Tarsus is a town in the Mersin province on the border with the neighboring province of Adana. It has always been a colorful place both in its long and rich history and in our present day.
The fact that Tarsus is a smaller administrative unit under the province capital Mersin is due to its location squeezed between two major provinces of Adana and Mersin. It has a population much greater than many province capitals in Turkey. Currently, its inhabitants number more than 220,000.
Back in history, Tarsus was a port city founded on a fertile plain irrigated by the Berdan Stream, which was called Kydnos in the Antiquity. During those times the stream ran through the city and flowed into a lagoon named Rhegma, which is a marshland today called Aynaz.
Today the Mediterranean coast is 10 kilometers away from Tarsus. But in the Antiquity, the canals in the lagoon provided the city’s link to the sea.
It is said that Egyptian Queen Cleopatra passed through this lagoon on board her ship to meet with Roman Commander Marcus Antonius in Tarsus. The best historical presentation of this shallow lagoon is seen on the map of Ottoman admiral Piri Reis.
Alluvial silt brought down throughout centuries by the Tarsus stream filled up this area where only small fishing boats could be moored in our day.
Tarsus is the biggest town in the Mersin province. It is located between Mersin and Adana.
Air travel: Tarsus is 42 kilometers from Adana’s Airport.
Travel by train: Yenice Train Station is 13 kilometers from city center. Yenice Train Station Telephone: 0. 324. 453 69 14; Mersin Telephone: 0. 324. 231 12 67
Intercity buses available to all parts of Turkey. Bus Terminal Telephone: 0.324. 624 69 32
Municipality Telephone: 0. 324. 613 36 88
Tarsus Museum at the Cultural Center Telephone: 0. 324. 613 06 25
Open between 08.30 and 12.00 / 13.00 and 17.00 except Mondays. The Museum is located in the Cultural Center Complex and exhibits 35,000 objects.
Tarsus Known With the Same Name for 2000 years
Many cities in Turkey that existed for 2000 years have been referred to by different names during different periods of history. But the name of Tarsus came down to our present day without undergoing any change.
If we are allowed to talk about the longevity of cities, it closely depends on the geography in which they are located. Because, fertile lands, water sources and trade routes are the most important factors that enable the cities live for long periods of time. Tarsus is one of them. For the last 7000 years, it lives on the same location using the advantages that its geography offers. Tarsus was the most convenient port of the Çukurova area that was called Cilicia on the Plain in the Antiquity. It kept its importance until Roman Commander Pompeius developed Pompeipolis, now within the borders of Mersin, as a port city in 63 B.C.
Furthermore, the most secure road connecting the Mediterranean and Çukurova to Central Anatolia and from there to the west and Istanbul passed through Tarsus. It was the only city controlling the Gülek Pass on the Taurus Mountains, which the peoples of Antiquity called “the gate to Cilicia.”
Etymology of Tarsus
The name of the city goes back to the times it was founded. There are differing views on where the name Tarsus came from. According to one of these views, the name Tarsus comes from Tarkhu, one of the gods of Luwi, an ancient people who lived in this area. According to another view, Tarsus comes from the ancient Greek word “tarsos” which means “footprint” or “the sole.” According to mythology, the city was founded on soil where Pegasus or Bellaphoron had set their foot on. However, Homeros refers toTarsus Plain by its ancient name, “the plain of Aleion” in his Iliad.
In written sources, Hittites are referring to the area as “Tarsa.” In Assyrian inscriptions the name takes the form of “Tarzi,” “Tarzu” or “Tarsis.” Xenophon writes it as “Torsos” in his Anabasis. During the periods Ummawiys and Abbasids, Arab sources called the place as “Tarasus.” In the Ottoman documents the city is called “Tersus.”
As a result we can safely say that the root of the word comes from Hittite-Luwi language and it is Tarkhu or Tarsa.
The Tumulus of Gözlükule
The tumulus on the southern edge of the city today is a witness to all the phases of history of Tarsus since its foundation. The archeological work that started at the tumulus in 1935 showed that Tarsus has been settled by human beings since the Neolithic Age. Findings at this excavation site go back to 7000 years. The city grew in later years in the direction of the plain that stretched in front of it.
According to Greek writers, the Assyrian King Sanneherib (or Sardanapal as the Greeks write his name) set up both Tarsus and Ankhiale (probably on the location of today’s Mersin) in a single day.
First Sight of Tarsus and “Nusrat” the Minelayer
The first sight that you will come across as you enter Tarsus from the Mersin-Adana motorway is a small ship sitting on ground in a pond. This small ship has a big historical significance. The ship is called “Nusrat.” It is originally a navy minelayer!
Its historical importance comes from the Battle of Dardanelles. During World War I when the Allied naval expedition force led by Britain attempted to pass through the Turkish straits and occupy Istanbul before sailing into the Black Sea, Turks under the command of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who later became the founder of the Turkish Republic, showed very tough and bloody resistance. The powerful Allied armada was not able to enter the Dardanelles. This small ship, built in German shipyards in 1911 played a crucial role during that battle. It sneaked in between the Allied battleships under the cover of night and laid mines that destroyed giant warships of the Western powers.
In time “Nusrat” got old and it was “retired” from navy service in 1955. For few years more it worked as a freighter. Then it was scrapped. While it was waiting its fate in half-sunken state at the Mersin port, people of Tarsus placed a claim for this historical vessel to make it a landmark of their town. They transported it on big trucks, they renovated it and placed it at the entrance of Tarsus. They arranged the surroundings and made it a memorial park dedicated to those soldiers fallen in the Battle of Dardanelles.
Later on, citizens of Çanakkale where the battle took place insisted that “Nusrat” belonged to their part of the country. But the people of Tarsus did not give it back. Rightly so, because it was them who made “Nusrat” into a national monument at a time when the ship was about to be lost in oblivion.
The Gate of Cleopatra
The gate of the antique city is located on the wide boulevard at the entrance of Tarsus when you arrive from the direction of Mersin. The gate is named after the famous Egyptian Queen Cleopatra. Roman Emperor Julius Caesar was one of the notables of the time to visit Tarsus. But he was killed at a much-reenacted assassination in Rome in 44 B.C. Following his demise, a triumvirate took over. One of the three rulers was Marcus Antonius who arrived in Anatolia in 41 B.C. His purpose was to secure the control of Eastern Mediterranean and Anatolia before he launched his expedition on the Parthians. He met with Cleopatra in Tarsus to make a pact with Egypt. He gave a great slice of land from mountainous Cilicia to the Egyptian queen with whom he was to marry later. Historical sources are in disagreement as to the exact definition of land given to Cleopatra. Strabon writes that Marcus Antonius gave Cleopatra slopes of mountains full of cedar trees suitable for building ships. During this time Marcus Antonius reorganized the political administration of the entire are and granted Tarsus “civitas libera” status which exempted its inhabitants from paying taxes.
Because it is widely believed that the gate, which still stands almost intact, is the spot where Marcus Antonius welcomed Queen Cleopatra, it is called even today after the name of the Egypt’s famous queen. The gates on city walls built during the Byzantine Period are called Mountain Gate, Adana Gate and Sea Gate. Ottoman traveler Evliya Chelebi refers to the Cleopatra Gate as the Quay Gate. It seems that the Cleopatra gate was also called the Sea Gate.
The meeting of Cleopatra with Marcus Antonius was a much-celebrated historic event written about by many historians and inspired many literary personalities. For a long time coming together of these two historic personalities provided the subject matter of many works of art. Greek historian and essayist Plutarchos, who lived about a century after the famous meeting, likens Cleopatra to Goddess of Love Aphrodite and Marcus Antonius to Dyonisus, the God of Wine. According to him the meeting represented the coming together of two deities for the good of the world.
Octavianus Augustus who became the sole ruler of Rome in 31 B.C. did not alter the privileged status of Tarsus either. Probably, his teacher Stoicist Athenodoros who was from Tarsus, played a decisive role in keeping the privileges of his birthplace.
The inscription on the gate was originally on the walls of Yeni Hamam, a public bath. It was placed on the gate in 1982. It is in fact, not an original piece belonging to the gate. It is the pedestal of a statue.
The inscription comes from a period between 222 A.D. and 235 A.D. It refers to Tarsus as “the leader of Cilicia, Isaura and Lycaonia, the greatest, the most beautiful and the foremost capital.”
Because of the inscription, the pedestal is called, “The Honorary Epitaph.”
Not only in Tarsus but in the entire province of Mersin, Turkish coffee served in tea glasses is called “Tarsusi Coffee.” Fans of Tarsusi coffee prefer it probably because traditional Turkish coffee cups are too small for them and tea glasses take a lot more than the cups. Offering Tarsusi coffee to guests is also considered an integral part of local hospitality.
Roman Temple of Donuktaş (or Dönüktaş)
The rectangular structure at the Tekke neighborhood is one of the oldest monuments in Tarsus. The length of its exterior walls is 115 meters and the width of the building is 43 meters. It is 7 meters high and the walls have a thickness of 6.6 meters. It has the characteristics of a Roman temple.
However, travelers who wrote about this building in the past centuries gave contradicting information. Some of them say that it is a palace and some claim that it is a monument on a royal grave. Yet some others describe the structure as a temple dedicated to Jupiter.
A Piece of Folk Humor
Prof. Nezahat Baydur who is directing the excavation work thinks that the structure is a temple.
However, there is also a popular story that is told about this building. According to the story, Donates was the palace of a ruler originally standing on the nearby hill Gözlükule. The ruler used to live here with his daughter and run the country. But some of his practices did not please a prophet living in Tarsus. The prophet got angry with the ruler and gave a mighty kick to his palace. The palace tumbled down the hill and stopped upside down where it is today. That is why it is called “Dönüktaş,” which means “overturned rock” in the Turkish language.
A piece of folk humor to lighten serious scientific explanations that are in disagreement anyway!
The Roman Public Bath
The ruins of the public bath that was built during the Roman period is located at the historical center of Tarsus, about 50 meters from the Eski Cami (Old Mosque). The structure is dated to 2nd Century B.C. In the building thick Roman concrete, unhewn rocks and bricks were used as construction materials. Northern and western sections of the building are completely destroyed and on the southern wall a 3.5-meter wide and 4-meter high opening was carved out for the passage of a road.
Bridge of Baç
The Justinianus Bridge at the eastern part of the modern section of Tarsus is also known by this name in Turkish. “Baç” means tax or toll in Turkish. It seems that at that time some bridges required the payment of a toll to pass, as it is in our time. The Turkish name of the Justinianus Bridge indicates that it was a toll bridge even in early history. As a matter of fact, the practice of levying some sort of customs tax on goods and animals brought into a city was a method used for a long period in history. Under the Ottomans, this tax was called “baç.” The bridge, which is located at the entrance of Tarsus in the direction of Adana-Ankara motorway, was built in 6th Century B.C. by the Byzantine Emperor Justinianus. It has been restored several times. Last restoration work was completed in 1978. The bridge is still in use.
The Split-nose Hunting Dogs of Tarsus
This species of hunting dogs are found only in Tarsus and surroundings and they are very much sought after by the hunters. Their name comes from the “split” between their nostrils. They are an original species. These dogs are very successful in hunting because they are both very clever and docile. They can follow the scent of the game both through the air and along the ground. Males are mostly brown and white and the females are sometimes plain brown in color. They are not aggressive at all and that is why they get along with children very well.
In fact, split-nose is a defect in hunting dogs according to some experts. But this defect became a natural quality of this species in Tarsus. For example, split-nose is also a feature of Spanish hunting dog species called Navarro Pointer, but this is considered completely natural. There has been no sufficient research on the species found exclusively in Tarsus, but it seems that taking measures for its protection is necessary so that the split-nose Tarsus dogs are not threatened by extinction.
The Roman Road and the Triumphal Arch
These monuments worth seeing are within the borders of the Sağlıklı village some 13 kilometers north of Tarsus. The 3-kilometer part of the 3-meter wide Roman road built with rectangular stones is well preserved.
This road, which connects Tarsus and Çukurova to the Gülek Pass on the Taurus Mountains, was probably built in the 4th Century B.C. At a high point where the entire Tarsus plain can be seen as far as the sea, there is a monumental portal, which was built probably as a Triumphal Arch.
The Tarsus College
The school built as a large complex north of the Gözlükule tumulus opened to education in 1888 as an American missionary institution. Its name then was Institute of St. Paul. The present building was constructed in 1910. On the ground floor there used to be a chapel, which is now converted into a sports hall.
To the east of the college there is a mansion called Sadık Paşa Konağı and it is now used as a guesthouse. Misak-i Milli Primary School in the college complex was built in 1873 also as a mansion. This building still functions as a primary school.
The amphitheater is located next to the college complex in the garden of the primary school. The Berdan Stream offered a natural setting for the theater during the Antiquity. Today only parts of the cavea, that is the seats reserved for notables, and some architectural elements can be seen.
The Church of St. Paul
The church which is located in the south of the city, about 200 meters south of Ulu Mosque is thought to be built in 11th or 12th Century B.C. and dedicated to St. Paul. In recent years, the building underwent restoration work. In the interior, the nave is separated from the aisles by rows of four columns each and covered with vaults. At the center of the ceiling there are frescos depicting Jesus Christ, St. John, St. Matthews, St. Mark and St.Luke, the four Holy Apostles who wrote the four accepted versions of the Holy Bible. The church also has a belfry.
There are figures depicting angels and a landscape next to the window opening to the nave. There is also a wooden mezzanine above the entrance to the building supported by two columns.
Today, the church is serving as a museum. But pious Christians come here frequently for pilgrimage.
The Well of St. Paul
The remnants of a house uncovered at a courtyard in a neighborhood of old Tarsus houses about 250 meters north of the Republic Square (Cumhuriyet Meydani) is believed to belong To St. Paul. There is a well in the courtyard, which is called St. Paul’s Well. During an excavation parts of house walls were discovered in the courtyard believed to belong to St. Paul’s house. The remnants of the house could be seen through a glass covering the excavated walls.
The mouth of the well is cylindrical and has a diameter of 1.15 meters. The well itself is rectangular and made out of rectangularly hewn rocks. It is 38 meters deep and has water the year round.
Christians passing through here on their way to pilgrimage in Jerusalem drink the water of this well, which they consider holy.
St. Paul (Paulus)
St. Paul (born Saul) was born during the time of Jesus Christ in Tarsus to a well to do Jewish family. His father was a Roman citizen and a maker of tents. He was sent to Jerusalem as a young by for education. As a young man he was a militant anti-Christian Pharisee. He even took part in the stoning of St. Stephen who was the first Christian martyr.
But during a trip to Damascus he met with Jesus Christ and adopted Christian teachings. After his baptism he took Paul as his name. He dedicated himself to spreading Christianity and traveled far and wide. His long travels during the 1st Century A.D. were the first and the most effective missionary work in the name of Christianity.
These journeys described in the Holy Bible took St. Paul to the lands around the Mediterranean, Aegean and the Greek islands. St. Paul by giving his powerful sermons, founded the first Christian communities in all these lands.
First Missionary Journey
St. Paul’s first missionary journey started at Antiocheia, (today’s Antakya). St. Barnabas accompanied him on this journey at sea. They arrived at Attalia (today’s Antalya) sailing through Cyprus. From Attalia they went to Pisidia Antiocheia (today’s Isparta, Yalvaç) via Perge. St. Paul gave his first sermon at a synagogue in Pisidia Antiocheia in the year 46 A.D. On the location of this synagogue, a church consecrated to St. Paul was built in later years. St. Paul and St. Barnabas traveled to Iconium (today’s Konya), Listra and Derbe (Karaman area near Konya) and then returned to Perge to take a ship from the port of Attalia that took them back to Antiocheia of Cilicia. After this first missionary journey, the doctrine of Christianity began spreading throughout Anatolia within a very short period of time. The fact that hundreds of churches were built only in Derbe is indicative of the vigor Christianity took roots in these lands. The area around Derbe is still called by the name “Binbir Kilise“ meaning “A thousand and one churches” in Turkish.
The second and third missionary journeys take St. Paul again from Antioceia of Cilicia to Anatolia and then as far as Macedonia. During this period that covered years 48 to 56 A.D. St. Paul stayed in Ephesus twice; in the year 51 and then in 54 He probably wrote his Epistles here in Ephesus. However, the Ephesians considered this new faith to be dangerous and they did not allow St. Paul to stay in their city. Christian missionaries were beginning to disturb the Roman rulers too.
St. Paul was arrested in Jerusalem and taken to Rome. During this last journey St. Paul passes through Caesarea (today’s Kayseri), Sidon (Side), Myra (Demre), Knidos (Datca), Crete and Malta. In Rome St. Paul’s mission that began in the year 46 and went on for years braving so many dangers and difficulties was going to end at a trial that condemned him to death in the year 65 A.D. It was St. Paul who set up the first Christian communities and churches in Asia Minor and Eastern Mediterranean. That is why his house in Tarsus and the well in its courtyard are always visited by pious Christians. The Vatican also considers this place as one the holy shrine worthy of pilgrimage.
During a municipal construction work at Republic Square (Cumhuriyet Meydani), workers dug out an antique road. It is believed that the road belongs to the Roman period and constructed in 1st Century B.C. The 7-meter wide road is built in a cambered fashion not to allow water puddles to form on it. It is paved with basalt stones brought here from elsewhere.
Wheel marks on the stones indicate that the road was an urban main street. The gutters on both sides of the street drain rainwaters to the sewage system still existing under the road. A part of this sewage system has been uncovered during excavation work in Tarsus.
In the northeastern direction there is a three-step podium 95 centimeters in height. There are column bases on it.
To the southeast of the antique road excavations uncovered one room of a structure named “Mosaic House.” In its garden there are remnants of a pool covered with colored marble slabs. Rest of the courtyard is also covered with mosaics. All these indicate that the house belonged to a quite rich member of the antique community.
Houses of Tarsus
Among the rich heritage that history bequeathed to Tarsus, maybe the most impressive ones are the Tarsus houses that represent the most original examples of civil architecture. Some of these houses, most of them located at the neighborhoods of Şehitkerim, Sofular and Kızılmurat, have been restored and well kept. Cafes have opened in recent years on the ground floors of these historical houses catering for the inhabitants and tourists visiting Tarsus.
After living among the huge, concrete buildings of big cities, these houses arouse a warm sensation in one’s heart.
The traditional buildings in Tarsus have all been constructed by local building masters with materials available locally. Because the abundance of limestone in the region and wood coming from the forests on the Taurus Mountains, local architecture is based on stone and timber. The beams on the stone walls and under the roof, supports propping up the wide porches, boarding of the floors, built-in cupboards, doors, windows and their shutters, lattices are all made of wood.
Although the woodwork seen in the supporting elements of the buildings is somewhat coarse, you can see a very fine artisanship when it comes to doors, cupboards, window casings, shelves and brackets. In most of houses, there are stone pillars in the ground floor supporting the upper story. These pillars are placed either in the storage rooms or the section opening into the courtyard. In some houses, vaulted supports sitting on columns brought in from the ruins serve this purpose.
All these details, including the ornate doors and brackets as architectural elements indicate that there was a quite developed stone masonry in Tarsus. The streets are narrow in this old section of the town, probably to ease the effects of hot air. But these narrow streets frequently open up to squares providing ample breathing space for the city.
Most of the old houses belong to 19th Century, although there are some built in the beginning of the 20th Century. In the 19th Century increasing agricultural production and trade based on it made Tarsus an affluent city. This richness is reflected in the houses of Tarsus. Authorities have designated the areas where these houses are found as architectural preservation areas.
Tarsus was equally important for the Muslims as it was for Christians. The town was developed by the building of important mosques, public baths and tombs during the Arab rule and later under the Ottomans.
Examples of the legacy left by the Romans and Byzantines and later built under the Ottomans are seen side-by-side in this city together with the samples of civil architecture such as Turkish and Greek family houses.
Ulu Mosque (Cami –i Nur)
This mosque in the southern part of the town was built in 1579 when Tarsus was a principality ruled by the Ramazanoğlu family. The building of the mosque is attributed to a certain Ibrahim Bey, the son of Piri Pasha.
The mosque is also known by the name “Heavenly Light” and the neighborhood where it is located carries this name. The mosque is built on the ruins of St. Pierre Church in the traditional Seljukite style with a single-balcony minaret.
The building is constructed solely with hewn stone blocks according to a rectangular plan measuring 47 meters by 13 meters. The entrance to the mosque is through a 10-meter high and 7.20-meter wide portico supported by 14 marble columns and running along the eastern, northern and western sections. There are three naves running parallel to the altar in the interior. Adjoining the northern façade there is a courtyard twice as large as the interior, with porticos on the sides. In the middle of the courtyard there is a fountain. On the northeastern and northwestern corners of the portico there are two minarets. The one on the northwestern corner stands apart from the building and an inscription on it says that it was built in 1363. It seems that this minaret used to belong to another mosque. The second minaret was converted into a clock tower in late 19th Century.
The interior columns of the mosque are bound together by arches with sharp tips that are called “Iranian arches.” The altar, the pulpit and the prayer section for the Moslem clergy are made of marble. At the eastern section of the mosque, there is the tomb of Abbasid Caliph Ma’mun who died near Tarsus in the year 833.
The Clock Tower
The minaret on the northeastern corner of the Ulu Mosque’s courtyard was damaged by lightning and in 1895, the governor of the town, Ziya Bey, ordered it to be rebuilt as a clock tower.
What the local people call “karsambach” is an interesting refreshment that one should not miss. It also has a long tradition in the area. In the old days before the advent of refrigerators, there were “snow vendors” in Tarsus. These people would climb up to the northern heights of the Taurus Mountains with their mules and collect snow, press into blocks and bring it down to sell to in the neighborhoods.
Today there are no snow vendors going around with their mules. But the tradition lives on. Powdered ice is put into a bowl and mixed with sherbet made of different fruits and sold as refreshment. It is still known as “karsambach” in Tarsus.
The Market of Forty Spoons (White Market)
There is an old marketplace right next to the Ulu Mosque. It was built at the same time with the mosque and used as a madrasa (religious seminary) and a hostel. It gets its name from spoon figures on its four facades.
The rectangular building is constructed with hewn stone blocks and covered by five small domes. In 1960-1961, the building was renovated and rearranged as a covered bazaar. In later years the building was transformed into an ethnography museum. There are three barrel vaulted entrances to the building from the eastern, western and northwestern facades.
Makam-ı Şerif Mosque and Prophet Daniel’s Tomb
It is believed that Prophet Daniel is buried inside this mosque. That is why the mosque is called Madam-ı Şerif, roughly translated into English it means “Sublime Place.”
The mosque is located just northwest of Kubat Pasha Madrasa. Although the mosque was built in 1857, annexes were added to it in later years. Today, the old section is entered through three separate doors and then by walking down three steps you find yourself at the main chamber. The structure is covered by a low dome and its altar is very simple. In the eastern part, there is a tomb that is believed to belong to Prophet Daniel who was one of the major prophets of the Old Testament. But the Moslems also believe in all the prophets listed in the holy books of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
It is rumored that…
The king of Babylon has a dream that a son born to the House of Israel would grow up and threaten his throne. So, he orders or the newborn Jewish boys to be killed. When the Prophet Daniel is born, his family abandons him at a cave on top a mountain to save him from slaughter. A lion and a lioness feed and bring up Daniel. Daniel returns to his people after adolescence.
Prophet Daniel lived during the reign of Babylonian King Nebuchadrezzar II (605-562 B.C.) and saved the Jews from Babylonian yoke.
The Prophet’s Visit to Tarsus
Prophet Daniel was invited to Tarsus during a year of famine. With his arrival the famine passes and the town prospers. The people of Tarsus pleaded with Daniel not to return to Babylon and stay in Tarsus. When Daniel died, they buried him in a grave where the Makam Mosque stands today.
When the Arabs conquered Tarsus, they opened the grave of Daniel and found a very tall body in a sarcophagus shrouded in a fabric woven with golden threads.
The ring on the body’s finger had the figure of a baby between a lion and a lioness. The figure depicted the lioness lovingly licking the baby. Caliph Omar fearing that the Jews might steal the body, ordered a very deep grave to be dug and the waters of the Tarsus stream to be diverted so as to flow over the grave. In this way Prophet Daniel’s grave was hidden.
During the last restoration of the mosque, an iron grating was found deep in the ground in the flowing direction of the water. Prophet Daniel’s grave is thought to be buried even deeper in the ground.
Yeni Hamam & Inscription of Honor
“Yeni Hamam” means new public bath in Turkish. But this name should not mislead you. In a city that sits on a 7000-year-old heritage, a building that is only few hundred years old can pass as new.
The public bath is next to the Ulu Mosque. An inscription on it mentions the date 1785, but it is thought that this date refers to a restoration. The actual building of the public bath must have been during the rule of the Ramazanoğlu principality.
The public bath has the four traditional sections of all Turkish baths: Changing room, warm room, hot room and the boiler room.
The inscription that was on the wall of the bath was taken out in 1982 and installed near the Cleopatra Gate where it still stands. (See: The Cleopatra gate section.)
The Old Public Bath (Eski Hamam or Şahmeran Hamamı)
It is claimed that this public bath was built on the ruins of a Roman bath at the Kızılmurat neighborhood of Tarsus during the rule of Ramazanoğullları principality. According to an inscription next to the entrance it is understood that the public bath was restored in 1873. It belongs to the Foundation of Mahmut Pasha.
The original plan of the bath had four iwans or verandas opening to the courtyard. However, during later changes, the bath lost its original shape. The walls of the bath are made with unhewn stones and it generally reflects the characteristics of a Turkish bath. It has the traditional sections of changing rooms, cool room and hot room. A dome covers the central chamber of the bath, which is the hottest part above the boiler section. There are ten wooden rooms at the entrance hall and a pool in the center, around which a concrete parapet was built in later years.
It is also called Şahmeran Bath drawing its name from a very famous folk tale that is told for centuries in this part of the world.
The Tale of Şahmeran
According to this folk myth, Şahmeran is a half-human, half-snake ruler. He lives in an underground cave in the bowels of the earth and rules over the snakes. But Şahmeran and his subjects are not sinister as the symbolism in the myth might suggest. They represent solidarity, help, good humor and sacrifice for the sake of others. The people of Tarsus have owned this myth so much that they erected a statue of Şahmeran in their town. However, the myth has been also told for centuries beyond the borders of Turkey from India, Egypt to Greece.
As the myth puts it, humans kill Şahmeran to extract his healing water and the snakes are still unaware of this. If they learn about the death of their ruler in the hands of human beings they will all emerge on earth and create havoc in their vengeance. And again according to the myth, all these snakes are living underground in Tarsus. This explains why there are so many snake figures on the carpets, walls, embroideries, ceramic objects, in woodwork and on mirrors and glasses in Tarsus.
As the tale goes, a man one day enters a cave full of thousands of snakes that seize him and take him to their ruler, Şahmeran. Şahmeran tells the man that he would grant him clemency, but that the man would have to be the guest of the snakes for eternity. They cannot let him go because the man has learned their place. If the humans find the cave, they would kill the ruler of the snakes, Şahmeran tells the man.
The guest of the snakes lives a comfortable life in the cave. He is well looked after. He passes his days chatting with Şahmeran. But one day, he gets bored and asks leave from Şahmeran. The ruler of the snakes grant the visitor his request and lets him return to the earth, because during their long chats, an atmosphere of trust has been built between the two. Şahmeran says that he believes that the visitor won’t tell anybody the place of his kingdom. However, the man should not let anybody see his skin because it will turn scaly like a snake’s.
The visitor returns to his normal life and keeps his lips sealed about his adventure in the cave.
As it happens in most of the folk tales, the ruler of the land has a sick daughter. He has mobilized the country to find a cure for her. Meanwhile, his vizier or chief minister is a bad guy. He is secretly making plans to marry the ruler’s daughter and become king. The vizier gathers all the magicians of the land demanding from them to find a cure for the girl’s disease. One of the magicians says that Şahmeran holds the cure of this disease. The king of the snakes should be found, killed and boiled. The daughter of the king will be cured when she drinks the water in which the king of snakes is boiled. And in order to find Şahmeran, they should look for a man with a scaly skin like that of a snake’s. The vizier takes everybody in the country to the bath and finds the guest of Şahmeran in this way. The man promises to kill Şahmeran and goes back to the cave of snakes. He tells Şahmeran what happened on the surface of the earth and asks his advice.
Şahmeran says that he already knew that his death would come from his guest. The ruler of the snakes then tells his guest to kill him but keep this secret. If the snakes learn about it, they would come out of the earth and seek their ruler’s vengeance. Then Şahmeran tells the man to boil his tail and make the vizier drink its water that would kill him in no time. “Boil my body and make the ruler’s daughter drink it, this will cure her, and boil my head and drink its water yourself that will turn you into Doctor Lokman.” With this, the two leave the cave. The man cuts Şahmeran in front of the bath and carries out the advice of the ruler of snakes. The vizier dies, the girl is healed and he becomes Doctor Lokman. Now this Doctor Lokman is the Anatolian version of Hippocratus, a physician who cures all sorts of diseases.
Doctor Lokman is also a famous figure in Anatolian folk mythology. He is a wise man who knows all the remedies except for the remedy for death. It is told that the secrets of curing illnesses were given to Lokman by Şahmeran.
It seems that the snakes in and around Tarsus are still unaware of what happened to their ruler. They have not attacked the human beings to avenge the killing of Şahmeran.
Of course, the tale of Şahmeran has many versions. The elderly in Tarsus will give you different versions of the tale. What we have written here is the most widespread version.
The Old Mosque or the Church Mosque (Eski Cami, Kilise Camisi)
The mosque at Çarşıbaşı was originally a church that was built in 1102 as the Cathedral of St. Paul. It is a Roman style building with thick and high walls, wide interior, deep windows narrowing towards the exterior and heavy columns. The church was converted into a mosque in 1415 during the reign of Ramazanoğlu Ahmet Bey.
Some sources also mention a church by the name of Aghia Sophia in the early Middle Ages and there are records that the Archbishop of Mainz Konrad Wittelsbach came here as a Papal envoy to enthrone and bless Leon I as the King of Armenians on 6 January 1198.
P. Lucas who visited Tarsus in 1704 mentions a Greek and an Armenian church saying that the Armenian Church was built by St. Paul himself. V. Langlois who also came to Tarsus in 1851 says that he visited this particular church.
After the building was converted to a mosque, the altar was placed where the south entrance was. Along the interior of the northern façade a narthex and two rooms on both sides of the apse have been added to the building. There is a minaret on the southwest corner of the mosque.
Tarsus Museum (Madrasa of Kubat Pasha)
The building was built in 1557 by Kubat Pasha of the Ramazanogullari principality as an open courtyard madrasa or religious school. In 1966 the building underwent restoration. It now serves as the Tarsus Museum. There are a total of 33,734 objects on display in the museum. 5,234 of the objects come from archeological excavations, 1,639 items are ethnological displays and there are a total of 26,841 old coins. The objects on display belong to Paleolithic, Calcolithic, Early Bronze Ages and Hittite, Urartu, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk and Ottoman civilizations.
The Grotto of Seven Sleepers (Eshab-ı Kehf Mağarası)
The cave is 330 square meters large and 10 meters high. There are three tunnels in the cave. It is known as the Grotto of Seven Sleepers, although there are many similar caves in many other places known by the same name, the most famous of them being near Ephesus, Turkey.
Next to the entrance of the cave, the Ottoman Sultan Abdulaziz ordered a small mosque to be built in 1873. This is an interesting mosque with two minarets, one of them tall the other short! The cave is located on high ground near the village of Ulas, 14 kilometers northwest of Tarsus. Since it is located on high ground, the spot has a panoramic view of the surrounding landscape. The cave is considered “sacred” by both Christians and Muslims. Those who come to visit the cave, park their cars below the hill and climb up passing in front of several memorabilia shops selling postcards, posters, rosaries, religious books and pamphlets. After walking past the small mosque with two minarets in strikingly discrepant height, you come to the entrance of the cave. Walking down 10 or 15 steps you enter the cave. There are usually people praying or lying down in the cavities imitating the seven Christian youths who slept for centuries escaping persecution.
The Story of Seven Sleepers
In Turkish or rather in old Ottoman the cave is known by the name Ashab-i Kehf, which roughly translated means seven friends in a cave. However, the story may have originated in Ephesus, where there is also another and more widely known Grotto of Seven Sleepers. The seven Christian youths of Ephesus. According to legend they fled during the Diocletian persecution (250 CE) to a cave in Mount Celion. The cave was walled up by their pursuers and they fell asleep. Some 200 years later, during the reign of Theodosius II, they awoke. One of them went into the city for provisions and upon his return, they fell asleep again; this time until the resurrection. Their names are given as Constantius, Dionysius, Johannes, Maximianus, Malchus, Martinianus and Serapion.
People own readily the events and personalities they value. This is usually indicated by having the tombs or graves of the same person in more than one particular place. That is why the graves attributed to Anatolian folk heroes such as Nasreddin Hodja, Yunus Emre or Koroglu are found in many places.
There are many versions of the Seven Sleepers’ story. It is even mentioned in the Holy Book of Muslims, the Qoran. Probably that is why the caves in which they allegedly slept for centuries are considered sacred by both the Christians and the Moslems. There maybe many versions of the story but the main theme consists of seven youths resisting against oppression of their faith. It was a kind of pacifist resistance, just by sleeping!
In the years 250 A.D. the official religion of the Roman Empire was paganistic and multitheistic. The spread of Christianity within the borders of the empire was not tolerated. Christians were persecuted constantly. Those who were captured were tortured and burn alive.
The seven young men in our story hid themselves in a cave to escape persecution. They prayed to God to save them. Their pursuers closed the mouth of the cave with huge rocks. Seven youths were forgotten in the cave. Years later, local people open the entrance to the cave removing the rocks to provide a shelter for their sheep. They do not realize that there are seven young men sleeping in the cave.
When They Awoke
Sunlight coming in from the entrance wakes up the seven friends. They thought that they had slept for a night, but in fact they have been sleeping for the past 309 years.
They send one of the friends down to town – in this case it is Tarsus, in other versions of the story it is Ephesus – to buy bread. When the baker sees the coin he is shocked, because the coin comes from a period three centuries ago. The young man is also in a shock, because the town is full of churches and crosses showing that Christianity had been accepted as an official faith. The young man goes back to the cave and tells his story to his friends. Upon this, the seven youths go back to sleep not to wake up again.
Catholics celebrate 7 July as the day of remembrance of seven sleepers. In the Orthodox Church the seven sleepers are believed to go to sleep on 4 August and woke up centuries later on 22 October. For the Moslems there is no particular day of remembrance for the seven sleepers.
The Waterfall of Tarsus
The inhabitants of Tarsus also move to the plateaus when summer heat begins scorching the town. This age-old tradition is still continuing but in a modern way. In the old days, people used to live in makeshift houses on the plateaus but now plush villas have taken their place.
Those who cannot “escape” to the plateau villas, go to the waterfall and cool themselves there. The waterfall is on the Berdan (Tarsus) Stream and it is very close to the town. The water falls from a height of 4 to 5 meters cooling the air. The environment here is green.
There is a restaurant just next to the waterfall serving fish, meat and of course, a variety of kebabs. On the other side, there is a good quality hotel.
A little further down from the waterfall, local children enjoy themselves and their spectators during the summer months by organizing competitions like jumping into the water from a bridge.
Geography and Climate:
Although Tarsus has a 30-kilometer coastline, it essentially is a city on land. The city’s northern border is formed by the range of Taurus Mountains while in the south it is the Mediterranean. The city spreads over an area of 1,888 square kilometers. In its west, there is the province capital Mersin and in the east it borders on the province of Adana. The landscape descends suddenly from an altitude of 2,600 meters to the sea. In such geography it is absolutely natural to find different formations. 59.4 percent of the area within the borders of Tarsus is mountainous while 40 percent is flat. Up to 500 meters of altitude on the mountain slopes the flora consists of laurel, olive, carob and myrtle trees. Further up to 1,000 meters oak and Turkish pines dominate the landscape. When you climb up further, forests consisting of Austrian pines, cedars and junipers dominate the landscape to an altitude of 2,000 meters.
On the plain there is a typical Mediterranean flora of citrus and other fruit trees, palm trees and dates.
The region is located within the Mediterranean climate system. Valleys stretching from south to north make it possible for this system to penetrate inland. The Taurus Mountain range that forms the northern border of Tarsus running from east to west separates central Anatolia from the Mediterranean region preserving the climatic stability of the region like a roof over it.
The annual average temperature is 18.5ºC. In the summer the temperatures range between 25ºC to 33ºC. Winters are warm and rainy, summers are dry and hot. Humidity averages 72 percent through out the year and remains almost constant for all months. In the winter temperatures average between 9ºC to 15ºC. The average temperature of the seawater is 20.2ºC for the year. While precipitation of snow is practically unknown in the town center, different amounts of snowfall are seen on the slopes of the Taurus Mountains and on the high plateaus. However, at Karboğazı, which is a winter sports resort located within the borders of Tarsus, snow can rise above 1 meter-level during the winter months.
The Waterfall of Tarsus
Namrun was the name of a plateau settlement in Tarsus. In 1991 it was upgraded as an administrative unit and its name was changed into Çamlıyayla. It is one of the oldest plateau settlements in the region. The town sits at an altitude of 1,100 meters and the surrounding landscape rises up to 1,400 meters.
In addition to some families from Tarsus who spend the summers here, there is also people who live all the year round. The population of the town is about 9,000. It is 60 kilometers to Tarsus and 90 kilometers to Mersin. The town is enveloped by forests on the Taurus Mountains.
The history of this settlement reaches back to very old times. It was probably settled during the period of Hittites and Assyrians. Later on it was ruled by the Crusaders, Seljuks, the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia and Karamanoğulları principality before being annexed to the territories of the Ottomans.
In the Hittite and Assyrian inscriptions the name of the settlement is mentioned as Ilibru.
The area came under Egyptian rule for a while during the wars between the Egyptian and the Ottoman armies.
In the summer the population of Çamlıyayla shoots up to 100,000 from 9,000 because in addition to people who have summerhouses here, there are also families who rent houses or stay at boarding houses and motels in the town to escape the summer heat of Çukurova. There are also a lot of restaurants in the town.
The vegetation especially in the valley of Cehennem Deresi (Hell Stream) is untouched and it reminds one of tropical jungles.
There is a conservation area among the forests of Taurus cedars, Austrian pines and fir trees where wild goats are bred. Since 1989 the area is a controlled hunting zone.
Groups going on trekking on the Taurus Mountains also stop by here frequently. From here trekking tours are organized towards the regions of ÇiniligölCiniligol (Tiled Lake) and Karagöl (Black Lake) on the border with Niğde during summers. In the winter professional trekkers take the same course challenging the harsh conditions of the nature.
The Castle of Namrun (Lampron)
The castle of Namrun is the greatest historical heritage of the area. It was also the earliest human settlement here. The two northern towers made of hewn stones of the castle are in good condition. Round towers indicate that it was a typical Armenian castle built in 1045. The old name of the castle was Lampron.
The Roman Road
15 kilometers north of Tarsus there is a stretch of old Roman road near the village of Sağlıklı. The 3-meter wide, 3-kilometer long road is paved with limestone and serpentine.
The Castle of Gülek
The Gülek Pass was a historical the gate linking the shores of the Mediterranean to Çukurova (Cilicia on the Plain) and central Anatolia. This pass is in use in our day too. The castle here must have been built to control one of the main routes in Cilicia.
The Castle of Sinap
This castle, which is located 6 kilometers northeast of Namrun is believed to be built in the Middle Ages to control the Silk Road. The three story castle has four towers.
There are impressive landmark trees in the region. The 1100-year old juniper (juniperus foetidissima) tree near Kozpinari along the Kadıncık Stream in Çamlıyayla, the 680-year old, 20-meter tall cedar tree with a diameter of 9.5 meters at Cocakdere and the 40-meter tall cedar with a diameter of 2.34 meters near Atauctu are the landmark trees of the region.
The Priest’s Garden
15 kilometers from the town center there is a picnic area accessible through a road with many bends. The area is called The Priest’s Garden. The place is covered with Turkish pines, fir and chestnut trees and hazelnuts and it also has a historical plane tree. There are fresh water springs all over the area that spreads over 10 hectares. The ice-cold waters of the springs merge together and fall into the Kadıncık Stream flowing over a rock making a small waterfall.
There is a restaurant at the picnic area that serves trout that is farmed here in the stream.
Kadıncık Stream and Cehennem Stream (Hell Stream) are the tributaries of the Berdan stream, which flows through the beautiful recreational park in Tarsus.
The Kadıncık Crater Lake
This crater lake is one of the glacier lakes on the Bolkar Mountains 2,500 above the sea level. The surrounding area is green with vegetation. Local people have given a nickname to this lake and they call it “Bottomless.”
Fine embroidery is a tradition in this region. It is very famous throughout Turkey. You can buy pieces of embroidery in Camlikaya stores and also at the marketplace where women sell them. If you are an expert in embroidery, you won’t find the prices exorbitant compared to the incredible amount of work it needs to produce such a piece.