Silifke is the largest town in the Mersin province. With its sea, beaches, the Taşucu port that links Anatolia to Cyprus, its historical character and archeological and cultural riches it is one of the most impressive tourism centers in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The old town center is not far from the sea, but the coastline is developing fast with the building of tourist facilities. Taşucu, the southernmost tip of Anatolia is also progressing towards becoming a favorite tourist destination.
Silifke was almost always inhabited without a break during its long history. The Göksu (Kalykadnos) river after leaving its source on top of the Taurus Mountains travels 260 kilometers and flows through the middle of Silifke and reaches the Mediterranean. This river has been one of the main sources of livelihood of the region throughout the history. It still is.
Silifke borders on Antalya in the west, Mersin in the east and Karaman – Konya in the north. The road passing through these three cities linked the Mediterranean coast, which provided an opening to overseas lands to Central Anatolia and Istanbul. Silifke was historically an important port city.
First Settlement: Seleukeia or Kalykadnos
Antique city of Seleukeia founded on the two banks of River Göksu was called Seleukeia Kalykadnos, to differentiate it from the other cities. That is to say Seleukeia on the River Kalykadnos.
The foundation of the city dates back to the 3rd Century B.C. to the rule of Syrian King Seleukos I. Nikator. The location of the new settlement was chosen on a hilltop 8 kilometers from the seashore. A castle was built at the strategic location. The people of Holmoi (Taşucu) were resettled here. The hilltop overlooked the fertile plains of Kalykadnos, the two ports of Holmoi and the one in Korasion (Narlıkuyu). The reason for this compulsory resettlement may have been the constant attacks by the pirates and endless pillages by the mountain tribes living on the Taurus Mountains. The new settlement served as stronghold against these attacks.
The most prosperous period of Seleukeia coincides with the Roman rule. During this period it became the center of 33 cities in the region.
Under the Byzantines, the city became a religious center. It is believed that St. Tekla who has a monastery in her name in Syria also lived here making the town a pilgrimage place for the Christians.
St. Tekla is believed to be a follower of St. Peter. After converting to Christianity, St. Tekla broke her engagement to devote herself completely to God. Not pleased with her decision, her fuming fiancé tried several times to kill her. She survived each murder attempt, it is said, with a little divine intervention.
The religious significance of the city is underlined by the fact that it hosted in 359 A.D. a Pan Christian Synod. When the Nasian priest Gregor visited Seleukeia from Cappadocia in 376 to 379, he mentioned the city as “the city of St. Tekla.”
After hosting a variety of civilizations, Seleukeia first came under the rule of the Turks at the time of Karamanoğulları principality and then the Ottomans in the year 1471.
The town has a total population of 170,000 people, 85,000 of whom live in the center. As the tourism industry in the town developed, it began attracting people. The population during the summers shoots up to several hundred thousand by those who come for seasonal work at tourism facilities, those who have summerhouses and foreign tourists.
Silifke is always a lively town where you can see the legacy of history from very early times to recent periods. Daily life is colored with the historical heritage of the town.
Useful Information About Silifke
Tourism Information Telephone: 0. 324 714 11 51
Municipality Telephone: 0. 324 714 32 22
Bus Terminal Telephone: 0. 324. 714 28 40
Museum of Silifke: Taşucu Cad. No:11, Telephone : 0. 324 714 10 19
Open everyday 08.30 – 12.30 and 13.30 – 17.30 except Mondays.
There are 20,337 archeological and ethnographical objects on display.
The Ataturk House: Saray Mahallesi 1. Cadde Telephone: 0. 324. 714 10 19
Restoration work was completed in 1984 and the house was opened to visitors. Some ethnographical items from the Silifke Museum have been used in the interior decoration of the Ataturk House. It is open to visit everyday 08.30 – 12.00 and 13.00 – 17.00 except Mondays.
This is the closest point to Cyprus in Turkey. It is the main port that links Turkey to the island. Conventional and fast ferries commute between Taşucu and Northern Cyprus. No passport needed for traveling to Cyprus for Turkish citizens only officials ID’s or driving licenses are valid travel documents. For foreigners passports and visas are required. If you want to take your car with you, don’t forget its papers.
Municipality Telephone: 0. 324. 741 41 69
The Castle of Silifke
The castle under which the town of Silifke spreads today is thought to have been built either during the early Roman or late Hellenistic Period. Undergoing numerous restorations and repair work throughout centuries, the structure today has the characteristics of a medieval castle.
There is a moat around the castle, which stands on a hill that overlooks Silifke from a height of 185 meters. In the oval-shaped castle, there are arched galleries, water cisterns and remnants of buildings used for other purposes.
Evliya Chelebi, the famous Turkish traveler writes that the castle had 23 towers in the 17th Century and a mosque and 60 houses inside the walls. Today there are only 10 towers still standing.
On the southeastern slopes of the hill on which the castle stands, there was a theater. Only a part of its portal was able to reach our day.
Barbaro who saw the theater in the 15th Century notes that it was an intact structure then with its large cavea. Captain Beaufort, on the other hand, who visited the area in 1812 says that the theater was partly intact.
The water cistern situated below the castle was built by the Byzantines and it is now called locally as Tekir Ambari. At its time, the 46-meter long, 23-meter wide and 14-meter deep cistern was providing the entire water supply of the city. There is a spiral staircase at its eastern corner leading to the bottom.
The architectural caharcteristics of this cistern are rarely seen in Anatolia. All its walls are supported by regularly cut stone blocks both to prevent leakages and to give it a monumental look. There are round-arched niches, 8 along its length and 5 along its width.
The Bridge of Kalykadnos (Taşköprü)
The Roman bridge over the Göksu River that flows in the middle of the town is still being used in our day. The bridge was built in the years 77 and 78 A.D. by the Cilician governor Octavius Memor in the name of Emperor Vespasianus and his two sons, Titus and Domitianus.
The bridge that has seven supporting arches has been in use both during the Ottoman and republican times and it has been under constant repair and maintenance.
The Roman Temple (Jupiter Monument)
In its original form, there were 14 columns along the length and 8 columns along the width of the temple, which is situated at the center of the town. Only one of these Corinthian-style, 10-meter tall columns is now standing. The excavations that started on this location in 1980 are still continuing.
The temple is thought to be built in the 2nd Century A.D. It has been converted into a church during the period of Christianity. Byzantine historian Zossimos (5th Century A.D.) writes that the temple was dedicated to Apollo who responded by sending a flock of birds to the plea of help from the local people who were attacked by a swarm of locusts. But there are also claims that it is a temple built for Zeus.
The Mosaic Floor
In an excavation in 1980, a structure with a colored mosaic floor was found at the city center. It is thought that the building was probably a gymnasium or a public bath. The structure is estimated to date back to the Roman period of 2nd Century A.D. Two statue pedestals with inscriptions and a headless statue of an emperor were also uncovered at the same location.
The Museum of Silifke
The museum, which is located on the road to Taşucu is a two-story modern building in which objects found in the region, belonging to different historical periods are exhibited.
Collection of Hellenistic silver coins excavated at Meydancık Kale, clay and stone statuettes, objects such as earrings, bracelets, rings, oil lamps belonging to 2nd and 4th Centuries found in graves attract attention. On the second floor, there are vases decorated with figures belonging to the 4th and 5th Centuries B.C. are on display. In the ethnography section, folk costumes, glass, bronze and silver wares and weapons belonging to the Ottomans are exhibited.
There are a total of 20,337 objects on display at the museum. Out of these, 2,975 are archeological finds, 1,410 are ethnographic displays and 15, 875 are coins.
A Tour around the Town
There are examples of Turkish-Islamic architecture in the town. The mosque just across from the Roman bridge was built during the reign of Seljuk Sultan Alaaddin Keykubad and it is known by the sultan’s name. But generally local people call it Merkez Camisi (central mosque).
Another mosque is the Reşadiye, which was built during the reign of the late Ottoman Sultan Reşad (1912). It is interesting to see the columns supporting the porticos on the east and west façades of the mosque are in Corinthian in style. The columns made of marble and limestone most probably came from surrounding ruins.
The Tomb of Tevekkul Sultan is also next to the Roman Bridge (Taşköprü). The roof has been added in later years. There is no inscription on the building so it is not known to whom it belongs. It is rumored that a member of the Seljuk dynasty is lying there.
The Ataturk House Museum is a beautiful stone building restored in recent years. This is the house where Ataturk spent the night when he came here in 1925. It has been made into a museum where some of Ataturk’s personal effects are displayed.
The Culture House was opened in 1995 by the local municipality. It is a place where activities to promote local culture, like courses of folk music and local folk dances and theater are held. This is also a beautiful building.
There is also a Culture Palace, which is also a restored historical building.
Folk dances of Silifke are known not only throughout Turkey but also in the world. Folk dancers from Silifke have been winning prizes at international folk dancing festivals for years.
The dances reflect the cultural traditions and values of the Yoruk-Turkoman people who live in this part of Turkey and keep the nomadic lore still alive. Their folk songs are equally colorful and lively. The municipal administration and private associations are working to maintain and develop this folk culture in the region.
The Gazi Farm
When Kemal Ataturk came here to Silifke on 27 January 1925 he initiated the establishment of a model farm. The farm spreading over 3,000 acres was set up at the village of Tekir, a settlement founded by Abidin Pasha during the Ottoman period. The model farm led the modernization of agricultural economy in the region. It is still active in the production of agricultural crops and animal husbandry in addition to providing carpet-weaving courses to the local people.
The Göksu River Delta: A lifeline throughout history!
The Göksu River delta is a plain on the coast formed by alluvial deposits that waters bring down from the mountains. The phenomenon is still continuing. The river flows into the sea following the main riverbed, but it also branches into small streams on the plain before reaching the Mediterranean. During windy weather, seawater inundates the coastline of the river delta.
There are two lakes to the west of the point where Göksu flows into the sea. One of them is a lagoon covering an area of 400 hectares separated from the sea by a narrow strip of sand. It is called the Paradeniz Lagoon. The other one is a freshwater lake called the Akgöl that measures 1,200 hectares in size. There are other lakes in the area. One of them is an artificial lagoon called the Kuğu Gölü (Swan Lake) situated between Paradeniz and Akgöl and the other one is a salty lake to the east of Paradeniz, called the Arapalanı.
The salinity of these lakes changes according to the tide. But the average salinity of Paradeniz is 19 percent while in Akgöl this figure falls to 1 to 2 percent.
The delta constitutes of many small and big lakes and lagoons and wide reedy meadows, agricultural areas and sand dunes. In the eastern and western sections of the delta there are sand hills stretching parallel to the coastline. The total area that the marshes, surfaces covered with reeds and lakes add up to 2,130 hectares.
The sandy beaches still keeping their natural characteristics and salty steps cover a total area of 5,300 hectares.
The Lifeline of Nature
The delta has vital importance not only for the local and national economy, but also for the wildlife in the region.
The River Göksu delta is one of the rare areas in the Mediterranean basin that still maintains its naturally irrigated character. Because of the presence of a great many habitats having different natural conditions, it offers a place for a wide variety of water birds where they can feed, live, reproduce and pass the winter. Especially during the winter months, many waterfowls migrate here because the marshes and areas with water in Central Anatolia freeze during winter.
The delta also plays a vital role in the preservation of fishing, because it provides a safe haven for the fish to come and lay their eggs and a place for the young ones to feed themselves. The mouth of the river and its surroundings and the lakes in the area provide shelter and food for the young fish.
The delta also constitutes a buffer zone between the sea and the agricultural fields inland by preventing the salty sea waters enter as far as the cultivated areas.
In addition to all these natural characteristics, the delta is a great potential for tourism industry with the wildlife it hosts offering a great variety of recreational activities like bird-watching, amateur fishing and hunting.
Variety of Fauna & Flora
Different natural and climatic conditions that exist concurrently on the delta have produced a very wide range of vegetation to develop in the area that meets the needs of different habitats for different species of wildlife. That is why a remarkable variety of wild animals take shelter here.
Wild boars, wolves, foxes, bears, beavers, badgers, squirrels, lynx, martens, hedgehogs, hyenas and hares are the commonly found wildlife species on the delta.
Zoologists found out that 34 kinds of reptiles and amphibious species also live here. Various types of frogs and toads, Taurus snakes, vipers, lizards and chameleons are some of them.
The sand beaches along the delta are one of the major locations where the loggerhead turtles lay their eggs in the Mediterranean. It is known that the soft-shelled Nile turtles also live here.
Until today 332 different species of wild fowl have been observed in the area. This is the highest figure in the world observed at any single wetland.
The delta hosts species threatened by extinction like pygmy cormorant, Dalmatian pelican, marbled teal, ferruginous duck, spotted eagle and imperial eagle. On the other hand, species like little bittern, night heron, squacco heron, grey heron, purple heron, black patridge, stone curlew, collered pratincole, spur-winged plover, kingfisher, and common tern are breeding here.
Little and great white egrets, grey herons, crakes and and white-breasted kingfisher lay their eggs in the delta.
Large numbers of greylag geese, wigeons, teals, and coots pass the winter here and during the migration season glossy ibises and storks make their stopovers in the delta.
The delta Rooster
Among all these birds living on the Göksu Delta, the most interesting one is the moor rooster. It is a member of the bird family gallinula chloropus. It is bigger than the moor hen which is also called as crakes in Turkey. It is 45 to 50 centimeters tall. While most of the fowl living in swamp areas are generally brown or grey in color for natural camouflaging puposes, the moor rooster has a shiny navy blue color. These birds were first seen here in the Göksu Delta. But in recent years they have also been spotted on the Kizilirmak Delta in the Black Sea. It is thought that they escaped fro Russia after a very harsh winter around the River Volga and settled here. These fancy birds can climb on the reeds using their feet and walk on the water lilies. They feed on plants and some micro organisms. The moor roosters and hens also have an interesting family life besides their attarctive color. Youngsters of the family help their parents to feed the younger ones after they are one year old.
The history of human settlements on the Göksu Delta goes back to the Neolithic Age. Staring with the beginning of the First Millennium B.C. many civilizations including the Hittites, Assyrians, Greeks, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks and Ottomans ruled this area.
There are three tumuli, some remnants of architectural elements on the banks of the Paradeniz lagoon, two small buildings made of hewn stone blocks on the sand beach near Incekum and several columns and elements of antique structures are found in the area.
The land on the Göksu Delta is primarily used for agricultural production. Almost all the indigenous Mediterranean crops are cultivated in the area. A number of fruits, cotton and wheat are the most widespread agricultural products harvested on the delta.
The abundance of natural water sources enable irrigated cultivation in the area. In addition to the grains, cotton, sesame, peanuts, rice, strawberries, citrus and vegetables are grown at the agricultural strip along the coastline where the land is irrigated.
Olive groves and vineyards are common where the landscape begins rising from the sea level.
Next to the citrus gardens, vegetables like tomatoes, eggplants and green peppers are cultivated. Greenhouse cultivation is quite wide spread in the region.
There are four kinds of fish in Akgöl that are of commercial value. Two of these four kinds are eels and striped mullets that are migratory fish with a tolerance to salinity. The other two, carp and karabalik (capoeta sieboldi) lay their eggs in the lake. Eels and karabalik are exported while striped mullet and carp are sold locally.
There are weirs on the Paradeniz lagoon where sea bass, porgies, various types of sea breams constitute the catch of the day.
In the delta fishing from the shore goes on the year-round. In the irrigation canals north of the delta carp and striped mullets can also be fished. Besides fishing, prawns and blue crabs are also among the delicacies that the sea offers in this area.
Rafting on the Göksu River
The Göksu River flows at the bottom of a deep and impressive valley. There are cultivated fields in the valley at places allowed by the landscape. During the summer these fields are irrigated by the waters of the Göksu River. Decreased level of water compels the rafters to give a break to their sport. But in the spring, the river offers an excellent rafting course. During the Culture Week between May 20 and 26, each year, rafting competitions are held on the river. The local municipal administration is developing a project on this subject. If the necessary conditions are created, the Göksu River will be one of the most attractive rafting stretches of Turkey.
To Make a Tour of the Delta
As we have described above, the delta is a conservation area for many reasons. Naturally, everybody would like to see such an interesting place. But while touring the area the visitors must strictly observe the rules of conservation.
- For group tours it is necessary to get permission from the İçel Environmental Protection Authority. Telephone : 0324 713 0888. Address: Becili, Taşucu Yolu, 5th Kilometer next to the DSI local office.
- Ask for assistance from the Center of Environmental Education. Next to the Amphora Museum, across from the port facility. Telephone: 0324 741 4009.
(And don’t forget to visit the Amphora Museum. It is very impressive. Check the chapter on the museum.
Hagia Theokleia / Meryemlik
When you follow the sign on the 4th kilometer of the Silifke – Taşucu road and drive for another 1 kilometer you arrive at Hagia Theokleia known locally b y the name Meryemlik. In fact, a better alternative is to take the antique road and walk up to the place. Walking on a 2000-year road is a unique feeling. People walk up this road every year during the ceremonies organized between September 13 and 14 for remembering Aghia Theokleia. A mass is held in the cave where Hagia Theokleia’s grave is situated.
There is a small house here where the caretaker stays. During the summer visiting hours are 09.00 – 12.00 and 13.30 – 18.00. But in the winter the place is open between 08.00 and 17.00. On the side of the little house the ruins of a large cistern can be seen.
But let us tell the story of Hagia Theokleia or St. Tekla who is an important figure in Christianity.
Apostle St. Paul, a native of Tarsus, Mersin, goes to Icconium (Konya) following his expulsion from Antiocheia in Pisida (Yalvac, Isparta) where he has been spreading the teachings of Jesus Christ after his conversion to Christianity.
A young girl listens to St. Paul’s sermons at the house where he was staying as a guest from a neighboring house. The 17-year-old girl called Tekla is impressed by the apostle’s sermons and she decides to separate from her fiancée and follow the teachings of Christ. The girl’s mother and her fiancée complain about St. Paul to the Roman governor of the region for taking the girl away from them. The governor arrests St. Paul and throws him into a dungeon. Tekla bribes the prison guard with a silver mirror and manages to enter St. Paul’s cell where she kneels in front of him and listen to his advice.
When Tekla’s mother finds out about this and complains again to the governor St. Paul is thrown out of Icconium and the girl was condemned to die on the stake. But on the day of her execution a heavy downpour of rain extinguishes the fire, the whole city is flooded and Tekla is thus saved from burning. She finds St. paul hiding in the cemetery with his followers, she cuts her hair and disguises herself as a man and decided to accompany St. Paul wherever he goes.
St. Paul and Tekla go to Pisida again. But a young man by the name of Alexandros falls in love with Tekla and causes her secret faith to be revealed. Tekla is once again faces death, this time by being thrown to lions. But the lions instead of tearing her into pieces protect her from her executioners.
Tekla once again joins St. Paul in Debre (which is probably today’s Demre) and tells him about her sufferings. She returns to her hometown Icconium and then settles in Seleukeia. Until then, years had passed and Tekla has now become an old woman. She finds shelter in a cave in Seleukeia and continues to preach Christianity, perform miracles, cures the sick. The physicians of Seleukeia get angry with her and try to get rid of her. But when they arrive at her cave she disappears behind the rocks that open to make her escape, leaving behind her cloak that also turns into a rock. Because of her sufferings St.Tekla is considered as proto-martyr by the Christians. The cave where St. Tekla disappeared became a secret worshipping place for the Christians until Emperor Constantine granted freedom of worship to Christians in the year 312 A.D.
Both the Orthodox and Catholic churches have canonizes St. Tekla. Catholics hold mass in her name on September 23 and the Orthodox Christians remember her a day later.
The cave in which the saint lived and disappeared is descended by a few steps. There is lighting in the cave. The nave and aisles are separated by rows of Doric columns, three on each side.
There is a 1.70 by 1.05 meter oil painting of St.Tekla presented last year by the Çukurova Hoteliers Association. This is how the church looked like during the 4th Century A.D. You can see pieces of colored mosaic at the corners of the ceiling.
There are other bits and pieces to be seen at this site. The partly standing apse belonged to a large church here built on the location where a smaller church used to be.
About 150 meters north of the big cistern is the remains of a votive church that used to stand here. Today we can see the marks of its foundations and the apse. There are also the ruins of a bath between the two churches. There are memorial graves at the cemetery.
The cemetery was surrounded by a wall but it was not able to survive until the present time.
Throughout its long history, Taşucu has always been Silifke’s port it still is. Actually, Silifke was originally founded by the resettling of people from Holmoi, today’s Taşucu. But it is also known that Holmoi was already an important city even before the resettlement of its inhabitants. Holmoi was founded by Greek colonizers in the 7th Century B.C. Even after its population was moved to Seleukeia, Holmoi continued to be used as a major port and the name Holmoi continues to be used until the early Byzantine period.
Holmoi was an important port because it linked Anatolia to Cyprus and trade mainly followed this route. During Christianity, the port also served as a main disembarkation point for the pilgrims coming to visit Hagia Theokleia’s shrine.
During the Middle Ages, the port was abandoned from time to time. We first come across its new name Santodaro in the year 1400.
The original city of Holmoi stretched from the coast to the lime hill to the northwest of the modern town of Taşucu now. There are historical accounts dating back to the 19th Century mentioning rock graves in this area. During the Roman and early Byzantine periods the port facilities in the city spread as wide as the cape of Kalik, which today is at the center of Taşucu. There are some ruins at the Mylai site, which is locally called “Manastir” or monastery indicating the presence of a settlement here.
Taşucu in our Times
Taşucu is a very lively tourism center for 24 hours a day. There is a continuous movement in the town with tourists coming for vacationing, people moving into their summerhouses and passengers coming from and going to Cyprus from the port. The port area is especially active because of ferries coming from or taking off for Cyprus in addition to the hotels, bars, cafes and the beach teeming with people.
The Amphora Museum of Arslan Eyce
There is an interesting, cute museum, in a nice building in the vicinity of the port next to ferryboat ticket offices. The museum is operated by a foundation. The building in which the museum is located was built in the 1800s as a storehouse for sea trade. The museum occupies only part of this building. It was founded in 1997 when Arslan Eyce, the president of the Taşucu Foundation for the Protection of Wildlife, donated his collection of amphoras and other earthenware for the purpose. The collection at the museum is getting richer everyday with the donations coming from local people. There are more than 300 amphoras and earthenware dating back to the 5th Century B.C. on display at the museum. The collection gives the visitor an idea of what types of amphoras were used in the maritime trade in the Mediterranean in the history. There is also a small section of the museum where ethnographical objects are exhibited. The oldest amphora in the museum belongs to the 6th Century B.C. and the newest is from 12th Century A.D. The collection offers you an opportunity to follow the 1800-year period of Mediterranean amphoras. This is important because amphoras are not merely vessels to carry liquid. They also hold a lot of information about their time as witnesses to various cultures and ways of life.
During the summer season, the museum is open between 08.00 and 18.00.
You must definitely visit this museum to see how a historical heritage is kept, protected and left to the posterity through the efforts of a single person. There is no entrance fee, but nobody hesitates to make a little donation to the voluntary work of keeping the museum saying, “I must also have share in the care shown to history here.”
Address: Ataturk Caddesi, Vakif Han No: 78 (Across the port), Taşucu, Telephone: (0324) 741 40 09.
The Ataturk House
There are quite a number Ataturk Houses all over Turkey. The buildings where Ataturk stayed in during his trips around the country have later been arranged as museums. However, the Ataturk House in Taşucu is different. Because, Ataturk could not have stayed here since the construction of the building was completed in the year 2005. The reason why it is called the Ataturk House is that it is the replica of the house in Salonica in which Ataturk was born in 1881. The house situated in a park on the coast also serves as a cultural center.
There are frequent exhibitions in the museum, which also has a café that serves refreshments.
In the same park, the ruins of an antique wall can be seen.
The Haliliye Mosque is the oldest mosque in town built in 1908. When you walk around the old quarter of Taşucu you can see old churches too.
The Port Castle (Liman Kalesi, Ağa Limanı)
This castle is situated on the slopes of a hill overlooking a natural cove known as Ak Liman on the 7th kilometer of Taşucu – Antalya road. Evliya Chelebi has this to say about this castle, which the Ottomans used after restoring it after the mid 15th Century: “It is reached after a four-hour journey on a beautiful coastal road after Silifke. The castle has been reinforced by Lala Mustafa Pasha, the conqueror of Cyprus. It is a lively port with castle guards, 200 houses, 40 shops and public baths.”
The journey that took Evliya Chelebi four hours then, is only ten minutes by car today.
Nesulion (The Isle of Boğsak)
On the island of Boğsak in an inlet called by the same name, ruins of houses and buildings belonging to the Roman and Early Byzantine periods, sarcophagi, cisterns, graves and churches can be seen.
Castellum Novum (The Castle of Tokmar)
The gravel road that leads north on the 22nd kilometer of the Antalya – Taşucu motorway will take you to this castle after driving for 5 kilometers. The Castle of Tokmar sits on a hill overlooking the sea. It was built in the 12th Century. It is a typical medieval castle with its semi-circular towers.
Taşucu – Kyrenia (Cyprus)
There are regular ferryboat and fast ferry service from Taşucu to the Kyrenia port in Cyprus.
There are ticket offices of the private companies running the ferryboats and fast ferries across from the quay. It is also possible to take your car with you. You have to buy return tickets since one-way fare is not allowed. (We must also remind those who want to take their cars with them that the traffic in Cyprus is left-handed).
The timetable for the ferry service changes in the summer when the number of runs increases.
Discount fares are offered to groups, students, children and servicemen.
For Turkish citizens no passports are required to travel to Northern Cyprus, the official IDs are valid.
One of the most outstanding monuments of Silifke’s rich archeological heritage is Uzuncaburç. This site is quite far from the town’s center and you have to take the road passing through the villages of Demircili, Imamli and Keşlitürkmenli to reach it.
This was the sacred site of the Kingdom of Olba. Archeological excavations still continue here. The Kingdom of Olba was affiliated with the Seleukids.
Under the Roman domination, the sacred site was separated from Olba and turned into an independent city. The city was given the name Diocaesarea (Emperor God City) and it began developing rapidly. The city was surrounded by walls 400 meters by 300 meters. It was embellished by columned streets, the Temple of Fortune, theaters, sports facilities and fountains. The city minted Roman coins in its name.
Uzuncaburç stands at an altitude of 1,184 meters from the sea. The modern settlement has mingled with the ruins of the antique city. It seems that the antique city is living a new life in the company of the people of Uzunburç.
Columned Main Street
The main street which begins with the Temple of Fortune was built in the 1st Century A.D. The street cuts another columned street that comes from the Northern Portal of the city. After this junction we see the Zeus Temple on the right and the Fountain on the left. Passing under the Ceremonial Portal we arrive at a theater on the right. The main street leads to the eastern portal of the city.
The Ceremonial Portal
The half-destroyed portal is in front of the coffee house at the foot of a plane tree. Originally the portal had five arches and it was the place where the ceremonies were held. However, its architectural elements are preserved.
The Fountain is a little further up on the right of the Ceremonial Portal. It is in ruins. In the days of Diocaesarea, water from the source of the Limonlu River 36 kilometers away was flowing from its taps. The water was brought here to the fountain using a combination of methods like canals, tunnels and trenches. It is dated to 2nd Century A.D.
The Temple of Zeus
The temple looks like a forest of columns in a courtyard next to the southern part of the columned main street. Originally, the temple was an impressive structure measuring 39.70 meters by 21.10 meters with single row columns along its width. It is thought that the temple was built at a location where the Hittites had a temple dedicated to their God of Rain and Storm, Tarhund. In the 5th Century A.D. the temple was transformed into a church with major architectural changes.
The Temple of Chance
This is a structure at the beginning point of the columned main street consisting of 5.5-meter-high, monolithic columns. The temple is dedicated to the Goddess of Fortune, called Tyche by the Seleukids and Fortuna by the Romans.
The inscription on it says: “Oppius, the son of Obrimus and Kyria, the daughter of Leonidas constructed this temple and presented it to the city.”
The Northern Gate
This is a colossal portal. The inscription on it says that it has suffered damages during an earthquake and repaired by Arcadius and Honorius, two sons of Emperor Theodosius.
The Tall Tower
This is in fact a five-story building 22.30 meters high and measuring 15.70 meters by 12.50 meters in its base with an entrance on the southern façade. This was the living quarters of the priest-kings of Olba. It is dated to either the second half of the 3rd Century B.C. or the first half of 2nd Century B.C.
The figure of this building is found on the coins minted in this city. Yüksekburç or Uzunburç still retains its symbolic nature as it the emblem of the town of Uzuncaburç.
The theater is situated 50 meters to the east of the Ceremonial Portal and it has a seating capacity for an audience of 2000 people. The theater is quite well preserved except for its stage. However, cultural events are being organized at this antique theater in our day.
Hellenistic tombs, churches and the cemetery dating back to the Antiquity can also be seen in the town.
The caretaker of the ruins has set up a Yoruk tent, named after the Turkoman nomadic tribes who have settled in this region ages ago and still retaining their traditions, where he serves coffee made of a local herb called kenger. It has a different taste. Their ayran, made of yogurt and water, is also very refreshing. Samples of some local handicrafts are also displayed and sold on this spot. The young caretaker seems to be a guy with a special interest in the place he is looking after. He has photocopied reading material about the ruins and he distributes it the visitors. He is also very knowledgeable about the archeological excavation on site. He is very helpful to the visitors.
The Monumental Tombs of Demircili (Imbriogon)
Monumental tombs in the middle of a field at the village of Demircili on the 7th kilometer of Silifke – Uzuncaburç road attract our attention. These four tombs are just next to the road. They still retain their architectural character. They date back to the Roman Period of 2nd Century A.D.
The Antique City of Ura (Olba)
The antique city of Olba is situated 4 kilometers east of Uzuncaburç. A fountain, parts of an aqueduct, amphitheater, the necropolis and the ruins of some houses have reached our day from this city, which is founded on a hill. The most interesting structure in the city is the aqueduct, which used bring water to the city from the Limonlu (Lamos) River. Water is transported through a combination of tunnels and trenches in addition to the aqueduct to the fountain built at the time Septimus Severus. The aqueduct, which runs across the valley where the necropolis is, situated measures 150 meters long and 25 meters high. There are towers around the aqueduct built probably to guard it.
Some of the spectator rows and part of the stage of the amphitheater next to the fountain are still standing.
In the large necropolis rock graves and sarcophagi can be seen.
Paradise and Hell / Korykon – Antron
The hollows of “Cennet-Cehennem” or Paradise – Hell that are located 2 kilometers north of 20th kilometer of the Silifke – Mersin main road, had sacred significance like all the other hollows in the area during the Antiquity. When you turn into the road running north at Narlıkuyu, you will come across the ruins of an antique city 2 kilometers driving after the bends and further up you will see the Temple of Zeus and finally you will reach these two hollows considered sacred by the polytheistic Romans and some interesting caves.
The place is 22 kilometers from Silifke and only 7 kilometers from Kızkalesi.
The hollows of Paradise and Hell are still revered by both local people and tourists who come here to visit.
At the entrance, there is a parking lot, a modest café where you can have refreshments and eat snacks and a souvenir shop next to it.
The Temple of Zeus
The Temple of Zeus is on the southern edge of the hollow called Cennet (Paradise). The original structure was built during the Hellenistic period in Doric style. The temple was dedicated to the victory of Zeus over Typhon. The names of priests who served here during the Hellenistic and Roman periods have been carved on the face of the northern wall of the temple. Two of the stones on which names are inscribed are placed upside down on the wall. This probably indicates that the temple was torn down and a church was built on its location with the same material during Christianity.
The Hollow of Paradise
The Hollow of Paradise is one of the two natural wonders consisting of two deep and large cavities on the ground. It was known as the cave of Korykos during the Antiquity.
However, it is not so easy to go to paradise. You have to descend 450 steps to reach its bottom and climb back. Those who have health problems should satisfy themselves by just looking at it from above especially during the summer heat of Mersin.
The steps chiseled irregularly on the rocks forming the eastern edge of the hollow. Walking down 450 steps you arrive at the bottom and then you have to walk down another 300 steps towards the east to arrive at the entrance of a church built at the mouth of the cave.
The Church of St. Mary
The cave at the bottom of the hollow was a place of worship even before Christianity. In later years a church was built at the mouth of the cave.
According t the inscription above the entrance, the church was built by a pious Christian called Paulus and dedicated to St. Mary. Because of a rock jutting just above the church, no roof was built on top of the structure. The rock serves as a roof for the church. The two rooms and the apse next to them have been covered with small dome. During the 12th Century, the dome and the interior of the walls have been decorated by frescos. But today these frescos are completely worn out and the figures are hardly discernible. It is thought that the frescos depicted Jesus Christ and his apostles.
This church has been built about the same time the temple outside was transformed into a basilica church.
A simple, stone-paved path leads from St. Mary’s Church into the cave for about 200 meters. As you proceed, the cave gets deeper, narrower and darker. At the bottom of the cave, you can hear the splashing sound of the underground river, which usually disappears during summers.
It is thought that this river is somewhat related to the mythological River of Styx. Geographer Strabon also mentions this river as “bitter waters.” A branch of this underground river emerges at the Narlıkuyu inlet and flows into the sea. That is why, the seawater in this cove is colder than it is in the other parts of the beach.
Before Christianity, this cave was a temple where people worshipped Zeus of Korykos. It was also known for centuries as a center of oracles.
The sound of water coming from the depths of the cave scared people. They believed that this cave was a passageway to Hell ruled by Hades, the God of Death, and that Serberus, the three-headed dog guarding the gates of Hell was waiting for them down there.
God of Darkness Hades and Hell’s Dog Serberus
According to mythology the gods of Olympos defeat the titans at a battle. Zeus orders the captured titans to be thrown into the bowels of the earth. But the mother earth, Gaia gives birth to a dragon to avenge the titans who happen to be her grandchildren.
This dragon called Typhon was a giant with hundred heads, flames gushing out of his mouths and destroying everything that came along his way. Typhon engages in a ruthless battle with Zeus but the God of Gods defeats him. Before imprisoning Typhon under Etna volcano in Sicily, Zeus throws him into the Hollow of Hell. Here Typhon mates with a half-woman, half-snake creature called Echidna and from this mating scores of monsters are born. One of them is Serberus. Serberus has a dog’s body but the tail of a snake. It has three heads and poison drips from its teeth. Its duty is to keep the gates of Hell across the River Styx so that no living creature can enter it.
The Well of Hell
The well, which is called either Hell or Arasat, is situated among the rocks 75 meters north of the Hollow of Paradise. Its sides are concave so it is almost impossible to descend into it. This is the place where Zeus imprisoned Typhon temporarily. The place has a really scary look.
Wishing or Asthma Cave (Typhon’s Bed)
There is a 20-meter deep well 300 meters to the southwest of the Hollow of Paradise. There is a spiral, iron staircase descending to the bottom of the well. Through this staircase, you can descend into a cave where there is lighting. The galleries of the cave usually link with each other. Its length is about 200 meters. Your imagination might play games with you likening the stalactites and stalagmites and other amorphous formations in the cave to camels, to birds or any other animal. The average temperature inside the cave is 14ºC and humidity is 85 percent in the summer going up to 98 percent in winter.
It is believed that the air in the cave helps heal asthma. Not only the local people but also other asthma patients come here from afar seeking cure. According to mythology, this cave is said to be sleeping place of dragon Typhon.
People throughout centuries have always seen the hollows of Paradise and Hell, the cave of Wishing and Asthma as sacred places. This has not changed today. People of different faiths come here to make votive offerings. That is the mystery of the myriad of multicolored pieces of cloth tied to tree branches and bushes in the area.
Entering the site where Paradise and Hell are situated, you will see ruins on both sides of the road. These belong to the Byzantine city. Some arches, door casings, cisterns, sarcophagi and rock graves can be seen. But there has been no serious research work done here so far.
Mezgitkale or the Fearless King
The structure at the village of Pasli is not really a castle but it is known as Mezgit Castle, Mezgitkale in the region. This is in fact a monumental tomb belonging to the Roman Era. In written documents this place is referred to as, “The Grave of Fearless King.”
The interesting is that this structure as tall as a six-story apartment block is completely intact from its roof to its foundations. From the bas-relief figure of a penis on one of the walls we understand that the deceased notable was a “powerful” personality. But his identity is unknown. The bas-relief is partly destroyed. Local people say that the damage has been done in recent years. It seems that some of the nearby villagers did not find the artwork compatible with their understanding of ethics!
The village of Susanoglu, where there is a significant number of summer residences owned by people living in the cities have been merged with two nearby villages and reorganized as a municipal unit with a new name: Atakent. After passing through this modern settlement where there are also a number of hotels, we arrive at Narlıkuyu.
Narlıkuyu which is 20 kilometers to the east of Silifke and only 5 kilometers to Kızkalesi is famous for its fish restaurants. The place has its own loyal fans. The underground river running through the Hollow of Hell flows into the sea here at Narlıkuyu. While you swim here, you feel the water suddenly getting colder. The reason is the underground river. The salinity of the seawater also decreases here because of the same reason.
Ducks swimming in the water in front of the cozily decorated seaside restaurants are waiting for you to throw at them pieces of your bread. You can also see small fish swimming in the water. Ducks don’t like salty water and they are not sea creatures. But the water here is not as salty as elsewhere in the Mediterranean. That is why you can find these cute birds here on the water.
When you swim here in Narlıkuyu you don’t feel the need to have a shower to wash away the salt, which really bothers you in other places. One other point about the salinity is that fish in these waters are tastier than the fish of salty seas. The meat of the fish here is crispier. Maybe it is because of this reason, the fish restaurants here at Narlıkuyu attracts so many customers.
Narlıkuyu was always a place of attraction for the tourists. In recent years it has generally developed its services provided to tourists in the same pace as Mersin offering more than it did in the past.
During the Antiquity this place was a gate for people who came to Paradise and Hell for worshipping. In another words, tourism here was a presence since those times. During the Middle Ages, its name was Porto Calamie. There was an impressive public bath here. Only the mosaics on the floor of the water pond and the interior of the bath remain today.
Three Beauties / The Bath of Poimenios
There is a very precious mosaic belonging to the second half of the 4th Century B.C. kept in a stone building few meters from the sea. Poimenios, one of the highly placed officials of the Eastern Roman Empire, built a public bath here to make use of the “mysterious” fresh water flowing into the inlet. He also ordered a mosaic for the floor of his bath depicting heavenly beauties.
The inscription of the mosaic made of small stone cubes of different colors reads:
“O! My Friend, our guest! If you want to know who found out this lost water and made use of it, know that he is a friend of emperors Poimenios, the honest ruler of sacred islands.”
Poimenos, it seems, was the administrator of Princes’ Islands in Istanbul. But we don’t know what made him to build a house here in Narlıkuyu. Whatever the reason is, since Poimenios chose the most beautiful place to live in Istanbul and the most gorgeous shore of Mediterranean to build a house, he must have been a man of great taste. Three beauties we see on the mosaic of his bath also prove that he must have been such a man!
The Mosaic of Three Beauties
The three young and beautiful women seen dancing on the mosaic, which is dominated by white, black and golden colors are three Graces (gratiae). The three sisters named Aglaia, Thalia and Euphrosyne.
The mosaic also depicts figures of local plants and animals like partridges and doves. The birds watch the Three Graces dance. In Greek mythology, they are the personifications of beauty, charm, and grace; daughters of Zeus and the oceanid Eurynome. The Graces were associated with Aphrodite and those gods associated with the arts, such as the Muses. In Rome they were called Gratiae
The Fountain of Nus
This fountain dating back to the Antiquity was probably drawing water from the same source as the Poimenios’s bath. Roman writer Pilnius mentions this fountain and claims that those who drink water here “feel themselves more clever and beautiful.”
This magical water of the Antiquity today gushes from the rocks and flows into the sea near the fish restaurants.