Antakya -more commonly known as Antioch to most Christians- is an outstanding place. Obviously, it has religious significance, but people tend to forget that many of history’s ‘A-listers’ had a personal connection to the area.
According to local tourist brochures, Cleopatra and Antony were married here; St. Luke and St. Peter preached here; Alexander the Great fought here; the Greek goddess Daphne died here. The list could go on.
History shrouds the city of Antakya- the churches, the museums and the people.
Walking around the main bazaar, you’ll find craftsmen keeping history alive through their work- many of them learned their craft from their fathers, who learned from their fathers, who learned from their fathers, and so on. Consequently, trades that were almost entirely driven out of Western cultures years ago often thrive in this historic city.
One such business is the shoe repair, these shops pepper even the most touristy of areas. The shoe repair men (and they are always men) are not relics from the past, but skilled workers that the whole community employs.
“Westerners are shocked. They are always stopping and taking pictures of me. You all throw shoes away like they’re nothing so you aren’t used to the idea,” said Muhammad, a local shoe repairman who opened his shop 13 years ago. He began learning the business from his father at age 15.
A variety of tools are scattered across his very cluttered work station which reeks of fresh leather and noxious glue. Using an old, giant sewing machine, a couple of “shoe stretchers” and a variety of large shears, he can remedy most shoe problems -too tight, too big, too tall, too short.
“It depends on the shoe, but it can be fixed maybe three or four times,” he said.He noted that the most common problem he fixes is “shoes that are worn away on the bottom.”
The bin of shoes next to his table are broken and dirty; they look entirely unfix-able, but he’ll give all of these old, dilapidated shoes a new life.