The Southeastern metropolis of Gaziantep does not feature on most lists of ideal destinations for city breaks. Yet over the past few years, the local council has made huge efforts to welcome tourists, especially those seeking a cultural theme to their holidays.
A designated tourism board has opened many museums, formed a cultural route, and highlighted cuisine and traditions of the region to satisfy visitors eager to learn more about this city sitting on the edge of former Mesopotamia and near the Euphrates river .
My visit to Gaziantep lasted just four days but in that time, I was introduced to many cultural experiences, more than I have received in eleven years on the Western coast of Turkey. Anyone visiting this city will certainly be impressed at what there is to see and do.
Gaziantep Mosaic Museum
The mosaic museum of Gaziantep is reportedly the largest in the world. Irrelevant of world records that it might hold, it is an impressive collection covering three storeys of a large building. The stars of the show are the large and intact floor and wall mosaics.
Discovered in ancient Roman villas of the ancient city of Zeugma, the mosaics are one of the best archaeological finds of the last century and include the renowned gypsy girl face. Restoration also took place of four Roman fountains and a bronze statue of the god of Mars that is now on display.
Any proud citizen will tell you that Gaziantep women are chefs from birth and this is reflected in their dedication to regional cuisine. Well-known for its baklava and pistachio nuts, there are also other dishes favoured by the locals that should be sampled at least once.
The Ali Nazik kebab is juicy, sliced meat over a puree of eggplant and although lahmacun (thin pizza) is known all over Turkey, in Gaziantep, they slaver it with a healthy dose of garlic! Most restaurants display sheep’s heads in their windows to advertise a popular dish, Paça Beyran Soup (rice, broth, and lambs leg) that is commonly eaten for breakfast!
To sample kebabs and baklavas, head to where the locals hang out at the Imam Cagdas salon and if you are a caffeine addict, the coffee houses of Gaziantep will serve you healthy doses of Menengic and Dibek Coffee.
The inside workings of a Gaziantep kitchen are portrayed in the culinary museum that also gives extensive information on starters, meats, vegetables, sweets and drinks and how they are used in Gaziantep cuisine.
Gaziantep Castle and War Museum
Originally called Antep, the name of the city was changed after citizens defended themselves against French invasion during the Turkish war of independence. The word “gazi” added to the beginning means heroes and their stories are told in Gaziantep castle and the war museum. The exhibitions include real photos and documents but even if Turkish history is not your passion, still visit Gaziantep castle for the remarkable panoramic view over the city.
The Coppersmith Bazaar
To preserve traditional cultures, Gaziantep has a cultural route for foreign visitors to follow. Listed on a map, the signposts in English take tourists to various places including old mosques, coffee houses and most importantly the coppersmith bazaar.
Copper is still widely used within the city and men who have learned the trade through generations of their families construct and clean pots, pans, and utensils. The cobbled and covered bazaar allows visitors to view Turkish coppersmiths at work and purchase traditional Turkish copper souvenirs.
Other Things to Do
Two hours’ drive away is the sunken village of Halfeti on the east bank of the Euphrates River. Submerged in the 1990’s because of rising waters from the Birecik Dam, citizens were relocated to new Halfeti. The scene is quite surreal as boats gently glide around the top of minarets and roof top houses. Also nearby is the fortress of Rumkale dating from the Hellenistic and Roman periods.
Recommended tours to see Gaziantep…
Eastern Turkey guided 15 day tour – Taking in all the highlights of the regional as well as introducing visitors to culture and traditions.
Tailor made – Tell us where you want to go and we will make all the arrangements