History of Iskenderun, from Alexander the Great to modern Turkey

This article is also available in: Italiano

The entire history of Iskenderun (also known as “Alexandretta”), from its foundation by Alexander the Great to its union with Turkey

The foundation of Iskenderun by Alexander the Great

Iskenderun, known in Italian with the name of “Alessandretta”, has, like a good part of the region of Hatay, very ancient origins prior to history itself; however its name is inextricably linked with the passage of Alexander the Great in these lands. In fact, in 333 BC, the great Macedonian leader camped in these parts before fighting the famous Battle of Isso, later deciding to found a city of immeasurable strategic importance right here.

The Battle of Issus

Iskenderun has in fact always been known for being the large city center defending the Beilan Pass, a gate that allows you to cross the Nur Mountains (the southernmost part of the Taurus Mountains) and head north on Anatolian soil. Once that place was placed under the control of the Phoenician port of Myriandus but, understandably, Alexander the Great wanted to take the opportunity to seal such a strategic and fundamental passage with men loyal to him.

Ottoman splendor and defeat

While passing under the dominations of the Seleucids, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Seljuks, Crusaders and Mamluks, this place never assumed any type of particular importance, with the exception, obviously, of the strategic one. This is due to various factors, the most important of which is linked to the predominance of Antioch over the whole region. Not surprisingly, it will begin to flourish under the Ottoman era, by which time, after more than 300 years of conflict, Antioch had been reduced to a small and tired town.


Under the Sublime Porta it became one of the most prosperous ports in the entire eastern Mediterranean, so much so that the Genoese, Venetians and British established their important commercial bases here. With the Ottoman defeat in World War I, this territory passed briefly to France, which transformed it into the Sandjak of Alexandretta.

The French dominion and the Sanjak of Alexandretta

The latter has a very particular and fascinating history that leads us directly to the foundation of contemporary Turkey and the establishment of the province of Hatay. In fact, with the signing of the Treaty of Sèvres, this Sangiaccato was linked to Syria, which then passed under French rule, but the newborn Turkish state immediately opposed this decision, stating that there was a very high presence of Turks and that therefore this dominion belonged to them.


Not surprisingly, when the latter defeated the transalpines in the War of Cilicia, by signing the Treaty of Ankara in 1921, they established that this territory should also be partially linked to Turkey, in order to be able to defend their language and their culture from that of the new lord. This will lead to the affirmation of an ever increasing number of pro-Turkish realities, which emerged victorious in the 1936 elections.

The Republic of Hatay and contemporary Turkey

The electoral result was in fact an absolute Turkish triumph, which will lead to the foundation of the Republic of Hatay in 1938, with Tayfur Sökmen as president and Abdurrahman Melek as prime minister; both had already been deputies in Turkey and it is not surprising that, although the Republic of Hatay was officially to be controlled by the joint French and Turkish forces, already in 1939 the newborn state dissolved to become the Turkish province of Hatay.

The flag of the Republic of Hatay

From that moment on, while remaining one of the most important cities of this province, Iskenderun lost its role as the highest administrative center in favor of Antakya, the ancient Antioch.

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