|WARNING: Warning: On February 6th 2023 İskenderun, was hit by a devastating earthquake. Many of the city's buildings and landmarks are badly damaged or collapsed.|
İskenderun, also known as Alexandretta, is a city in Hatay, Mediterranean Turkey. It's a major port on the Mediterranean Sea.
Many cities founded by Alexander the Great (Büyük İskender in Turkish) were named for him. Only a few still carry his name, İskenderun included: other examples are Alexandria in Egypt, Kandahar in Afghanistan, and Iskandariya in Iraq. This one was originally Alexandria ad Issum, "Alexandria by Issos"; Issos is the nearby site where the Macedonian had a decisive victory over Darius III of Persia in 333 BCE. The name later morphed to Alexandretta, "Little Alexandria", to distinguish from its greater Egyptian sibling.
As with the rest of Hatay, İskenderun was under French rule for about two decades following the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire after World War I.
İskenderun has a population of about 250,000 people as of the early 2020s and is a major centre of heavy industry — the petrochemical plants and steelworks on the approach from the north look unpromising. However, its centre is nevertheless enjoyable with a lovely palm-lined esplanade, and you won't regret driving into it.
The nearest airport for international flights is in Adana (ADA IATA) to the north. For domestic flights, Hatay Airport (HTY IATA) located in the outskirts of Antakya to the south (45 min driving) is another option.
The national operator TCDD runs regional trains from Mersin via Adana twice daily, one morning and one late afternoon departure.
- 1 İskenderun railway station (İskenderun Garı) (East of the city centre, end of İstasyon road).
The city is connected to the rest of Turkey by motorway O-53 (toll-road). Paralleling state highway D817 is very congested with truck traffic and several traffic lights. Past İskenderun O-53 joins D817 and then D825 southwards to Antakya and Syria. This is a good divided highway but twists and turns across the Belen Pass (ancient Syrian Gates) through the Amanos Mountains in-between.
İskenderun is a major Mediterranean harbour, but it surprisingly has little connections geared towards travellers.
There is a passenger ferry line from Kyrenia in Northern Cyprus, twice weekly, run by HADO, affiliated with Hatay Metropolitan Municipality. These sail from the jetty at 2 Madenli, about 22 km southwest on the road to Arsuz.
The ferries from Israel and Egypt are for trucks bypassing the conflicts in the Middle East and do not accept foot passengers — not even the drivers of the trucks, who have to arrange transfer by air.
There are no dolmuşes in Iskenderun, and though there may be city buses, their routes are not easy to figure out with no Turkish language skills. The town centre is walkable; however to get from the centre to the bus station, you're best off taking a taxi, which should cost about 10-15 TL.
Parking a car along the waterfront (Atatürk Blv) costs 9 TL an hour (Oct 2022).
- The waterfront is a pleasant area with much subtropical foilage. There is a big globe surrounded by flags of Turkic countries past and present, and a park with a number of interesting structures. Near the eastern end, there is an Atatürk monument commemorating the joining of Hatay (for a couple of decades ruled by France) to Turkey.
- 1 Central Bank building (Merkez Bankası Şubesi), Ulucami Cd 1 (at the eastern end of the waterfront, on the corner of Atatürk Blv and Ulucami Cd). This and the neighbouring building across Ulucami Cd are great examples of French colonial architecture with Art Deco influence and beautiful tilework on their exterior walls.
- Inland are numerous traditional buildings with a more Mediterranean style.
- 2 (İskenderun Deniz Müzesi), Atatürk Blv. Contains artifacts from the Ottoman navy, and a room dedicated to the reincorporation of Hatay into Turkey. Admission 8 TL, photography license 10 TL.
- 3 Cathedral of the Annunciation (İskenderun Katolik Kilisesi). Roman Catholic church built in 1871.
- 4 Surp Karasun Manuk Armenian Church (Surp Karasun Manuk Ermeni Kilisesi). Historic Armenian Apostolic church.
- Take a walk in Iskenderun coast, which offers great views.
- 1 Park Forbes AVM is a shopping mall on the coast with cafes and food chains.
- Künefe — one of the most famous regional desserts; best enjoyed hot when the cheese within is melted. No doubt delicious.
- Döner — a type of kebab, made of seasoned meat stacked in the shape of an inverted cone and cooked slowly on a vertical rotisserie. It's then thinly sliced and wrapped in a flat bread. In parts of Europe, it is known as an after-party food.
You can find cafes with sea views on the waterfront.
- 1 La Perla Boutique Hotel, Savaş Mahallesi, 47, ☏ +90 326 616 66 68.
- 2 Ramada İskenderun Harbour, 5 Temmuz Cad. No:42, ☏ +90 326 617 81 81.
- 1 Sokollu Mehmet Pasha Caravanserai (in Payas, 25 km north). A well-preserved 16th-century complex including a caravanserai, a roadside resting place for trade caravans.
- 2 Issos or Issus, 54 km north near Erzin, was an ancient settlement. This was where Alexander the Great had his first victory over the main army of the Persians, and had the gates of Asia wide open to him. The actual ruins, however, are scant; there is a stretch of aqueduct, and a small excavated area of building foundations.
- 3 Soğukoluk Plateau is a picnic area with dense pine forests 17 km south, near Müftüler.
- 4 Belen is a mountain town on the pass of the same name (the ancient Syrian Gates) through the Amanos Mountains on the highway south, 15 km from İskenderun. This is where the major bird migration routes over the Balkans and the Caucasus converge on the way to and from the south, so it's a good spot for birdwatching.
- 5 Arsuz (ancient Rhossus or Rhopolis) is a local resort 35 km southwest. The area is predominantly small farms in the rural and mountainous inland and a strip of small groups of summer homes on the coast. The old village (eski köy içi) has a vague Aegean feel, with cobbled alleys, small churches, and the purple flush of bougainvilleas hanging from the white and blue walls of traditional buildings. A winding mountain road through a pine forest heads south, to become a very scenic and well paved coastal road hemmed in by craggy mountains and isolated pebble beaches. This road is accompanied by the longest uninterrupted bike lane in Turkey. It leads to Çevlik near Samandağ where it diverts inland towards Antakya.
- Antakya south is the provincial capital and is a city of great history and cuisine.
- Northwards, the highways fork west to Adana, for the rest of Mediterranean Turkey or Cappadocia inland, and east to Osmaniye, for Southeastern Anatolia.
|Routes through Iskenderun|
|Ends at (W E) ←||N S||→ Antakya → Yayladağı/Kessab|