Exploring ’Rough Cilicia’: Silifke And Around!
If youre making your way along the eastern Mediterranean coast from Alanya to Adana at some point, youre bound to pass through the small town of silifke, site of the ancient Seleucia ad Calycadnum.
Not that theres a great deal left of the Roman city. Today you can pause to take in the view along the river towards a bridge that dates back to Roman times and gaze through the fence at the ruins of what must once have been an imposing temple to Zeus. A sign near the bridge also directs visitors to a mosaic pavement, failing to mention that when you eventually find the site it will be to learn that the pavement was long ago removed to Silifke Museum for safekeeping.
Other reminders of ancient Seleucia come to light from time to time when building work is going on so dont be surprised to come upon workmen casually drinking tea while perched on seats improvised out of old Roman capitals. You can also have fun looking for pieces of Roman masonry reused in the building of older houses. The 14th-century Reşadiye Cami is particularly well worth seeking out since the porticoes on both sides have been created by reusing Roman columns.
High above the town sit the remains of Silifke Kalesi (castle) that dates back to Byzantine times. But Silifke was a town on the route taken by Crusader armies in the Middle Ages and in the 13th century the castle was virtually rebuilt by the knights of St. John, who ringed the outer wall with 23 towers. In a curious footnote to history, Frederick Barbarossa, the then-holy Roman emperor, drowned in the river in what is now the nearby village of Tekeler as he led German troops to take part in the Third Crusade in 1190.
On the western outskirts of Silifke one final site worth looking for is Ayatekla, where St. Thecla, the first woman converted to Christianity by St. Paul, took refuge in a cave before simply vanishing. Her followers built a shrine in her honor on the site to which a huge basilica was added in the fifth century. Today you can still visit the cave shrine and eye up the surviving apse of the basilica to get some idea of its original size. Beyond it, several cisterns cut into the rock suggest that there must once have been quite a sizeable settlement here.
All of this might suggest that Silifke would be a great place to stay for a couple of nights while exploring the other archeological sites of what was once Cilicia Trachea or “Rough Cilicia.” Unfortunately, the hotel situation here is pretty grim. Youll be better off basing yourself in the beach resorts of Kızkalesi or Susanoğlu to the east or in the port of Taşucu to the west.
Wherever you decide to stay, these are some of the sites worth visiting in the Silifke area.
Uzuncaburç, Ura (Olba) and Cambazlı
In the hills immediately above Silifke the romantic ruins of Uzuncaburç stand in a picturesque small village. The ancient Diocaesarea, Uzuncaburç was a primarily religious center dominated by a temple to Zeus Olbius, the first temple in Asia Minor to make use of Corinthian capitals in its architecture. Here, too, can be seen the ruins of a fine theater that could once have seated some 2,500 spectators.
The residential center of Diocaesarea was a little way away at Olba, near the small village of Ura. Here the remains of a huge aqueduct straddle Şeytan Deresi, the Devils Valley before starting a march all the way downhill to the coast at Kızkalesi. As you walk towards the aqueduct you will pass a necropolis cut into the rocks. Some of the tombs still have fine carvings on their facades.
After visiting Uzuncaburç and Olba you can complete a circuit of the local ruins by continuing on to Cambazlı (Yeğenli) where youll find the ruins of a huge two-storied Byzantine basilica as well as several grand tombs that resemble miniature temples.
Down on the coast, Kızkalesi is a small resort that glories in a superb swathe of sand looking out towards the ruins of the namesake Maidens Castle floating like a mirage on an offshore island. A mirror-image castle bestrides the shore; it was once connected to the offshore one by a causeway. Theoretically, then, Kızkalesi is delightful. Unfortunately, it developed as a resort quite late in the day, which means that it has no beautiful old architecture to speak of. Recently, it has also become a great deal better known and more popular, which means lots of noise in the summer months, together with strobe lighting to illuminate the castle.
Still, Kızkalesi does have lots of accommodation and out of season it reverts to a quieter, sleepier place that makes a good base for exploration. With your own car (and a head for heights) you can, for example, cut inland in search of the Adamkayalar, a group of carved figures dating back to Roman times. Those without the head for heights will have to make do with the easier-to-get-to figure of a man drawing a sword that can be seen on the inland side of the road near the castle.
Cennet Cehennem (Heaven and Hell)
This is a part of the country pitted with a great many vast sinkholes. In the hills above the pretty little harbor of Narlıkuyu two such holes have been dubbed Heaven and Hell. You cant descend into Hell, which some might judge to be a good thing. You can, however, plunge down into the so-called Heaven where youll find a small Byzantine chapel guarding the entrance to a huge cavern.
Afterwards you can also visit the Astım Mağarası (Asthma Cave), a cavern full of stalagmites and stalactites whose air is reputedly excellent for asthmatics. Then you can stroll back downhill to Narlıkuyu, pausing for a snack at one of the many inviting breakfast cafes along the way before pausing for a quick look at the mosaic of the Three Muses preserved in the village.
Taşucu is a tiny place that lives for the ferries to Cyprus and Lebanon. Until recently that was really all there was to say for it. However, the waterfront has now been nicely landscaped and berths provided for the same sort of “pirate excursion boats” as hang about Alanya in search of custom. Why, theres even a replica of Copenhagens Little Mermaid on the narrow stretch of beach here now.
To go with these improvements there are some new, rather stylish hotels such as the Marina Hotel (tel: 0324-741 4493) to supplement the older rather basic ones primarily aimed at soldiers waiting to cross to do their military service in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC).
Ayaş (Elaiussa Sebeste)
East of Narlıkuyu real gluttons for archeological sites will want to stop off in the small resort of Ayaş where the remains of the sixth-century palace of the Byzantine regional governor sit right beside the beach. On the inland side of the road are the ruins of Elaiussa Sebeste featuring a very simple, almost makeshift, theater and with some fine mosaic floors still in situ. Back down near the sea a large bathhouse once waited for sailors returning from long voyages; its remains are still being excavated.
Last but by no means least, the ruins of Kanlıdivane cluster around a giant sinkhole in the hills above the small town of Erdemli at the point where Cilicia Trachea finally segues into Cilicia Pedias (Flat Cilicia). An extraordinary array of Byzantine churches, chapels, towers and tombs stand on the rim of the sinkhole. Inside it there are more carvings like those at Adamkayalar. It is one of the most evocative, yet least known, sites in Turkey.