Virtual Antiochia

A history of Virtual Antiochia… as it might have been….

I. Origins

In the beginning, there was pristine water. Later, land emerged, and shaped itself around the water to create an exceptional natural harbor dominated by a majestic hill guarding its entrance. And so it remained...

... until around 5000 BC, when a first human settlement appeared at the mouth of the river - a small, wooden fishing village, of which nothing remains today. But ever since, Antiochia has been inhabited by successive waves of settlers who added their own creativity and artistry and genius to it - until it became what it is today. For a detailed narrative of the history of the real Antiochia on the Orontes, please click here.

II. Phoenician Roots

The first great civilisation to claim Antiochia as it own were the Phoenicians, around 2500 BC. They expanded the harbour, and used the nearby mountains as burial grounds. Phoenician ruins of the city of Meroe can still be found in the forests and mountains in the northern part of the sim; they mark the sources of the life-giving water theme that traverses the entire physical space and temporal eras of the sim, from the waterfalls in mountains in the north, through the great river Orontes flowing though it, and down to the port and sea, to the south.

Around 1300 BC Antiochia was already a growing commercial center, at the start of the road east, to Persia and the mythical lands of Indus the Himalayas. It trade with Egypt in particular thrived - as evidenced by the Egyptian obelisk that dominates the sim's central plaza to this day. It is from here that many Phoenicians left to colonise the Western Mediterranean and found the great cities of the Iberian Peninsula (Tartessus and Gadeira), the Tyrreanian sea (Marseilles and Sardinia), Sicily and North Africa- with its crown jewel, the great Carthage. it is even said some of them sailed up north to the mist-enveloped Hibernian Island, with their huge Mollossian dogs bred in the highlands of Assyria. Antiochia even resisted a 10-year long siege by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of the Babylonians, who failed to breach its fortress walls and finally withdrew, in 873.

III. Hellenic Foundation

The reason why almost all Phoenician vestiges have disappeared can be summed up in a name: Alexander the Great. In 332 the great Greek conqueror took the city and razed it all to the ground. But Alexander died, in 323 BC, and two of his generals, Antigonus and Seleucus, fought over Syria, the province surrounding what had been once a great Phoenician city.  The long-lost tomb of Alexander can actually be found hidden deep below the Main Gate of Antiochia.

When Seleucus I  Nicator finally defeated his rival Antigonus and consolidated his rule over most of Alexander's empire by founding his own, Seleucid Empire, he re-founded the city and named it after his son, Antiochus. Seleucus founded Antiochia on a site chosen through ritual means. An eagle, the bird of Zeus, had been given a piece of sacrificial meat and the city was founded on the site to which the eagle carried the offering - not far from the ruins of the old Phoenician city of Meroe. The eagle can still be seen flying high above the Antiochia Fortress, to this day.

IV. Seleucid Capital

Antiochia on the Orontes soon became the Seleucid capital. The entire lower town of Antiochia, from the lighthouse in the harbour, to the port, docks, marketplace, and ring road around Mount Sylpius, all the way to the Fishermen’s pier and the small temple of Tyche, located outside the city walls on the western side of the hill, date from these Hellenic times. Tyche, the Goddess of Fortune, remains the Pagan Goddess of the City, in front of whose statue burns an eternal flame. A circular Temple of Poseidon situated at the extreme south-western point of the land, also dates from these times.

The original city of Seleucus was laid out in imitation of the grid plan of Alexandria by the architect Xenarius. The citadel was on Mt. Sylpius and the city lay mainly on the low ground to the north, fringing the river. A great Colonnade Street dating from the times of the Romans, who conquered Antiochia during the time of Pompeius the Great, in about 60 BC, connects the Oval Forum to the central Nymphaeum Plaza, where a beautiful Nymphaeum Fountain can be admired, and the elegant Bridge across the Orontes (a replica of the Roman bridge in Alcantara, Spain), with a Triumphal Arch at its entrance - all which date from the times of the Late Roman Republic and Early Empire. A Sanctuary of Orpheus was constructed underground by Diocletian, and is situated under the Nymphauem Plaza, at the start of the underground sewer canal.  Beyond the northern suburb of Heraclea lies the Paradise of Daphne, a park of woods and waters, in the midst of which can still be found the beautiful Phoenician ruins of the Temple of Anat.

V. Roman Conquest

 Antiochia experienced a “third foundation” under Constantine the Great, who also built the great city bearing his name - Constantinople, on the foundations of the old Greek colony, Byzantium. The entire Acropolis dominating the city to this day, together with its fortified walls, impressive aqueduct crossing the city and connecting Mount Sylpius with the northern mountains, as well as the city gate – Porta Aurea -  date from his period, although an original aqueduct has already been build a century earlier, by emperor Valens, which is why it is still known today as Valens’s Aqueduct. Antiochia became the capital of the Asian part of the Roman Empire, and one of its four major cities, with Rome, Alexandria, and Constantinople.

Diana’s Baths and the neighbouring remains of Bucoleon Palace, today renamed AST Square, were also constructed during Constantine’s time. Influences of the local, Arabic culture can be found in both the exquisite mosaics of the Baths, as well as in the delicate water fountain and mosaics still standing in the ruins of Bucoleon Palace.

VI. Byzantine Era

The final layer of the city was built by Justinian the Great in the middle of the 6th Century AD, as the transition from Rome to Byzantium was well underway. The great Redemption Cathedral, modeled on the Hagia Sophia of Constantinople, with its unique cupola and splendid mosaics and frescoes, as well as its hidden underground cistern, date from this time, as does the neighbouring Magnaura, which remains the seat of Government of Antiochia.

Antiochia had by then become a chief center of early Christianity. The city had a large population of Jewish origin in a quarter called the Kerateion, and so attracted the earliest missionaries. Evangelized, among others, by Peter himself. As the Bible itself says in Acts 11.26, “It was in Antioch that the disciples were first given the name of ‘Christians’”.

The story ends here, in the early 7th Century AD, during the time of Heraclius the Great, who introduced Greek as the Eastern Roman Empire's official language, which explains the name of the Community - Agora Polis Antiochia. Heraclius himself took the title of Basileus of the Roman Empire, re-conquered many of the territories lost to the Sassanids, whom he finally defeated in 627 AD, at the battle of Niniveh.