From TARSUS To ANTAKYA :
"In the steps of St.Paul"
East of Mersin, on the edge of the fertile Cukurova Plain, is
Tarsus, the birthplace of St. Paul. Of ancient origin, the city
was invaded and destroyed on several occasions and only a few
monuments of particular interest remain: the Cleopatra Gate, through
which Mark Antony (Marcus Antonius) and Cleopatra passed when they came to Tarsus
to meet, an ancient church, and the Ottoman Ulu Cami. You can
get the feel of by-gone days if you walk though narrow streets
past old houses to find St. Paul's well. Little streams; waterfalls
and shady trees at the Tarsus Falls on the outskirts of town create
an idyllic afternoon. The Karaburcak Park is perfumed by its groves
of eucalyptus trees.
Set in the heart of the Cukurova
(Cilician) Plain, Turkey's fourth largest city, Adana is at the
center of the rich agricultural region and a thriving textile
industry. The Taskopru (Stone Bridge) built by Hadrian and repaired
by Justinian, spans the River Seyhan which bisects the town: only
14 of the bridge's original 21 arches still stand. Of interest
in the city are the 16th century Ulu Mosque, the Eski Mosque.
the Hasan Aga Mosque, the 19th century clock tower and the old
covered bazaar. The city's three museums, the Archaeological Museum. which displays locally excavated Hittite and Roman remains,
the charming Ethnographical Museum, and the Ataturk Culture Museum.
should be included in a tour of the city.
After a day of sightseeing you can sample Adana kebab, a sensational
spicy tube of ground meat. Local beverages include Salgam, a drink
made from dark turnips and sira, a type of grape juice.
North of the city. the Seyhan Dam and Lake have shady walks and
quaint tea gardens and restaurants creating a cool place to escape
the heat. At sunset look back toward the city to the peaceful,
winding ruby river, lined with twinkling lights.
The nearest beaches with accommodation facilities are at Yumurtalik,
where an ancient harbor castle dominates the picturesque fisherman's
wharf, and at Karatas. Fishermen enjoy the scene, and the catch,
at Camlik Park, Off the road from Adana to Iskenderun, near Yakapinar,
lies Misis, a city which derived its wealth from its position
on the Silk Route. There are several Roman ruins at the site,
including a beautiful fourth-century mosaic depicting Noah's Ark
and the animals. Further along the road are the impressive ruins
of the YilanIikale castle, atop a rocky peak that dominates the
Ceyhan River. South of Yilanlikale, in the Sirkeli region, a somewhat
weathered Hittite relief marks Muvattalish's stop here on his
way to Egypt. North of Ceyhan lies the village of Dilekkaya, (the
ancient Anavarza), where you can view the ruins of a Roman- Byzantine
city and an impressive castle. The small museum at the site has
two particularly fine mosaics from Roman baths. Osmaniye, inland
from the head of the Gulf of Iskenderun, is the turn-off for two
more ancient sites. The road to Karatepe takes you to the ancient
Roman city of Castabala, where a colonnaded street, theater, baths
and a fortress on the hill evoke a bygone era. At the Karatepe
National Park, (the neo-Hittite site), the remains of the summer
residence of King Asitawada, tablets bearing Hittite and Phoenician
inscriptions and an openair museum with fine bas-reliefs reveal
the importance and astonishing aesthetic of this pre-historic
This region was much fought over during the Crusades and the impressive
fortress at Toprakkale was for a time held by the Christian armies.
Further back in history, Alexander the Great defeated Darius III
and the Persian army in 333 B.C. at the Plain of Issos (Dortyol).
Today this area is covered with large citrus groves which supply
Turkey with oranges, tangerines and lemons.
At Yakacik (Payas), off the highway that outlines the coast of
the Gulf of Iskenderun, the splendid 16th century Sokollu Mehmet
Pasa Complex includes a mosque, bath, bazaar, caravanserai and
medrese. Other monuments include the Cinkulesi (Tower of Jinns)
and a castle.
Iskenderun, formerly Alexandretta,
was founded by Alexander the Great after his victory over the
Persians on the Plain of Issos. Today it is a busy commercial
center and port with a fine harbor. Excellent hotels, restaurants
and cafes line the sea front surrounded by parks and palm trees.
The culinary speciality of Iskenderun is delicious prawns. Gourmets
should also try kunefe, a hot dessert of sweetened shredded wheat
filled with melted cheese, and humus, an appetizer of pureed chickpeas,
garlic and paprika. Good souvenirs include hand carved wooden
tables and chairs and other objects of wood.
On the coast south of Iskenderun, the holiday town of Ulucinar
(Arsuz) has good beaches, hotels, guesthouses and restaurants.
On the way to Antakya, off the main road, is the mountain resort
of Sogukoluk where you can retreat in the summer from the blazing
sun. After you cross the Belen Pass, stop at Bagras Castle, held
at various times by the Byzantines, Mamluks and Crusaders.
Antakya, the biblical city of Antioch, lies on the Asi River (Orontes)
on a fertile plain surrounded by grand mountains. Once the capital
of the Seleucid kings, it was notorious for its wealth and luxury.
In Roman times, the city continued to thrive with commerce and
culture. It featured prominently in early Christianity and St.
Barnabas, St. Paul and St. Peter all visited the city.
The Antakya Museum houses one of the richest collections of Roman
mosaics in the world. These fan tastic mosaics in stone were uncovered
mostly at excavations in Antakya and nearby Daphne. Outside the
town, the Grotto of St. Peter is the cave church from which the
apostle preached for the first time and where he established the
Christian community. In 1983, the church was declared a holy site
by the Vatican. Other places of interest include a bustling bazaar
and the Mosque of Habib Neccar.
South of the grotto, the Iron Gate was one of the actual entrances
of biblical Antioch. Strolling through the old part of town, you
cannot help but think that St. Paul, St. Peter, St. Barnabus,
and other saints walking these streets, for little has changed
since that time. The Castle of Antioch, set high above the city,
offers a magnificent view over the city and the plain.
South of Antakya is Harbiye, the ancient Daphne, where, according
to mythology, Apollo tried to make the wood-nymph, Daphne, his
lover. To escape him, she changed into a laurel tree. The city
was a luxurious suburb in Roman times. Covered with orchards,
gardens, laurel trees, and water falls, this is an excellent place
for a good meal. In October, the delicious Harbiye dates are in
season. Wonderful laurel-scented soap can be purchased here.
Samandag, 25 km from Antakya, is a resort town with a pristine
beach. Seleucia Peria (Cevlik), north of town, was founded around
300 B.C. and by the time St. Paul and St. Barnabas made their
first missionary journey here it was a busy port. The most interesting
menu ment to see is the Tunnel of Titus, built to divert rain
water. Even by today's standards it is a tremendous engineering
achievement. You should drive to Kapisuyu village for the spectacular
panorama from the Zeus Temple of the ancient harbor, sandy beach
and fertile plain.
Two roads lead from Antakya to Syria: the one to the east and
Aleppo passes through the frontier town of Reyhanli; the one to
the south goes through Yayladag towards Lazkiye, Tripoli and Beirut.