Thursday, January 31, 2013

Detour to Castles, Caves and Cool Mediterranean Waters

Today is probably one of the coldest days of the year so far in this Midwest state full of manic weather.  Currently it's 14 degrees Fahrenheit (that's  -10 in Celsius) and 2 degrees F with the windchill - brrrr!  So with my wool hat and gloves still on in my chilly, old apartment -  I'm dreaming of warmer days.  In fact, earlier today I found myself flipping through pictures from my first trip to Turkey in the early summer of 2011. So I couldn't help but take a short detour from my planned posts and instead, I took a warm trip down memory lane to the region of Mersin, a lovely spot on the Mediterranean Sea.  

On our short trip to Turkey in 2011, we decided that we had to get a taste of the salty Mediterranean air and see the various shades of blue of that great Sea.  From Maraş we drove down through Adana to visit a professor from H.'s college days and then we continued on through Mersin and into the surrounding coastside full of small resorts, swimming holes, caves, and of course, scattered with historical monuments.

The crystal water is calling to me - even though it was freezing cold at the time.
The blue gives the allusion of warmth doesn't it?

We spent several hours swimming in the aquamarine waters and sunbathing on the rocks at a local swimming spot.  Next, we drove back in the direction of Mersin to stop where the ancient city of Koryos once stood and where the Kız Kalesi, or Maiden's Castle, now remains. 

Several crumbling parts of the land castle.
 Koryos dates back to the Hellenistic period in the 2nd century BC.  During the reign of the Byzantine empire in the 12th century, both the land and the Maiden Castle were constructed.  The legend of the Kız Kalesi is strikingly similar to that of the Kız Kulesi in Istanbul (kule = tower; kale = fortress or castle), in fact, the stories are exactly the same.  A king hears from a fortune teller that his daughter will be poisoned by a snake.  In an attempt to sidestep fate, he has servants build a castle on an island and he keeps his daughter there.  Only, one day, a snake makes it into a grape basket that is brought to the castle and the daughter is bitten and dies.  (I'm wondering - is this just a favorite legend to accompany buildings built in the sea or what is the historical reality of these matching stories?)

The Kız Kalesi in the background, as seen through a window in the land castle.
 The Kız Kalesi and remains of Koryos are perfect examples of overlapping cultures, a common phenomenon in Turkey.  The stones of the castle are said to come from buildings of the Roman period and the area is full of historical hot spots, such as a local Roman temple, necropolis, church and cistern.  Right across from the castle there are exposed stones with distinct figures etched into the mammoth rock.  I'm not sure what culture or time period these figures belong to, but there they are nonetheless.  Another example of how you can't walk down a path in Turkey without stumbling over an ancient artifact.

A view of the coast and local village from the top of the castle wall.

If you head straight up the hill from the castle you will find some of the remains of the Roman buildings and another natural and human spectacle, fittingly called by the locals, "Heaven and Hell", and on the tourist brochure, "Heaven Hollow", or in Turkish, Cennet Obruğu.  To access "Heaven" you must follow 455 steps down a steep incline.   

Just the beginning of the 455 steps.

The mouth of this hollow is 200m wide and the deepest point is 70m below ground - so don't wander too far without a flashlight!

Halfway down the steep pathway we stopped to explore the Virgin Mary Chapel, a small stone chapel dating to the 5th or 6th century AD.  The chapel is supposedly decorated with frescoes of Jesus and his 12 apostles, but all I could see were the etchings of many travelers before me that had felt the need to leave their mark in stone. 

Photo op inside the Virgin Mary Chapel, clouded with graffiti on the chapel walls.
(Photo copyright of hakanirfan @
 Past the chapel it's straight down, into what feels like hell, and not heaven.  We crawled, not walked, down into the gaping hole, scattering pebble from the path and sliding over slimy rocks.  As we made it further inside the hollow, mud was haphazardly streaked across our bottoms and legs as we used all of our body to balance and brace from the forces of gravity in the near pitch blackness.  We enjoyed  a few moments inside the dark and eerie quietness of "heaven" before we were joined by a boisterous group of about 30 students studying tourism at the local university.  I was greeted in several languages as they blinded me with their flashlights and tried to guess what nationality I belonged to.

The incoming as seen from inside the cave.
(Photo copyright of hakanirfan at 
Then we crawled back out of heaven - never quite finding hell - and not sure if that was perhaps where we had been.  But then we realized, the hell is walking back up those 455 steps!  So that was why the locals called it "Heaven and Hell" but the tourism plaque only mentions the delightful "Heaven Hollow" - sounds much better doesn't it?

After we drove around a bit, we did find a bit of heaven at a quaint restaurant serving gözleme and fresh, frothy ayran with a view overlooking the city and Mediterranean Sea below (and a few ornery and sad camels trying to escape from their shackles).  Yes, I guess every bit of heaven has its dark moments.  A good lesson in life, really.
The sad camels meant to please tourists. 

So now I emerge back from my walk down that sunny, but at times dark and damp, memory lane to winter in the Midwest, USA with enough warmth inside me to keep me fueled during the busy months ahead and with the hope for many more warm, sunny days in Turkey this upcoming summer when we finally get our balayı (honeymoon).


  1. Hi Turklish! What a pleasure to find you - the familiar (and not so familiar) through fresh eyes is always a pleasure.

    1. Hi Alan - thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

  2. L,

    I so enjoyed reading both about this Kız Kalesi and your reflections on it from a larger perspective. It adds to our discussions of our husband/fiancee's views on our safety, no? The proverbial snake?

    In any case - meant to say that this post totally inspired me to visit this area. Will you all be settling in Maras - or places as yet unknown?

    All my best,


  3. more thing...those sad camels really break my heart :(

  4. Hi Liz! The proverbial snake - so clever, I hadn't yet made that connection...that does help put the issue of women and safety into a more historical perspective.

    I loved the Mersin area. It is fairly close to Maras and wasn't overrun with tourists at all, but we were there in late May so not quite tourist season. I think a lot of people have summer homes/apartments here. We are not sure where we will end up, but Mersin is near the top of our list of places we would like to live.

    Who knows what time will bring!

    (Hopefully in time those camels will be free as well...)


Thanks for joining the conversation!

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