“What makes these finds special is that they are not taken from somewhere else – they belong here, to the people who lived here,” Asfuroğlu Abbasoglu says. “It’s like time travel. We thought, maybe this is our role in life. This place deserves to be known globally.”
Creating a design that embraced all those elements proved to be both an architectural and an engineering challenge. Emre Arolat’s ingenious design has the hotel resting on 66 steel columns, carefully positioned in areas where no remains had been found. Hotel rooms are housed in prefabricated boxes floating high above the ground, linked by a series of metal walkways and bridges. Tucked inside your room, you could be in any other luxury hotel; step outside, however, and you find yourself looking down on a state-owned 17,000-square meter archeology park with its own museum.
The construction process was a slow one, with archaeologists supervising builders as they dug the 25-metre-deep post-holes, and drying and sifting the surplus soil. Just as the end seemed to be in sight, along came another curveball.
“Just before one of the steel columns was going to be inserted, we came across the edge of a mosaic,” says Asfuroğlu Abbasoglu. The find halted construction for 1½ years. “To redo the static calculations for the building and find a new place for this steel column was no easy feat; but the Pegasus mosaic [was] worth the effort.”
The Pegasus mosaic – identified as being the floor of a wealthy person’s dining room – is a true masterpiece. The artist used stones in 162 different shades to create images as exquisitely detailed and vibrantly alive as a Renaissance portrait. Apart from the winged horse, Pegasus, the mosaic also includes the first known depiction of Greek poet Hesiod, seen receiving his inspiration from the muse Calliope.
The Museum Hotel Antakya has deservedly become an attraction in its own right, one that literally offers its guests a window onto the past. Other amenities include a rooftop breakfast room where guests can enjoy a traditional Turkish breakfast while gazing out across the city; a superb restaurant featuring Antakyan specialties; and a spa where visitors can experience a classic hammam treatment, which leaves you feeling both relaxed and cleaner than you have ever been before.
Asfuroğlu Abbasoglu hopes The Museum Hotel Antakya will not only provide a model for how to protect archaeological sites but will also introduce more visitors to her hometown.
The hotel can organize private tours of the region for guests that take in hilltop monasteries, mountain villages, and beachfront restaurants serving freshly caught seafood.
There is also plenty to explore in Antakya itself. The city’s cosmopolitan history is evident in its mix of mosques, a synagogue and churches – including some of the oldest in the world. The winding streets of the old town are home to some enchanting courtyard restaurants and cafes.
And then there is the remarkable Hatay Archeology Museum. Its collection includes paleolithic artefacts, Roman sarcophagi and a mighty 3000-year-old Hittite statue. The pride of the museum, however, is its mosaics – a staggering array of works that constitutes one of the world’s most renowned mosaic collections.
Asfuroğlu Abbasoglu admits the project took an emotional and financial toll on her family. That became worse when, barely six months after opening, COVID-19 forced the hotel to close its doors. It did not reopen until August last year. However, as we stand admiring one of the site’s other mosaics, featuring detailed depictions of different bird species, she is adamant that it has all been worthwhile.
“Our family name, Asfuroğlu, means bird,” she says, pointing at the mosaic. “I think we were meant to be the guardians of this place. I think we were meant to find it.”
NEED TO KNOW
Double rooms at The Museum Hotel Antakya start at £120 ($208) including breakfast. For sales inquiries or bookings, call +90 (326) 290 00 00 or email email@example.com.
The writer stayed as a guest of the hotel.