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Iskenderun-Alexandretta, the Ancient City Rocked by the Earthquake in Turkey

Iskenderun, also known as Alexandretta and Scanderoon is an ancient city in Hatay Province that was badly affected by the earthquake this week. Credit: Chanilim714 / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

The city of Iskenderun, formerly known as Alexandretta, situated in Turkey’s Hatay Province, has not been spared from the destruction of the earthquake, which has devastated parts of Turkey and Syria.

Photos and videos from the beleaguered port city show fallen apartment blocks and heaps of rubble where homes and buildings once stood. The earthquake also caused a fire to burn hundreds of shipping containers across the city’s port.

Iskenderun, or Alexandretta, has a long and proud history spanning over 2,300 years. The city was originally founded by the Greek king Alexander the Great after the dramatic Battle of Issus between the Hellenic (Greek) League and the forces of Achaemenid (Persian) Empire led by Darius III.

Impact of the earthquake on Iskenderun

The seaport of Iskenderun is situated in southern Turkey in the province of Hatay, which was struck hard by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake earlier this week. In the days after the earthquake, the combined death toll in Turkey and Syria has continued to rise, with the latest estimates at over 22,000 dead.

As in other parts of Hatay Province, photographs and pictures have emerged of the devastation caused in Iskenderun. One photograph showed the damaged remains of a 16-story apartment block. The side and rear of the building completely collapsed, leaving only a small remainder of the building still standing.

Towards the seafront of the city, more destruction is to be found. On Monday, when the earthquake shook the region, a fire erupted in the city’s port. It was put out on Tuesday but then reignited, sending plumes of black smoke into the sky from hundreds of burning shipping containers.

Alexandria ad Issum: the ancient city

Iskenderun has a proud history stretching into the ancient past. The city was originally founded by Alexander the Great in 333 BC, shortly after the Battle of Issus.

Iskandar, Iskander, Askander, Eskinder, or Scandar  is a variant of the Greek name Alexander in cultures such as Iran (Persia), Arabia and others throughout the Middle East and Central Asia, originally referring to Alexander the Great,

The Battle of Issus was the second major set-piece battle between Alexander and the Persian Achaemenid Empire. It was the first confrontation in which Alexander faced Darius III in person.

The battle took place near the mouth of the Pinarus River and the town of Issus. The battle resulted in a decisive Hellenic victory and marked the beginning of the end of the Persian power in the region.

Alexander founded the city, which he named after himself, shortly after the battle to commemorate his victory. According to Herodian, a monument and bronze statue erected by the king of Macedon himself was still standing in 200 AD, during Roman rule in the province.

The city was strategically important due to its commanding position near the Syrian Gates, a pass through the Nur Mountains that controls the passage to the open ground of Hatay Province and Aleppo.

After the Hellenistic and Roman eras, the city continued to function as an important port which in the medieval and early modern periods facilitated overland trade from Iran, India, and eastern Asia, before the discovery of alternative maritime routes.

The many cities Alexander named after himself

Alexandria ad Issum, or modern-day Isskenderun, was not the only city Alexander founded and named after himself. The Macedonian king named at least 20 such cities after himself across the wide stretches of the territory he had conquered.

The most famous city founded by the Ancient Greek Macedonian King is of course Alexandria in Egypt. It was founded in 332 BC and served as a vital link between Greece and the rich Nile valley.

Alexandria was the intellectual and cultural center of the ancient world for some time. The city and its museum and library attracted many of the greatest scholars of the day, including Greeks, Jews, and Syrians.

Another city called “Alexandria in Arachosia” was founded in Bactria and is now known as the modern city of Kandahar in Afghanistan.

Alexander appears to have founded this town on the site of a sixth-century BC Persian garrison. Proximity to a mountain pass, a river, and the junction of three long-distance trade routes meant the location was of vital strategic importance.

No ancient Greek buildings have been found in the area, but numerous coins have been discovered in various areas of the city, and there are Greek inscriptions and graves there.

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