History in the Rubble

Times graphics reporters Anjali Singhvi and Bedel Saget recently traveled to Antakya, a Turkish city badly damaged by February’s earthquakes. Based on their reporting, they published an article this week that walks through the damage in Antakya’s Old City, a commercial and religious hub.

The initial quakes were several weeks ago, but the damage continues to dominate life in much of Turkey and Syria. I spoke with Anjali and Bedel about what they saw in Antakya.

Ashley: What surprised you about Antakya’s destruction?

Bedel: I had in my mind what the destruction would look like, but when you’re driving around and seeing residential building after residential building flattened, it stops you in your tracks. We saw a building split in half — half had collapsed and half was still standing — and we could see an entire dining room set still present on the third floor, as though it were a dollhouse.

Anjali: We also saw so many photographs of missing people placed right outside the damaged buildings. I had assumed they were part of residents’ belongings in that building, but a local journalist told me that families left photos of their loved ones around the site of the rubble so that if someone clears debris or continues the search, those photos might help identify bodies.

Times graphics reporters often use satellite imagery to reconstruct disaster sites. Why was actually being in Antakya important for this project?

Anjali: Before the trip, I had identified some areas from drone imagery of Antakya that seemed most damaged, and speculated that those areas could be good to cover. But when I was reporting on the ground, all the locals talked about an area I hadn’t considered: Old City, a historic part of Antakya.

Old City was home to so many different kinds of buildings — churches, mosques, a synagogue, restored boutique hotels, jewelry shops, silk stores, a local favorite hummus shop, just real gems. Amid the rubble, we saw government officials putting up signs on various buildings in Old City, labeling them as important cultural assets and warning people not to tamper anymore with the debris. From being there, I saw how Antakya had history in its soil, its buildings and its people. And it was Old City that really brought the community together.

Did you get the sense that residents wanted to stay as Antakya rebuilds?

Bedel: Quite a number of people left if they had the means to: Either they had family in other parts of Turkey or if they had homes elsewhere. But among those who stayed, everyone we spoke to talked about the commitment to rebuild, no matter what.

The things that made Old City a gathering spot — the atmosphere, the aura, the embrace of different cultures — I could feel that’s what they longed for most. I spoke to a young woman, who recently graduated from medical school, who said, “It was good before, but we didn’t understand before we lost our city, how important it was to us.”

See what was lost in Antakya’s Old City, through one street at the heart of the community.

Anjali is a reporter and a former architect whose work at The Times includes reconstructing building disasters, such as a Bronx apartment fire and Miami’s Surfside condo collapse. Bedel joined The Times in 1991, and has covered hurricanes, wildfires and nine Olympic Games.

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Read the full issue.

  • T‌he chief executives of Apple, BMW and other major companies are expected in Beijing this weekend for the China Development Forum, an annual conference on foreign investment.

  • Two weeks after Daylight Saving Time began in the U.S., clocks went forward an hour today in Britain and the European Union.

  • The Hungarian Parliament, one of the last holdouts in ratifying Finland’s bid to join NATO, will hold a vote on it tomorrow.

  • House lawmakers will hold a hearing on Wednesday on regulators’ response to the failures of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank.

  • The deadline for U.S. federal agencies to remove TikTok from government devices is Wednesday.

  • The Biden administration invited dozens of countries for a summit on democracy beginning Wednesday and co-hosted by several nations.

  • Major League Baseball’s season begins on Thursday.

  • The N.C.A.A. women’s basketball Final Four begins on Friday, and the men’s on Saturday.

  • Saturday is April Fool’s Day.

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