Gaziantep, with its fairytale market places, isolated stone houses, festive bath houses, handicrafts, and its epic cuisine, is an impressive city even for the most experienced traveler. It is a place that must be seen and more importantly that must be experienced. Here are our recommendations to experience Gaziantep that offers what is local skillfully while capturing what is universal at the same time.
The castle of history
To begin exploring Gaziantep, take your first step towards the castle settled on a hill at the city center. Starting with the surroundings of the castle, follow Kültür Yolu, which is the historical center of the city. It is not known when or by whom the castle was built; however, it is known that it has been in use since the Catholic period of the city. It consists of stone blocks and it is among the most beautiful castles in Turkey. The Romans had used the castle as a watchtower for a while. Only the 12 of 36 bastions of the castle remain standing today. It was restored in the 6th century, AD. It also harbors the ruins of a mosque and a cistern. The Museum of Gaziantep’s Defense and Heroism Panorama can be visited at the galleries of the castle.
Evliya Çelebi says, “The city has doors like a castle at every street corner. Every night the oil-lamps burn in its streets,” in his Seyehatname (Book of Travel) for the Bey Neighborhood, which is the city’s most striking nostalgic value, with its narrow streets and houses with bay windows. The neighborhood, which is one of the rare examples of traditional Ottoman architecture and is located in the urban preserved area today, is named after the Bey Mosque in 1587, which is located in the city. The stone-paved streets of this town on the Silk Road were designed to fit comfortably a loaded camel about four centuries ago. The neighborhood is worth visiting not only with its stone houses built with the use of havara and keymıh stones, but also with its underground caves, cellars, vaults, cisterns, livas (old type water system) and water wells under the streets. Also, there is Hasan Süzer Ethnography Museum, where the life of an old Antep household is reimagined, the Atatürk Memorial House and the Toy Museum in here.
If you are having difficulty in believing that you can spend a whole day at a zoo that attracts both children and adults in Turkey, stop by Gaziantep. Turkey’s largest zoo is here with an area of 1 million 250 thousand square meters, 750 animals of 3 thousand 500 species. From the mountain goose to the giraffe, from the Amazon parrot to the elephant, from the serpent to the jaguar, and from the lama to the kangaroo; this list can go on. Here you will find Turkey’s first safari park, as well as the Predator’s section, the Reptile House, the Zoological and Natural Museum, aquariums for sea and freshwater species, summer, and winter cages for the winged animals and the Monkey House. It takes 45 minutes to visit the safari park, which is 250 thousand square meters, with guided private safari vehicles.
The legendary cuisine
Imagine a cuisine with a variety that would take your breath away; for example, Orkide Bakery, Metanet or Butterfly for breakfast… Beyran soup, which consists of boiled rice, chopped meat, and a special sauce, is also the traditional breakfast of Gaziantep along with liver wrap, which is finished early in the morning. If we are to mention a good Kebab restaurant, Halil Usta is a must visit location. Küşleme is legendary there. Antep’s simit kebab and onion kebab are also famous. Lahmacun should not be forgotten; especially served with roasted eggplant… Wraps with lemon, cumin, and chickpeas are also unique here. In Aşina, the variety of Antep cuisine is unbelievable; meatballs, Ali Nazik, stuffed peppers… Antep cheese is served in hot water and should not be missed to taste. The most nostalgic address of coffee is right next to the Mevlevihouse, Tahmis Coffee, dating from the 1640s. The place is known for its mortar (dibek) and terebinth (menengiç) coffees. Tahmis means a place where coffee is pounded up in a mortar. This place is filled with different characters from those who play cards to lunatics that were believed to emerge with the eggplant season. While you are here, try ‘katmer’ with cream of milk at Zekeriya’s. Do we need to remind baklava; try it one day at Imam Çağdaş and one day at Koçak. After all, it would not be a surprise to hear that Emine Göğüş Kitchen Museum, the first and only kitchen museum of Turkey, was opened in this city. The museum is an important initiative to ensure that the city’s cuisine has a rich history and culture, a trip to food eating habits, and the transfer of forgotten local dishes from generation to generation.
One of the most impressive mosaic museums in the world, the Zeugma Mosaic Museum with the Archeology Museum, the open art exhibition space, and the exhibition-conference center, was built on an area of 30 thousand square meters. At the Zeugma Mosaic Museum, you can see the mosaics that were preferred by the wealthy people who lived in the Zeugma houses to show their intellectual and educational levels and how they lived in prosperity to their guests. The 3D-short film that describes Zeugma, the floor holograms of some of the mosaics, the mosaics known as the world famous “Zeugma Gypsy Girl”, which is still controversial, and “the child with the pistachio bunch” which was sent to the museum in Adana since there was not a museum in the town, are remarkable.
Market places, inns
The heart of the old Antep is where Bakırcılar Bazaar, Demirciler Bazaar, Almacı Bazaar, and Kemikli Bazaar take place. They all harbor shops handed over from fathers to sons. There are even more bazaars such as Buğday Bazaar (Arastası), Zincirli Bedesten, Tuz Bazaar, Haphapçı Bazaar, Avrat Bazaar… The bazaars of Antep are almost fairytale like, they are festive. You can smell the fragrances of rose, white lily, paradise flower from the fragrance shops. Those become mixed with the scents of the healing herbs, spices, and coffee. You can find the plain butter without additives, used in making of baklava, in here. Grape molasses, sumac, pomegranate molasses, unshelled pistachios are popular shopping items. Honey, cheese, keme, ricotta cheese are consumed as well as delicious Antep cheese. Flats called yemeni are made of four different types of leather. Copper, bronze, silver, wood, gramophones, bellows, rugs, hookahs, supplies to create an oriental corner can be found at the antique shops. From the 16th century onwards, besides coppersmith, which is one of the most important branches of craft in the city, kutnu and aba weaving, mother of pearl inlaid designing, silverwork and earthenwear jar making can be considered as significant. The city’s inns are also worth seeing. One of the most striking among them is the restored, 500-year old Hışvahan.
Gaziantep’s most striking trump card in tourism is undoubtedly the Zeugma Museum, as well as the stone houses surrounded by the boutique hotels. Staying at a traditional Antep house such as the Belkis Han or the Anatolian Homes is one of the most important steps to start experiencing this city. The houses, the huge courtyards, the courtyard stones, the miniature fountains, the ceiling heights of the rooms and the pictures on the walls have a distinct place in the city’s impressive architecture. In the past, Turks, Armenians, and Jews lived together in Gaziantep. They worked shoulder to shoulder in business life. The tunnels of the old Antep houses connect the houses together, and some of them open to the church. The magnificent St. Bedros Church (1723), made of cut stone, dedicated to St. Mary, is now used as Ömer Asım Ersoy Cultural Center. The Kurtuluş Mosque, one of the most beautiful mosques of the city, was originally built as a church in 1892. The Şirvani Mosque is striking with its wooden workmanship, and the Tahtani Mosque with its stone workmanship. The Mevlevihane (Tekke Mosque) dated 1638 was built as an educational center.