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Iskenderun-Alexandretta: The Ancient City of Alexander the Great in Turkey

Iskenderun, also known as Alexandretta and Scanderoon is an ancient city in Hatay Province. Credit: Chanilim714 / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Situated in Turkey’s Hatay Province, the city of Iskenderun, formerly known as Alexandretta, has a long and proud history spanning over 2,300 years. The city was originally founded by the Greek Macedonian 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.

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.

Bakras Castle near Iskenderun Alexandretta, Turkey
Bakras castle, near Iskenderun-Alexandretta. Credit: wikimedia commons / Godfried Warreyn CC BY 2.5

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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