On the road from Mersin city center to Erdemli there is no empty space. There are multi-storied modern buildings and orange and citrus groves, vegetable and banana greenhouses in between. In May when the lemon trees blossom, that enticing scent fills the air leaving no room for any other sensation.
Erdemli was upgraded to an administrative governorship in 1954. It is only 35 kilometers from the Mersin city center, the provincial capital. However, it is hard to say where Mersin ends and where Erdemli begins. You can only find it out by reading the signs. The area is so densely populated that there is hardly any vacant ground between the two cities.
The first neighborhood or settlement in Erdemli is Çesmeli and continues with Kargıpınarı, Tomuk, Arpacıbahşiş among orange and lemon gardens, greenhouses where vegetables are cultivated.
You enter Erdemli passing through a road flanked by pine trees on both sides. Local people call it, “The place where the trees kiss each other.”
From Erdemli driving westwards you pass through Kocahasanlı, Limonlu, Ayas
and Kızkalesi. The stretch between Erdemli and Kızkalesi is very rich in historical legacy.
Useful Information About Erdemli
Municipality of Erdemli, Telephone: 0. 324. 515 10 17
Municipality of Kızkalesi, Telephone: 0. 324. 515 24 84
Bus Terminal, Telephone: 0. 324. 515 18 58
Distance to Mersin: 33 Kilometers
The town is located in the center of the Mersin’s provincial borders. The modern town is teeming with vegetable and fruit gardens. In recent years it is developing as an important center of tourism. Besides its beaches, it has many important archeological sites.
In 1954 it was upgraded as an administrative governorship.
Kızkalesi, which is the symbol of Mersin is located here in Erdemli.
This density of population stretches parallel to the coastline. But when you move inland Erdemli becomes an almost narrow corridor. There are vegetable and fruit gardens and greenhouses covering the entire stretch of land in this part of the town.
In terms of fertility this is the most precious land in the province of Mersin, which in general possesses very productive agricultural fields. This area was known to be the most productive in terms of agricultural produce since old times even Antiquity. With the development of new technologies and greenhouse cultivation in recent years, the productivity has increased in a large scale.
This is the region, which plays an important role in supplying vegetables and fruits not only to the Mersin area but to the whole of Turkey. It is also a source of fruit and vegetable exports from Turkey. One of the indications that the agricultural importance of this area was known years ago is the presence of an agricultural school which was opened in 1944, at the height of World War II.
Alata Horticultural Research and Education Center
In 1944 “Alata Technical Horticulture School” was opened here. In 1967, “Regional Horticulture and Vineyard Research Institute” was added to the school. In 1972, the two educational institutions were merged under the name “Horticultural Research and Education Center.” The institution is still functioning under the same name.
The institute is conducting research on a very wide variety of plants, fruits and agricultural products covering the entire Eastern Mediterranean region of Turkey with activities in Mersin, Adana, Hatay and Osmaniye. Citrus and other subtropical fruits, grapes, vineyard cultivation, vegetable husbandry, plants used for interior and exterior decorative purposes, medicinal and aromatic herbs and plants and bee keeping are subjects that come under the scope of this institute’s activities.
A great variety of fruits are also cultivated here on the premises of the institute. It is not possible to list all the varieties but we can just mention a few of them like, oranges, lemons, tangerines, grapefruits, apricots, pomegranates, kiwis, jojobas, pecan nuts, avocados, apples and of course olives and vine shoots.
These are only fruit varieties, if we attempt to list vegetables, grains and other products the list will be endless.
(For those who might want to visit this interesting institution, we must say that it is closed to visitors.)
Ormaniçi Recreational Grounds
There is a camping area where the forest embraces the sea. It is called the Talat Göktepe Recreational Grounds. It is a place favored by a lot of people who want camp and enjoy the long sand beach. Since the forest is just behind the sandy beach, there is ample shady space for refreshing.
There are necessary arrangements for camping and the facilities open on June 1st and close down on September 15th.
Erdemli is the tourism center closest to Mersin. In addition to its new and good quality accommodation facilities, sand beaches and its new marina, it also has very rich archeological sites. In fact, a lot of important archeological ruins in Mersin are located within the borders of Erdemli. Furthermore, most of these sites are easily accessible.
For example, the antique city of Kanytellis which in the local language took the form of “Kanlıdivane” is a very popular site visited by throngs of people every year. Kız Kalesi (Maiden’s Castle), on the other hand, is more popular. This building in Erdemli is a symbol of the Mersin province.
The most interesting architectural structure at the center of Erdemli is Merkez Camisi (Central Mosque). It is not a historic building. It was built in 1992. The mosque has an interesting dome structure, which is not among the traditional architectural forms of the area.
The historical building in the town that attracts attention is a tomb built during the rule of the Karamanoğulları principality. It is not known to which notable of the time the tomb was built for. It stands in the area where the Kızılalan graveyard is situated.
In addition to its architectural characteristics, the tomb also indicates that Erdemli was also in the region under the sovereignty of the Karamanoğulları.
There is another structure that belongs to the same era at the nearby Aydınlar village. It is the castle known by the name Avgadi.
Akkale is a cluster of structures located 14 kilometers west of Erdemli, built during the late Roman period. The buildings are seen on the left side of the road as you drive past them.
In addition to a 2-3 story main building, there is a cross-shaped, 2-story smaller structure to its east and a substructure in the shape of two long galleries to the cluster’s south, all of them at a position overlooking the sea. There are also the ruins of a water cistern and a public bath. On the seashore there is yet another small cistern and the remnants of a port.
Akkale was an important port for olive oil exports. There is an antique olive oil cistern with a storage capacity of 15 thousand tons that can still be seen in the area.
Although the local people call it a “castle” one must also take into consideration that the Akkale cluster could have been a palace. There are even claims that Queen Cleopatra was hosted in this palace when she came to meet with Marcus Antonius.
The Marina and Yacht Tourism
There is a newly built marina near Akkale. As one of the largest marinas in the Eastern Mediterranean this facility will help develop yacht tourism at Erdemli.
Kanlıdivane (Kanytellis, Neapolis)
The reason why the local people call this antique city Kanlıdivane (Bloody Crazy) may stem from the fact that during the Antiquity condemned people were thrown into a hollow on the ground for wild animals to devour them. These are the ruins of the antique Kanytellis-Neapolis city situated on the 15th Kilometer of the Silifke road (45 kilometers from Mersin city center) near Ayas. The ruins can be reached after driving for 3 kilometers, exiting from the main road. Under the asphalt covering this road now, is an old Roman road leading to the ruins.
This archeological site spreading around a natural hollow on the ground was discovered by Westerners in the mid 19th Century. This was the sacred site of a kingdom called Olba. Later in the history, in 408 A.D. Byzantine Emperor II. Theodosius resettled the city under the name Neapolis (New City). The city lived its most prosperous period in the 4th Century A.D. Now there is a small grocery shop and a coffee house that also serves snacks at the entrance of the ruins. But the phenomenon that attracts the attention is the huge hollow in the middle, caused by land collapsing because of some unknown reason. Around the hollow, there are basilica-shaped buildings made of hewn stones, rock graves, sarcophagi, bas-relief figures carved on the rocks, cisterns and streets. On the southwestern edge of the ruins there is a Hellenistic tower. The inscription on the western façade of the tower says that it was built by Teukros, the son of Tarkyaris, one of the priest-kings of Olba and dedicated to Zeus. At the middle of the edge where eastern and southern walls of the tower meet, there is a bas-relief of a triskelis, three-legs arranged in the form of a wheel, a figure that is also seen on the coins minted by the Kingdom of Olba.
Partly preserved basilicas are located around the hollow. Basilica number I is on the southwestern side of the hollow and its eastern façade is still standing. Its columns have Corinthian capitals. Basilicas Number II and III are located on the northwestern edge of the hollow. The arch and the entrance of the underground storage room are seen in front of the three-arched narthex. It opens to the courtyard in the west surrounded by the atrium, through three arches supported by two columns each. We understand from a row of stone brackets on top of the western wall of the basilica that there was a wooden second floor above the narthex that did not survive until the present day.
There are necropolises in three different places. On two sides of the main road in the south, grave chambers carved into the rocks are seen. The graves in the western necropolis are generally in the form of tombs carved from rocks. There are men and women’s figures in relief above the entrances of the tombs. Among these figures two men in battle uniform and a women reclining can be fully seen.
The monumental tomb that Queen Alba built for her husband and two sons at the highest point of the northern necropolis is perhaps the most interesting structure of the entire site. Entrance to the square-shaped tomb is through an arched gate. To the west of this monumental tomb there are sarcophagi.
Just next to the necropolis there are grape presses carved into the rocks and rectangular cisterns covered with barrel vaults.
There are remnants of steps descending into the hollow, indicating that people used go down there perhaps to perform some rituals.
There are also gravestones left over from the Ottoman period in addition to Roman and Byzantine tombs showing that human settlements continued to exist here for a long time.
Limonlu, which has become a huge vacation village today, was also an antique settlement and perhaps the source of its name is the ancient word Lamas, the name given to the antique city here.
A castle overlooking the sea on the Mersin-Silifke road and an old bridge over the Limonlu Stream are the historical structures in this area that attract attention. The bridge, which the present road bypasses, is made of hewn stones. It is known that the castle belongs to the period of Karamanoğulları. Probably, the bridge too dates back to the same period.
The Limonlu Stream has historical importance, because it delineated the border between the Mountainous Cilicia and the Cilicia on the plain.
The Oceanography Research Institute affiliated with the Middle East Technical University in Ankara is also located at Limonlu.
The attractions of a vacation around Erdemli are the sea and the interesting sites that have reached our day from Antiquity. But there are other alternatives too, for the ones who want to take their time off from these attractions and see different places.
When you leave Erdemli and drive towards north in the direction of Kargıpınarı village, you come across Sıraç İçmeleri, freshwater springs that have healing qualities. This spot is 23 kilometers from Erdemli.
Picnicking at the Kayacı Valley
The Kayacı Valley is situated 10 kilometers north of Limonlu. The Limonlu Stream that flows through the valley is 130 kilometers long. It originates on the heights of central Taurus Mountains and flows into the Mediterranean. This stream has played a vital role as a water supply to the Romans who were able to hold on to Korykos (Kızkalesi) for 450 years.
The valley draws interest not only because of its stream and abundant greenery of the surroundings but also with the steep and sharp rock formations that rise as high as 150 to 200 meters. The rock formations are awe-inspiring indeed and they can be seen by joining one of the daily tours to the valley.
Another interesting feature of a trip to valley is the opportunity to see the traditional life the villagers continue lead here.
One of the favorite places to go in the valley is called Doctor’s Place (Doktorun Yeri). It is a garden restaurant under trees next to a waterfall. To go there, you can either drive your private car or take a minibus (one of the most popular means of transportation in Turkey) in front of the Governor’s Headquarters (Hükümet Konağı) at Erdemli, sharing the fare with other passengers. However, the place gets quite crowded on summer Sundays because local families also love coming here.
Those who want to picnic can also try the Muğlu Stream on the way to Sahna, where there are garden restaurants that operate on a serve-yourself basis, providing a brazier on whom you can grill your meat. Those who prefer fish go to the trout farms either in Dedekavak or Elvanlı.
The Ruins of Çatıören and İmirzili
To visit the ruins in the area, you have to take short trips inland and then return to the coastline. This will give you the chance to take a dip in the sea each time after you visit an archeological site. When the summer heat of Mersin is taken into account, it is advisable to take our time off from sightseeing to enjoy the coolness of the sea.
There are beaches everywhere except the parts of the coastline where the mountains descend to the shore in steep cliffs.
After refreshing ourselves in the sea we must see Imirzili and Çatıören sites, only 6 kilometers from the ruins of Kalytellis.
There is a lot to be seen in these two antique cities. The general belief is that both cities have been founded under the Kingdom of Olba. But there is no further knowledge about these ruins. For the enthusiasts, the ruins may offer an opportunity for new discoveries.
The Town of Ayas and Eliaussa – Sebaste
Where the town of Ayas is located today there was the antique city of Eliaussa – Sebaste, one of the major settlements in the Mountainous Cilicia (Cilicia Tracheia) founded during the late Hellenistic Period (2nd and 1st Centuries B.C.). In the west of Eliaussa – Sebaste there was Korykos and in its north the city of Kanytellis.
The road between Erdemli and Silifke passes through the ruins of Eliaussa – Sebaste. You can see the ruins even when driving through it. The archeological excavations on this site are being carried out by Italian archeologists.
The city lived its most prosperous period during the Roman and early Christianity periods. The development and prosperity of the city was due to its natural harbor and its fertile agricultural lands. Production of olives and olive oil, the most valuable commodities at that time, was quite significant. During the Antiquity, olives and olive oil were used for many purposes besides being important foodstuffs. Soap made of olive oil was used for hygiene. Olive oil also provided lighting in lamps. That is why olives were considered sacred in a way. Even today, olives are still revered by the mankind. The city was first settled on a high promontory jutting into the sea and then it spread towards areas inland. The period of peace ushered in by Pompeius getting rid of the pirates in the region also contributed to the prosperity of the city. But the most significant years in the history of Eliaussa – Sebaste were ushered in when Emperor Augustus of Rome donated the city to Arkhelaos, the king of Cappadocia. Arkhelaos came and settled here and changed the name of the city to Sebaste, the Greek version of Roman Augustus, as sign of his gratitude to the Roman Emperor.
When Emperor Vespasianus reorganized Cilicia as a Roman province in the year 72 A.D., Eliaussa – Sebaste showed an enormous economic and urban development. During the 2nd and 3rd Centuries A.D. numerous amphitheaters, public baths and agoras were built in the city. However, after the second half of the 3rd Century A.D. Eliaussa – Sebaste began losing its luster and importance.
But this period of decline lasted for a long period. From antique sources and the findings of archeological excavations we understand that the city continued its existence from the 5th to 7th Centuries A.D throughout the late Roman and early Byzantine eras. During this period too, many Christian shrines and churches were built in the city. But it was no longer a key port and a commercial center as it was in the past.
By the end of the 7th Century A.D. Eliaussa – Sebaste was dead. We still don’t know the conditions under which the city died. It might have been a natural disaster like a devastating earthquake or the cutting of its lifeline due to its port becoming clogged with sand. Around the same time, the city of Korykos just nearby began to develop and remained as an important center in the region until the end of Late Middle Ages.
Now let us see what we can find among the ruins of this antique city.
As we have pointed out, the earliest settlement in Eliaussa was on a promontory linked to the mainland by an isthmus. This area named “Ada” in the ancient sources was controlling the city harbors. Western slope of the promontory is encircled in a wall, which seems to be built in different times. We understand this from a great variety of construction techniques such as polygonal, rectangular or small rectangular blocks used in different sections of the wall on which there are towers and ramparts. Ruins of public baths, cisterns, churches and houses built during the Roman and Byzantine periods indicate that this part of the city was inhabited for a long time. The excavation work at Ada is being conducted only in a small area on the northern shore and ruins belonging to the Hellenistic period have not been reached yet. Only a few coins and parts of city walls of that period have been uncovered. In 1995-1996, a small Byzantine basilica built in the 5th or 6th Century A.D. was found on the northern tip of the peninsula. In 1999, the excavation work at the northwestern section of the walls overlooking the port uncovered just behind the wall a public bath with a mosaic floor.
An amphitheater built in the 12th Century just next to the main road was uncovered during excavations between 1995 and 1999. Initial restoration work began in 1999. However, there is very little left of the seating rows and stone ornamentation due to continuous looting, an inevitable fate of port cities.
The seats and the steps in the audience section are carved out of rock. The biggest damage seems to have incurred by the stage. Some archeological pieces have been dug out from the front section of the stage.
Two deep wells that were in use until 4th Century A.D. can be seen within the structure of the stage.
The agora appears to be surrounded by a thick wall made of rectangularly cut stones. The northern wall has collapsed. On both sides of the main entrance there are two ornate fountains. There is a basilica church in the agora with two apses facing each other on the two ends on the nave and aisles. A baptismal vessel and several sacred objects were also found during the excavations at the church. There were also numerous graves around the building.
As the excavation work proceeds, there are indications that the church was either built on the location of an earlier sacred building or an older structure was transformed into a church.
Big Public Bath
When you exit from the main road and enter the area, immediately on your left you will see the ruins of what is called the Big Public Bath. The excavation work at the bath is still continuing. In a photograph taken in the 1800s, this building is seen among a cluster of other buildings stretching to the side of the road.
The hot chamber and changing room right next to the road are in well-preserved condition.
The only temple that is standing in Eloisa is located at a spot overlooking the sea on the promontory. This structure, which is built in the Corinthian style with 12 columns along its length and 6 columns along the width, sits on a flat opening.
It is not known to which god the temple is dedicated. Rather, there are differing views concerning this question. There is a small Byzantine church with a mosaic floor in the southern part of the temple.
There is another public bath complex among the lemon trees where the landscape rises higher. This seems to be the residential part of the city. The bath complex is one of the best examples of architecture built by a technique called “Opus Reticulatum,” seen rarely in Anatolia.
The Roman aqueduct that was restored during he Byzantine times was carrying water from the source of Limonlu Stream first to Elaiussa then to the city of Korykos.
The most surprising part of the ruins is the necropolis that covers a very large area. Don’t leave the area after seeing the ruins on both sides of the road. Just drive up the bending road passing through the village and visit the large necropolis among the lemon groves. It is a very impressive spot and one of the best-preserved Roman necropolises in Anatolia. There are a great variety of tombs built in the form of houses or temples for families, graves carved into rocks in the form of niches or sarcophagi.
Unfortunately, some of these impressive tombs have been used as shelters for animals, storage places and even ready-made homes for local people in later years. Because they have been used for a score of different purposes, they have lost their ornamentations of statues, bas-relief figures and inscriptions. Despite such damage done through time, the necropolis still provides ample evidence of the prosperity of the people who lived here ages ago.
The Ruins of Öküzlü
This archeological site, which is 12 kilometers to the town of Ayas, has remnants of Late Hellenistic, Roman and Early Byzantine periods.
The basilica and the cisterns of the settlement can still be seen. The stone-paved road is partly well preserved. Some sarcophagi are also seen near the entrance.
The Antique City of Korykos / Kızkalesi
The antique city of Korykos, which is at a distance of 70 kilometers to Mersin and 25 kilometers to Silifke, extends from east to west on the motorway. It also sprawls up the slopes of the mountains close to the coastline. The mountain jutting into the sea forms two small coves.
The city stretching 15 kilometers towards the north is one of the most important archeological sites of the region.
During the Roman period Korykos remained as one of the most important towns of Cilicia for 500 years. It maintained its character as a key harbor during the Byzantine rule too.
The basilica churches, tow castles and remnants of the port, which we can see today, belong to the Byzantine times.
In 2005 during the survey of the site parts of a church was discovered. The excavation at this spot has not begun yet. When this new find is dug out, this rich archeological site will have another historical building to display.
When the Turks appeared on Anatolian soil they were looking for fertile lands to settle upon. This was one of the regions that the Turks had started raiding. The people of Korykos considering that the declining Byzantium Empire was incapable of protecting them against the Turks asked help from the Kingdom of Cyprus and became its protectorate in 1362. But this move did not prevent Karamanoğlu Ibrahim Bey to conquer the city in 1448. For a while after this the Karamanoğulları principality ruled the region. In 1482, the area was annexed by the Ottoman Empire.
Korykos and its Castles
The ruins of Korykos cover a large area on both sides of the motorway. The name of the city comes from saffron flowers (Crocus sativus).
The Castle of Korykos
This castle on the shore is built according to a square plan and it is surrounded by two concentric walls. There was a moat around the castle and a drawbridge leading to the entrance. These do not exist today. The Turks also used the castle like the people who lived here during the Late Hellenistic and Roman period. It has been restored and repaired many times throughout its long history. Today, the castle displays the characteristics of medieval architecture.
This castle, which has become the symbol of Mersin, is built on rocks at the sea, 200 meters from the shore. The castle, which has eight towers, is famous for a folk myth that has been told about it for centuries. Since it has become the main attraction here with its well preserved walls, impressive structure and captivating story, those who visit it by boat or just watch it from the shore neglect most of the time to visit the ruins of the great antique city of Korykos.
Korykos was probably a Greek colony. Pirates creating havoc along the shores of the Mediterranean, forcing people to leave their homes and migrate to safer places were also threatening the people of Korykos.
Cicero, the master of oratory and law arrived here as governor of Cilicia in 51 B.C. He was equally adept in military affairs as his struggle against the pirates proves.
He made the two castles, one on land the other at sea, to form a defense system. When pirates appeared to be heading towards Korykos, a thick chain was hauled from the castle at sea to the one on land closing the entrance of the harbor.
You can visit Kızkalesi taking a motorboat from the shore. Those who are brave enough can try swimming to the castle 200 meters off shore.
Rock graves are seen on the slopes on the left of the road as you drive from here towards Mersin.
The Myth of Kızkalesi
There are myths for such castles and towers built off shore in Turkey, most of the time similar to each other.
The anonymous myth of Kızkalesi goes like this:
One of the kings ruling the region had daughter. The girl grew up to be a very beautiful and good-hearted maiden. She was adored by both her father and the people.
One day a fortune-teller reads in the girl’s palm that she will die at a young age because a snake will bite her. Learning about this, her father tries to find ways to save her daughter. Since the snakes cannot swim, he orders a castle to be built out at sea for her daughter. The beautiful maiden begins living there. But one day, a snake hiding in a basket of grapes bites her and she dies.
That is why this castle is still called the Maiden’s Castle.
Kızkalesi or the Maiden’s Castle is one of the main tourism centers of the region. The nature here too exuberantly embellishes what is left from history. The long beach with its fine sands, crystal clear waters of the sea and its pleasantly warm climate that allows swimming until October attracts more tourists every day.
There are hotels providing good quality service in the region and new investments in tourism facilities are continuing without break.
There are scuba diving centers for the fans of underwater sports. These centers both train people in scuba diving and organize tours for divers.
It is also possible to join boat tours that will take you to the beautiful coves along the coastline. These boats even organize nighttime tours during the nights with full moon.
If you don’t want the company of strangers, you can hire a boat privately with your friends and relatives. If you choose, you can spend several nights on board too.
Adam Kayalar and Şeytan Deresi
(Human Rocks and Devil’s Stream)
When you enter the road leading to Uzuncaburç, from Kızkalesi and drive for 6 kilometers you will a sign saying “Adam Kayalar” on your left. If you have already seen the village of Huseyinli, that means you have missed the turn that would have taken you to this interesting place worth seeing. The 2-kilometer strip after you leave the main road is rough. It is full of stones and holes. A car can make it but if you are fussy about your using your car on such roads, it is advisable that you park it and walk the rest of the way.
Adam Kayalar literally means Human Rocks. The name comes from the human figures on a huge rock that looks like a wall. The narrow path that descends down to the valley where the rock is situated is marked with arrows painted on stones. Otherwise, it is hard to find this narrow path.
Local people call this canyon Devil’s Stream. It is very deep and the stream flows at the bottom of the canyon. Rocks rising almost at right angles in some places are scary.
When you come to the edge of the canyon you follow the arrows walking down the pathway. But one has to be extremely careful while going down. Although the distance is not long, it is a tough walk. Especially, one should avoid doing this expedition during Mersin’s heat at noontime. Also you should not forget that you have to climb back the same path that is like a steep staircase. Small children and senior citizens are advised not to attempt it.
The descent ends at a flat space on top of a rock on the edge of a precipice. In front of us there is a huge rock rising like a wall. And the human figures carved on this rock make us forget our exhaustion. In this canyon, 10 kilometers from the Kızkalesi, we see the amazing composition of human figures. In ten separate compositions there are 17 human figures, 11 men, 4 women and two children. There is also the figure of a mountain goat. These figures have been carved during the 2nd Century A.D. sources say. But there is no further information.
The Church of Cambazlı
Another impressive site with its church and rock graves is the Cambazlı ruins, which is near the village of Huseyinli when you are traveling from Erdemli.
On the Silifke – Uzuncaburç, road, when you turn right at the village of Keşlitürkmenli the road will take you to the ruins. After visiting Uzuncaburç, if you take the Ura – Yeğenli road you still find yourself at the Cambazlı ruins.
When you pass through the village and turn left. You will see the rock graves at the rocky area facing you. Rock graves and monumental tombs are also found in the village. But the most striking building the church that will catch your eye immediately after you pass through the village. It is impressive even at first look. All its walls are intact. It stands there in its historic grandeur. When you enter it, you will be even more impressed.
The northern façade of the building is completely closed. All the columns on the left are standing with their Corinthian capitals and even the columns in the upper gallery just above the lower row are also preserved. The church, which belongs to the Byzantine period, measures 20 meters in length and 12.5 meters in width. The apse is also standing intact.
Around the village fountain near the church, there are quite number of tombs that are in good condition.
The village itself is also very beautiful.