Top 10 Things to do in Gaziantep
A city of two million with a history that goes back many thousands of years before it became an important trading post on the Silk Road, with incredible museums and unique tasty food, Gaziantep should be swamped by tourists. The reality is that is almost completely devoid of them. Why?
It lies close to the Turkish border with Syria, Aleppo is its closest neighbour, and articles from the normally more responsible Guardian newspaper titled Gaziantep: home to Isis killers, sex traders… and a quest to rebuild Syria do not help.
It has had its problems, an ISIS bombing on a wedding in 2016 for one, but in 2019 is calm, with increased security, and a place well worth visiting. Be aware of your countries security warnings, as this can affect the validity of your travel insurance.
I spent a week in and around Gaziantep, and I encountered an incredibly friendly welcome and enjoyed one of my best trips out of all my many visits to Turkey. The only word of warning would be to take extra care at night time. The smiling bazaar shopkeepers are replaced by an influx of Syrian beggars, although even this was no worse than a typical day in central London.
Here are our Top 10 things to see and do in Gaziantep:
1. See the astonishing Roman art at the Zeugma Mosaic Museum
Possibly one of the best museums in the world I have visited, opened in 2011 at a cost of over US$30 million, the curators have spent a lot of time and effort in showing off the beauty of the ancient Roman mosaics recovered from the ancient nearby city of Zeugma lost to the damming of the River Euphrates.
Some mosaics are placed on walls so you can closely inspect them, while others can be walked over via clear glass bridges. Pride of place in its own room is the 'Gypsy Girl'. A piece of art that is recognisable all over Southern Turkey as it is used in almost all the publicity brochures and websites for the region, it is thought to be an image of Gaea, the goddess of earth. Entrance cost is 15 Lira.
For more information on Zeugma and the mosaics read this blog.
2. Go Baklava crazy
The irresistible sweet dessert of pistachios and pastry is a speciality here. Over 180 bakeries produce their own different styles, and you can not walk far down a street before encountering a window full of these delicious sweets.
My favourite was the distinctly upmarket Kocak Baklava. If you have time go to the Millet Inn Museum of Baklava, for the 2 PM cooking demonstration.
For more information on Gaziantep and Baklava read this blog.
3. Have a scrub down at the Turkish Baths
Unlike Istanbul or the popular tourist towns on the west coast of Turkey, the baths here are very traditional and incredibly cheap. You will not find much English spoken, which is true of much of Gaziantep, but it is incredibly refreshing to relax and have your body slightly pummelled, and then to relax in the hot steam after a day wandering around the city.
Most baths have different times for men and women. Men usually go at night, while women are admitted in the daytime.
4. Explore artefacts from the ancient civilisations of southern Turkey
Not content with hosting the incredible mosaics from Zeugma, Gaziantep also boasts a second world- class museum with the Archaeology Museum. Another huge investment from the government in galleries and content, I came here before visiting the mosaics and loved it so much I came again.
Hittite wall engravings from the ancient city of Carchemish vie for space with Roman statues and tombstones, a bronze age burial chamber and excavated finds from Mount Nemrut. An absolute bargain at 5 Lira and you will probably have it to yourself.
5. Take an energetic walk up to the Kale
Gaziantep's old city skyline is dominated by the Kale, or castle. Built in Roman times, there has been a castle here for over two thousand years. Only the walls now survive, and the interior is used as an exhibition space (currently under renovation).
The gardens are a great place for people watching, or just relaxing as you nibble on a slice of takeaway Baklava while admiring the view of the old city.
6. Get lost in the Zincirli Bedesten Market
Old ladies will bring their old and rusty essential kitchen blades to be transformed almost into new again in a shower of sparks.
7. Eat Pistachio nuts with almost everything
Gaziantep is not just famous for its sweets, it also has some other great epicurean delights. The vital ingredient to Baklava, pistachio nuts, is grown all around the city, and there are a great many different types to taste. You haven't eaten a real pistachio nut until you have had fresh Antep Fiskars as they are known locally.
And the tasty nut is used throughout the cuisine of Gaziantep and you can find them in coffee, ice cream, bread and kebabs. Head over to Sirvan Baklava (yes, it does sell Baklava also, but its kebabs are even better) and try the Simit Kebab. Minced lamb, grain and pistachio's are combined into an unforgettable wood grilled kebab.
8. Hear the call to prayer from the Boyaci Mosque
The Boyaci Camii Mosque is one of many in Gaziantep, and you will not fail to hear the Adhan (Call to prayer) while you are here, usually at sunrise when the city is at its quietest. This mosque is both the oldest and one of the more interesting and well worth a visit (with appropriate clothing).
Building began in 1211, and it was finally completed in 1357. The mosque has one of the oldest wooden minbars (pulpit) in the world, beautifully carved with Koranic verses, stars, roses and other detailed patterns.
9. Make a sombre visit to the National Struggle Museum
Gaziantep used to be named Antep, and most locals still refer to it by that name. The Gazi, loosely translated as 'War Hero' was added in 1920 as a reward for the cities inhabitants heroic efforts in fighting the invading French and British forces during the Turkish War of Independence.
The museum has weapons, photographs, and animatronic exhibits of the war above and below ground in a series of caves, also a very cool place to hang out if you are there in the height of summer.
10. Give your feet the Hollywood star treatment
No, not another massage. Gaziantep is famous for its shoes, the shoemakers here provided all the footwear for the Brad Pitt film 'Troy' as well as the Oliver Stone movie 'Alexander'.
The centuries-old tradition of producing the handmade 'Yemeni' style lives on throughout the city, and they make for extremely comfortable shoes, ideal for exploring the old city lanes and pack easily into your travel bag.