Antakya—perhaps better known by its old name, Antioch—was founded in about 300 BC and quickly grew, thanks to its strategic location on the trade routes. Under the Romans, it became the empire's third most important city, surpassed only by Rome and Alexandria. Famed for its luxury and notorious for its depravity, Antioch was chosen by St. Paul as the objective of his first mission. The cave church in which he preached remains a pilgrimage site today, while stunning displays of mosaics in the Hatay Müzesi testify to the artistic achievements of the Roman era.
After enduring earthquakes and assorted raids, the city fell to Crusaders in 1098; then was nearly leveled by the Egyptians in 1268. A late addition to the Turkish Republic, Antakya was occupied by France after 1920 as part of its mandate over Syria, which still has an outstanding territorial claim on it. Though the city reverted to Turkey just before World War II, it still maintains a distinctive character. The people here are mostly bilingual, speaking both Turkish and a local dialect of Arabic. In the cobbled streets of the old quarter you can also hear Syriac (Aramaic), the language spoken by many of Turkey's Christians.