival.
Gaziantep’s geography and climate between the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia regions welcomes a variety and vast amount of crops to grow year-round from all four-seasons. This led to various cultures preserving and storing food throughout the year and overtime perfected this technique to be able to consume their favorite foods at any time. This includes syrups and jams, tarhana soup mix, tomato and pepper paste, ground spices, dried vegetables used for stuffing, pickled vegetables, bulgur, olives and dried fruits.
Antep’s cuisine is a mix of Turkish and Arab (due to its close proximity to Syria) with influences from its past (Hittite & Assyrian). One of the secrets to Antep’s cuisine…spices! Known for its spicy food, it was heavily influenced by the silk road and the spices that came through it.
The city’s other claim to fame is…pistachios! Famed for being the best in Turkey, the number one region for pistachio production with over 50 million pistachio trees. Originally pistachios were named çamfıstığı in Turkish, but Turks prefer to call them Antep fıstığı, named after the city. The bright green color and taste are unmatched, and even though at times they’re a little hard to open, they’re the key ingredient to the city’s famed baklava, also making this city the Turkish capital of baklava.
Turks and tourists alike travel here for its food because its unlike anywhere else in the country. But there’s more than just food here. If you’re interested in history, the city is filled with history and artifacts from ancient civilizations. And if you have an appreciation for art, you’ll love seeing masters at work creating traditional crafts throughout the bazaars and streets.
Note: for a list of foods to eat when visiting, check out my post: 36 Hours in Gaziantep.
MASTERS AT WORK
The bazaars and streets are full of workshops of craftsmen with trades dating back hundreds of years. From metalworkers to shoemakers, Antep’s handicrafts vary featuring mother of pearl inlaid embroidery, silk woven textile, traditional leather shoes, copper ware to carpets.
Existing here for over 500 years, the art of copper and silver smithing brassware continues today and can be seen in the Bakırcılar Çarşısı (Coppersmith Bazaar). Antep’s copperware is different because it’s manufactured as one-piece, no solder or jointing methods are used.
MOTHER OF PEARL
A traditional craft in many countries, adopted by the people of Gaziantep during the Ottoman Empire. Mother of Pearl (sedef) inlay is used to decorate wooden objects, whether boxes, mirrors, tables, dressers, coat stands to sword sheaths. Typically local walnut (tree) is used with seashells, actually the smooth, iridescent inner layer of an oyster shell. Motifs are first drawn onto the wooden object before wood cutting the lines to insert the wire with a small hammer. Then following the pattern, areas are cut out to place the mother of pearl. You can’t miss these shops, they’ll glisten as you walk by.
The original traditional Turkish slipper of Gaziantep. Yemeni shoemaking has a history of 600 years and today the tradition of the craft continues. Originally only available in black or red, each pair is handcrafted using one continuous wax-cotton string, hand thread to hold upper leather part (black/red) and the leather soles together. Made entirely from natural materials, these flat bottomed shoes are not only practical but they’re also healthy in the sense that they prevent foot ailments that modern shoes cause, by allowing the feet to breath through its natural materials. They strongly recommend to only wear them during the spring/summer time when it’s not raining. Today they’re still handmade with the same technique but the color options and styles have increased and varied, making it very hard to decide upon purchasing – trust me!
Why are they called Yemeni?
Curious myself I asked why they are called ‘Yemeni’. Supposedly a man from Yemen settled in Kilis and then Gaziantep, where he set up shop and made these shoes. After he passed people continued to request the famed ‘Yemeni’ (shoes) and the people of Gaziantep decided to continue the tradition of his craft, under this nickname.
MUSEUMS NOT TO MISS
- The World’s Largest Mosaic Museum: The Zeugma Mosaic Museum (Zeugma Mozaik Müzesi)
- Inside Gaziantep’s Castle: Gaziantep Defense and Heroism Panoramic Museum (Gaziantep Savunması ve Kahramanlık Panorama Müzesi)
- A Journey Through Childhood: Toy Museum (Oyun ve Oyuncak Müzesi)
- Step inside a Turkish Bath: Hamam Museum (Hamam Müzesi)
- Learn about Gaziantep’s Cuisine: The Emine Göğüş Culinary Museum (Emine Göğüş Mutfak Müzesi)
*Note: all of the museums I visited have both Turkish and English descriptions.
Since I spent 36 hours in Gaziantep, I only had time to eat and see so many things. You can read in detail here, about everything I was able to accomplish in my weekend trip to this beautiful ancient city.