The second day of our familiarisation tour afforded us “a journey of visual and intellectual discoveries,” a fulfilled promise of Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism to its visitors.
First destination is Tarsus, a land popular for its historical places of worship and pilgrimage. It is also the biggest district of the tourism centre of Mersin in Turkey’s Mediterranean region.
The city features old and traditional architecture and structures such as the Cleopatra Gate, Tarsus Inscription, Republic Square, Ancient Road, and museums, among others.
The St Paul’s Well and ruins of his house (excavated in 1995), are located in the courtyard of an old building where it is widely believed the apostle had lived. He was born during the reign of Emperor August around 5-10 AD.
Our tour guide Gulcan Akdogan says this historical place has been attracting many tourists from various countries with different backgrounds and religions.
Archaeological excavations at the 30-metre deep well, named after St Paul, revealed signs of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman culture in the area, now a well-visited site of pilgrimage.
Traditional Tarsus houses, inspired by Armenian and Ottoman designs, also serve as among the major attractions in the area. These houses are one of the rare types of traditional residence in Cukurova that have been preserved in large numbers.
TRADITIONAL: Old Tarsus houses, inspired by Armenian and Ottoman designs, are one of the rare types of traditional residence in Cukurova. Photo by JR Dumlao
The remaining structures were converted to suit modernity, building kitchens, toilets, and bathrooms, among others.
“The most striking thing about traditional Tarsus houses is the side doors; although the inner sides are plain, the outer faces of the entrances are richly decorated with geometrical and floral designs inspired by nature,” the Ministry of Culture and Tourism says.
Tarsus is also known as a meeting place of “historical figures” such as Prophet Daniel, St Paul, Bilal-i-Habesi – the muezzin of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and philosophers: Aristotle, Cicero, Athenodoros Cananites.
RUINS: The ruins of St Paul's house in Tarsus. Photo by Joey Aguilar
We had the chance to visit the Makam-I Serif Mosque and the burial place of the Prophet Daniel, which was built in 1857. It is said that in the Caliphate Omer Period, Tarsus was conquered (638- 639 AD) and the tomb was opened and they found a tall corpse wrapped in gold-threaded silk material.
When they inspected the seal on the ring of the finger they saw a representation of a young child between a lion and lioness, with the lioness licking the child.
The streets and tea houses in Tarsus also host people in groups to play a traditional board game called ‘Okay’ (a bit similar to scrabble) while serving them some tea or Turkish coffee.
Turks appreciate people who greet them with a simple “hi” or “hello” or by smiling at them, a gesture that reciprocates their warm welcome and hospitality.
GUIDE: Turkish tour guide Gulcan Akdogan showing St Paul Well. Photo by Joey Aguilar
Like the city of Adana, Tarsus also has an array of traditional boutiques and shops such as the “Forty Spoons and Bazaar,” which offer local and foreign visitors with all sorts of Turkish souvenirs, as well as delicacies and drinks – including ‘Kaynar,” which is a mixture of seven healthy spices.
The bazaar, a historical landmark, was then used to feed poor people besides functioning as hospice for travellers and a religious school. But it was renovated between 1960 and 1961 to become a bazaar.
Our next stop was the “Hell and Heaven” pits, an archaeological site known to attract many visitors for its natural beauty – from old trees, seasonal flowers and the sounds of birds while descending the 288 steps to a chapel in the cave’s entrance.
Our colleagues, Qatari Jassim al-Ali and Kuwaiti Hani al-Mousawi, were brave enough to accept the challenge of exploring the cave by going down to the last step (a total of more than 455 steps) and ascending up to the top despite the muddy and slippery spots along the journey.
After a short rest, we headed to the beach area overlooking the castle of Kizkalesi, a Unesco World Heritage site, also known as the Maiden Castle constructed to protect the ancient city of Korykos.
The castle is best viewed from the Kilikya hotel, which serves the town of K?zkalesi in the District of Erdemli in Mersin. It is 120km away from Adana Airport, 60km from Mersin and 25km from the Districts of Erdemli and Silifke.
According to Kiliya hotel president Mustafa Kale, Mersin, particularly the castle of Kizkalesi, has been attracting a large number of local (from northern and central Turkey) and foreign tourists, particularly during the summer.
While winter is an off-peak season, he said temperatures remained at 18 degrees Celsius and above.
Restaurants in the area offer a wide range of fresh seafood – from prawns, a variety of fish, and squids cooked the Turkish way, a unique treat travellers would cherish.
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