Saint Paul, a beautiful mosque and bice bice

June 30th, 2011

Our first stop after leaving Cappadocia was Mersin, and the sea’s blue water was very refreshing and instructive. I wonder if you can travel to Türkiye without learning a bit of history. I was excited about this new path. I am not saying the first part wasn’t exciting when we revisited some of the most important sites from the ancient Greek and Roman civilisations. I guess because I had read many books about the ancient Greeks and the Roman Empire, there was some intimacy between me and the places like Miletus or Aspendus. However, I was ready to visit places far from sparkling Istanbul and the most usually touristic centres. Not that there aren’t tourists in East Turkey, the region has many, but the origin is different. While in the West, we have more Europeans and north-Americans, in the East, the tourism comes from Iran, Iraq, China, and other countries more to the East.

Eastern Anatolia presents us with different scenery. The climate here is one of the coldest in all of Turkey, with an annual average temperature of only 19 degrees centigrade. In comparison, the East Anatolian environment corresponds to the central European countries. However, I was visiting in Summer, and the conditions were very different in 2011. I learned recently that climate change is changing it, with cold days have been much more present than sunny hot days. In 2011 the days were hot with constant sun and temperatures around 37 to 39 degrees centigrade. During one of my stops, I experience temperatures over 48 degrees Celsius. For a person who does like hot weather was a challenge. In contrast to the hot weather I had met, the waters also were all around me. In the beautiful water of the Euphrates, the mysterious waterfalls and the Tigris were around there, turning a scorching land into a productive and welcoming place. 

Leaving Mersin, the road leads us to Adana. Of course, a detour to another essential city before we arrive in the town: Tarsus.

For those who know the history of Christianity, Tarsus is a place connected to Saint Paul. Situated in south-central Turkey, near the Mediterranean, the city has a population of around 347 thousand inhabitants in the urban area. The city’s beginning was linked to trade. Tarsus was in the crossing of the many routes that linked Anatolia to Syria and beyond. 

The name originates from the Hittite word Tarsa, the first civilisation to settle in the region, Tarsus; it was like what the Hittites called the city. Excavations revealed that the site’s history dates back to the Neolithic period, continuing without interruption through the Chalcolithic and the Bronze Age. The city’s foundation is linked to numerous legends, ranging from Bellerophon and his flying horse, Pegasus, to Hercules.

The town was controlled by the Hittites, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans and, of course, the local birth of Paul of Tarsus, which was to be converted and known as Saint Paul. The house where supposedly Paul had lived is a museum. It is worth some time to visit if you are curious about Christianity history. There is a well that dates from the time Paul lived there. It is interesting to observe how water is essential in all religions as a symbol of purification, movement, and peace.

You can see on the West of the city the Cleopatra’s Gate. This gate was how Mark Antony and Cleopatra entered the town in 41 BC. The Roman bridge was built by Justinian on the River Berdan. The Roman engineering is something admirable. It is always a surprise to have survived for so long. The bridge over the River Berdan is in good condition. There is a small museum with many old coins and mummies. To the north of the city, it is possible to see the Roman Road or visit the Old Road, another Roman road. After all, Tarsus was on the way from Rome to Syria.

There is a mosque whose existence is linked to the prophet Daniel, who could be buried there. We can’t forget Greek mythology. An old story connects Pegasus, the winged horse, to Tarsus. Pegasus, for services to Zeus, was transformed by Zeus into a constellation. On his last day of life, when Zeus turned Pegasus into stars, a feather from Pegasus wings fell from heaven on earth in a place near Tarsus.

The Turks also have their monuments. One is the Great Mosque of Tarsus; the other is the ancient bath. It’s said the white marble walls are tinted with brownish spots that would be the blood of Meran Shah, the legendary King Cobra, who was killed in an ambush there. The Tarsus American College was founded by the Ottomans and is still active. Nusret (Nusrat), the minelayer used to defend the Çanakkale Strait in Gallipoli Battle, was restored in Tarsus and is part of a park in memory of those who lost their lives in battle.

In the city’s south, we have the Karabucak Forest, where people from the region make picnics and enjoy nature. Incidentally, a picnic is a favourite pastime for the Turks. They do it anywhere: parks, the side of a road, no matter where there is enough room, and they put a small charcoal grill and presto, a sumptuous barbecue is born. Another place worth visiting is a waterfall. The Bedran dam built on the Tarsus River had its water used to irrigate the region’s land. The dam construction interfered with one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the area that can now only be seen during periods of heavy rain. Luckily, we had the opportunity to see the beautiful waters running fast and sing the music of nature.

After the çay in a coffee house near the waterfall, we left Tarsus behind and followed to Adana.

Adana is a populated city, the capital of the eponymous province. It has more than 2 million and three hundred thousand inhabitants (2021). The city is located in the northeastern part of the Mediterranean; from Adana, we can reach the plain of Çukurova on the feet of the Taurus Mountains.

The city is modern since it is one of the largest industrial centres in Turkey. The hectic life, and heavy traffic, are present. But Turkish people dared to stop everything from having time for a çay and talking about politics. Then, even in a big city, you can find people in the coffee houses or parks just having tea or juice and talking. 

Our first stop was Sabancı Merkez Camii, a mosque. Sabancı Merkez Camii is not a historical mosque but is the most visited in Adana. It is one of the largest Middle Eastern mosques and was built by a powerful family in Turkey. Its architectural style is loyal to the Ottoman style. Opened in 1988 with a capacity of 28,500 people, it has six minarets, four 99 meters tall and two 75 meters tall. The dome has a diameter of 32 meters and a height of 54 meters from floor to top. Located on the banks of the River Seyhan, near Seyhan Bridge, Sabancı Merkez Camii brings the feeling of grandeur and beauty to the city.

After visiting the mosque, we crossed a highly complex avenue until we got to a park at the edge of the Seyhan River. There a bridge took our attention. Many bridges cross the River Seyhan while it passes through the city. The most fascinating and beautiful is the Taşköprü. It’s lovely to see the bridge from a distance with its arcs. Taşköprü was built in the 4th century. It is a Roman bridge and is now used by pedestrians and cyclists. It was open to motor vehicles, until 2007, before being the oldest bridge in use. The Demirköprü is a bridge for trains and was built in 1912 as part of the project connecting Berlin to Baghdad. The Regülatör bridge is in the southern area of the city. It is a bridge for motor vehicles but also serves as a regulator for the river waters. There are other bridges, but these are the most significant and exciting.

The houses in Ottoman style can be seen in the area of Tepebağ, near Taşköprü bridge. The city has been trying to preserve the neighbourhood, especially the Ottoman houses. There is the Atatürk Museum.

We walked around the town and finally came to the bridge over the river. Beautiful place, and we were in one of the wealthiest neighbourhoods. The river and the dam attracted numerous cafes, restaurants, and places to sit and do what the Turks like best: talk.

After many beautiful photos, we visited one of these cafés. Fırat wished to present a typical dessert typical of the region. My curiosity only increased when I saw what he was talking about at a table near us. Having already proved drinks such as Salgam, Sour cherry juice, and lemonade that locked something slightly different. The waiter put in front of me a bowl full of crushed ice and syrup – in this case, rose syrup -; it had some slices of banana around and a cherry on top covered in powder sugar. The name: is bici bici. Honestly, I did not like it. It was too sweet, and the rose syrup was not among my favourites. 

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