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First cave church in eastern Turkey gets facelift

The Church of St. Peter in the eastern province of Hatay, which is considered the world’s first cave church and a holy site for the Orthodox Christian world, is now undergoing a comprehensive restoration process that began on Sept. 16 with a ceremony.

St. Peter's Church, which is a holy site for the Orthodox Christian world, is one of the most important tourist attractions in Hatay. With a new project, the church will get a complete facelift and is expected to draw some three million tourists to the city each year [Credit: AA]
Hatay has been home to many civilizations and faiths throughout history, and the mission of the local government is to present their artifacts to the world, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said, speaking at the ceremony.

“We have been working on the details [of the restoration] for a long time. The most important part of this process was the project’s preparation. The Council of Monuments has been very careful in planning the project, to maintain the original form of the church, and has not approved any projects here for a long time. During the restoration, all of the artificial elements you see here will be removed. Environmental arrangements are also important, including parking and social facilities,” Ergin said. 

A new mosaic museum

The Antakya (Greek Antioch) Archaeology Museum, which will be built 300 meters from the church, will become the largest mosaic museum in the world, Ergin said. “There are mosaics in Hatay that have waited to be unearthed,” he said, “waiting to find an appropriate place to be displayed. The construction of the museum will be completed in March 2013. It will be very unique. The museum will open to visitors on Oct. 20, 2013. With the completion of the environmental arrangements at St. Peter's Church and the museum, this place will be a different destination area next year. There are ruined walls at Antakya Castle on the top of Habib-i Neccar Mountain, and another project will restores those walls, and they will be reconstructed. All of these things will be steps toward sharing Hatay’s richness with the world.”

The goal is to host 2.5-3 million tourists in the city each year, he said.

St. Peter's Church is one of the most important sites in Hatay, Mayor Mehmet Celalettin Lekesiz said. “But the church has a physical appearance that does not suit the city. The preparation of this project took two and a half years. The church will be revived,” he said. 

Source: Hurriyet Daily News [September 18, 2012]
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