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Iskenderun, a Turkish city with a French past

on 18/02/2015

Frenh cemetery

      The city of Iskenderun, situated 60 kilometres north of Antioch (Antakya) and located on the eastern Mediterranean coast on the banks of the Gulf of Iskenderun, doesn’t seem too appealing at first sight.

Indeed, the tourist who is only passing by without stopping will only notice the fumes produced by the oil companies around the bay.

Yet Iskenderun has a rich past dating back to 333 BC when it was founded by Alexander the Great, hence its original name Alexandria.

In 1918 it was occupied by the British and given to France a year later, as well as included in the French Mandate for Syria and Lebanon. During this period the city the city was called Sanjak of Alexandretta (Sandjak d’Alexandrette in French). Sanjaks were administrative divisions of the Ottoman Empire.

In was reintegrated to the Turkish territory in 1938 by Ataturk.

Many soldiers who belonged to the 1st and 4th Divisions of the French Army and died between 1919 and 1921 are buried in Iskenderun.

In the centre there are still a few houses, some of them renovated, some dilapidated, that present a French architectural style.

Another particularity of Iskenderun is the fact that an impressive number of communities have been living in harmony with each other for ages.

Orthodox Greeks, Armenians, Syriac Catholics, Greek Catholics, Latin Catholics, Alevis and Bektashis have been cohabitating respectfully for decades with the Muslims of Iskenderun and display an exemplary fraternity.

During the different religious holidays representatives of all the communities visit each other to present their compliments.

Iskenderun is also famous for its prawns, especially the jumbo ones that can reach an impressive size. Several fish markets, including the one at the east end of the coastal road, offer a great variety of prawns freshly caught nearby.


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