Nearby Samandağ, in the Province of Hatay (Antakya), rises a hill that once was known as the Hill of Wonders. Simon Stylites the Younger lived on this hill, and more precisely, on a high pillar erected on its slope, in the 6th century AD. His followers built there a church dedicated to the Holy Trinity and a monastery. Today, the ruins of the monastic buildings are rarely visited by tourists who are afraid to travel to the areas bordering with Syria. Unfortunately, the magic of the old Hill of Wonders was destroyed by the erection of ugly wind turbines a few years ago.
Simeon Stylites the Younger was born around 520 AD in Syrian Antioch (now Antakya), in a religious family coming from Edessa (at present - Şanlıurfa). He started the penitent life of a stylite - a person living on a pillar - at the age of twenty. He moved from one place to other several times, until he settled on a pole on top of a hill, which was later proclaimed the Hill of Wonders in his honor. Hagiographic sources relate that Simeon, while sitting on a pillar, talked with Jesus and angels. Additionally, he supposedly had the power to control the forces of nature and demons.
The first hermit, who decided to live a godly life on a pillar, Simeon the Elder, spent 37 years in this way. The younger Simeon broke his record by 15 years, because he lived on the pillar for 52 years. In his lifetime, his students already built a church and a monastery around the pillar. Soon, the hill became a place of pilgrimage.
The port of Antioch - St Symeon - took From its name from Simeon the Younger. Currently, the city is known as Samandağ (meaning Mount Simeon in Turkish). The monastic complex, standing on a hill, 6 kilometers away from the harbor, was the place of pilgrimages until the 13th century. In 1268, the city and its surroundings were razed by the army of Baibars, the fourth Sultan of Egypt in the Mamluk Bahri dynasty.
In 2012, the media spread around the information about the erection of twenty-three wind turbines on the top of the Hill of Wonders. What's more, one of these turbines has been placed directly on the ruins of the monastery. This scandal was commented in an interview with Nezih Başgelen, an archaeologist and a writer, published by Hürriyet Daily News. According to him, the location of the wind power plant, in the region that bounds in hills, is "an excellent example of Turkey shooting itself in the foot" He added that the plant was built in a place that has great importance for Christians and should be protected as a cultural heritage site.
Heavily ruined monastery complex consists of several buildings, and is surrounded by a wall. In the center of the complex, there is an octagonal courtyard where once stood a pillar of Simeon the Younger. It is still possible to discern the remains of its base. Right next to it, there are stairs, which helped the visitors to get closer when they wanted to talk with Simeon.
Moreover, in the monastery area, there are the remains of three churches, a baptistery, living rooms, workshops, and even a hostel for pilgrims. The remains of the Basilica of the Holy Trinity, built in 551, stand to the east of the octagonal courtyard. To the south of this building, you can find another church - built in 562, in honor of the mother of Simeon, Saint Martha. The graves of Simeon and Martha were located nearby, in a small chapel.
The ruins of the monastery complex are extensive since it occupied the area of about 20,000 square meters. During our visit to this place, in 2013, the ruins were not guarded. In many places they were overgrown with dense vegetation, and goats were jumping from the walls of old buildings. The sight of a shepherd armed with a rifle gave us a start.
Pat Yale, who visited this place for the last time in 2014, says on her website that she had received warnings for single travelers not to wander in the area. The same author informs that the ruins are currently not available to tourists because of the renovation, which is expected to last for five years.
The top of the hill cannot be reached by public transport, and hiking is not recommended for safety reasons. If you are not worried about your security, you can use the following options: take a minibus from Antakya to Samandağ, and disembark in Uzunbağ. The distance to the monastery from this point is 7 km uphill, and hiking is unpleasant because of the vicinity of wind turbines.
By car: follow the route D420 from Antakya to Samandağ. Turn off this road 20 km away from Antakya (or 5 km away from Samandağ), and go in the eastern direction. The right turn-off is marked with a brown signpost.
By taxi: the nearest taxi ranks are located in Samandağ. Before embarking on a journey, remember to agree with a driver the fare in both directions and determine the waiting time on the hill.