Out with the old, in with the new: New Hatay museum under construction
Wilco Van Herpen
When the new museum opens, more mosaics will be displayed than was once possible.For the first time in my life I am happy with the news about a museum that is going to close its doors. The museum in Hatay’s city center evokes old memories of my past. From the outside, the museum looks like a big crystal piece of rock. The outside is not appealing at all, but once you can look inside the crystal rock your mind cannot accept and digest everything that you see. Everywhere you look there is another sparkle, another piece of art. This is a maximum seize of micro-art. Thousands and thousands of little stones put together in such a way that history suddenly begins to come to life in front of your eyes. I feel like I am walking through an old ancient city, and I like to observe the people, taking note of how they once lived. How did they see the Gods? I try to imagine how their lives must have looked like, but, like every time, I seem to have a problem with the lack of color. It does not matter how beautiful the archeologists, architects and other specialists restore a lane or library; they always seem to miss adding color. What color did the ceilings or walls have? What kind of colors were their clothes made out of? What kind of animals where there at that time? This museum answers all these questions and more, including those that may not have been asked.
The first time I visited the museum was in the winter of 2001. I was making a program that was called ‘catches plani’ (escape plan). My Turkish was bad, very bad at that time. For my program we went to Hatay and visited the museum of Archeology in Hatay (Antakya). In the museum, I had to make an announcement and it was difficult for me, incredibly difficult. I finally found a place where I was able to get enough inspiration - in front of a beautiful mosaic. What I saw was Neptune rising out of the sea. He looked at me with his big dark eyes that appeared to follow me wherever I went. This was amazing; I had never ever in my life seen something like this. The colors, the details; I loved it. It was as if I was in the sea, together with Neptune.
It took a long time for me to visit the museum again. It must have been in 2007 when I went on Program Wilco’s camp to Hatay. I visited this little museum for the second time, and this time I felt that it was possible to truly appreciate its beauty. It may not have looked like much, particularly compared with the Topkapı Palace, it might not look like much but for me size definitely “did not count”. This “boutique museum” carried big treasures in her belly. By that time, My Turkish had improved, so it was much easier for me to explain my thoughts. Apart from the gorgeous, fascinating mosaics, there is another treasure hidden in a very special part of museum - an almost perfectly huge tomb. During construction of a house in Hatay, a small bulldozer happened to hit a stone. Upon looking into as to what the bulldozer had hit, they came across a tomb, intricately decorated with motives from the period it was from. It must have taken the artist who worked on this sarcophagus month, maybe even longer, to complete the entire artwork. Although there are some perspective inaccuracies, the detail of the figures and animals are impressive. For example, a face of a women that seems the spitting image of a woman from a time more than 2000 years ago; a hunting scene where a “brave” guy on a horse is trying to kill a lion with his spear; an even braver man holds the rein of the horse; the lion less than 50 centimeters away from him. The scene on the tomb is so vivid; it is as if it is happening in front of your eyes.
‘Half of the walls empty’
The last time, surely, that I set foot in this museum was last weekend. I had to be there for yet another program and was shocked by what I saw when I walked around the museum. Half of the walls had been entirely emptied. The walls were pockmarked, a reminder of how it the little museum once was. The mosaics were connected to the wall with frames made of heavy concrete. But they had been torn down from the wall, utterly removed from the memory of the place; they will never grace the walls of the museum’s chamber again. I enjoyed the pieces that remained behind but felt a bit sad. I would never see the museum that the French built in 1934. In 1938, the museum opened its doors for the first time. It was a prestigious little museum filled with the discoveries of French archeologists. Next month it will be closed forever. A newer, bigger and better-equipped museum will open its doors, exhibiting more mosaics than ever before.
While I am sad, I am happy at the same time. Finally, more mosaics will be able to be displayed than was once possible. I will miss the cute little museum but I cannot wait to get to Hatay again. Next time, I will make sure to visit the new museum and lose myself in endless fantasies about depictions of a time more than 2,300 years ago.