İskenderun is a city and district in the Hatay Province on the eastern Mediterranean coast of Turkey. When it was founded the city was named Alexandretta in honour of Alexander the Great, a name which it kept throughout the Roman era. The city was later renamed al-ʼIskandarūn (Arabic: الإسكندرون) during the Islamic Caliphate and then to İskenderun after being conquered by the Ottomans. İskenderun is located in the eastern Mediterranean coastline of Turkey on the Gulf of İskenderun, at the base of the Nur Mountains. Being a busy commercial centre it is one of the largest cities in the Hatay Province and is similar in size to the provincial capital of Antakya. İskenderun is one of the country's largest ports on the Mediterranean Sea - an important industrial center and home to the İsdemir Steelworks - one of the largest in Turkey. The city boasts an active and contemporary life with good hotels, restaurants and cafes along a palm lined waterfront. İskenderun is also an important naval training base. As in most geographical areas of Turkey there is a distinct regional cuisine which include Künefe, a hot dessert with cheese. The main dishes include the Turkish regulars such as döner and other kebabs served with the flat dürüm bread, lahmacun, and including Antakya influenced cuisine with kibbeh, and sour pomegranate syrup used as a salad dressing. İskenderun, in particular offers a high quality of fish and prawns.
İskenderun preserves its name, but more than likely not the exact site of Alexandria ad Issum (İskender being the Arabic rendering of Alexander). That city was founded by Alexander the Great in 333 BC to supersede Myriandrus as the key to the Syrian Gates, about 37 kilometers south of the scene of his victory at the Battle of Issus. Its importance ever since has come from its relation to this pass, the easiest entrance to the open ground of Hatay Province and that of Northern Syria. For this reason the Romans continued to fight with Persia for control of this area during their era of dominance. Alexander camped at the highlands of İskenderun around Esentepe, and then ordered that the city should be established there and named Alexandria. İskenderun is one of many cities founded by order of Alexander the Great - including Alexandria, Egypt.
This area was still a scene of fighting under the rule of the Ottomans and it was here in 1606 that the army of General Kuyucu Murat Pasha suppressed the rural uprising of Celali Canbulatoğlu. The Ottomans continued to fortify the city and the remains of the early 17th century Ottoman castle walls can still be seen where the Güzün River crosses the Varyant road. The city was described in good detail in 1675 by the English naval chaplain Henry Teonge in his diary. The next army to cross the Pass of Belen and attack Anatolia through here were the Egyptians of Muhammad Ali in 1832.
However in the later Ottoman era the city continued to grow as the main outlet for overland trade from Baghdad and India. The route had great importance until the establishment of the Egyptian overland route. İskenderun served as a base first of Genoese and Venetian merchants, then western and northern European merchants. The British Levant Company maintained an agency and factory in İskenderun for almost 200 years up until 1825, in spite of an appalling mortality rate among its employees. During the 19th century the port grew with the railway being built in 1912 as well as the road to Aleppo being improved.
At the beginning of World War I, when Britain was contemplating the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire, Lord Kitchener considered the conquest of Alexandretta to be an essential component in providing Britain with a port and railhead from which to access Iraq. He proposed a new railway from Alexandretta which would greatly reduce transit time to India from the UK. The de Bunsen Committee, a special British inter-departmental group was set up to discuss the issue in greater detail. They decided that they preferred Haifa for this purpose in meetings held from the 8th of April through the 30th of June in 1915. From 1921 through 1937 the city was part of the autonomous Sanjak of Alexandretta under the League of Nations French Mandate of Syria and Lebanon. Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I most of Hatay including İskenderun was occupied by French troops and in 1921 was established as the autonomous Sanjak of Alexandretta within French-controlled Syria leading to the foundation of the Republic of Hatay. In 1939, the Republic of Hatay joined with the Republic of Turkey, after a referendum.
The climate in this part of the Mediterranean is hot and humid in summer with winters being mild and wet. At certain times of the year the area is swept by a strong wind called 'Yarıkkaya'. The countryside supports large areas of fruit groves and makes locals important producers of oranges, tangerines and lemons, as well as tropical fruits such as mangoes.
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