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Chasms, caverns and castles
2003 / September

There is more to Turkey's Mediterranean coast than the Mediterranean itself, with spectacular scenery and historical monuments tracing a history going back far in time. Exploring the stretch of coast between Anamur and Silifke east of Antalya is particularly rewarding on both counts. A few kilometres east of Anamur is one of Turkey's best preserved castles, Mamure or Anamur Castle, which was originally built by the Romans in the 3rd century AD, and rebuilt in the 12th century after being captured by the Seljuk sultan Alaeddin Keykubat. In 1450 it was extensively repaired by Ibrahim Bey, ruler of the Karamanoglu principality, and for this reason aquired the name Mamure, meaning developed or improved. This imposing castle with its 39 towers, turrets and moats is excellently preserved. Silifke, the ancient Seleucia, 100 kilometres southwest of the city of Mersin. was named after Seleucos I, a general of Alexander the Great, who founded the city in the 4th century BC. During the Byzantine period it was renowned for the Church of St Thecla, an important shrine which attracted many pilgrims.

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Chasms, caverns and castles
2003 / September

The Byzantines built the splendid castle here in the 7th century. A large Byzantine cistern, a single column remaining from the temple dedicated to Jupiter, and the 13th century Seljuk Ulu Mosque are among the other sights in the town. We now head inland from Silifke to a beautiful monument concealed in the mountains; one which every traveller from the 17th century Evliya Celebi onwards has described in terms of amazement. This is the Alahan Monastery, high in the Toros Mountains. To reach it we take the main road to Karaman, and just after passing the town of Mut take a right turn onto a winding road that climbs steeply in a series of sharp bends. It is not known when or why this Byzantine monastery was abandoned. It is perched on the edge of a steep escarpment overlooking the Goksu river valley.

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Chasms, caverns and castles
2003 / September
Picturesque from afar, the monastery is fascinating from close up, with its ancient cave church, magnificent Great Church whose walls bear carved reliefs depicting biblical scenes, monks' cells and tombs hollowed out of the natural rock, and colonnaded road. Our next destination is one of the best preserved ancient cities in Turkey, close to Kirobasi east of Mut. It is known as Uzuncaburc (Tall Tower) today, because of its massive Hellenistic tower which is still standing. Originally a small town known as Olba (Ura), it grew under the Romans, who renamed it Diocaesarea, meaning 'imperial city guarded by Zeus.' Apart from the Temple of Zeus and the great tower, all the buildings date from the Roman period. Returning to Kirobasi and travelling south brings us to what are probably the regiosyi most famous sights, the extraordinary chasms called Heaven and Hell. In the depths of the former are the Corycian Caves of mythology.
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Chasms, caverns and castles
2003 / September

The chasms are swallow holes, created when the roofs of caverns hollowed out by underground streams collapsed. Heaven is 70 metres deep, and a flight of 452 stone steps leads down to the bottom. At the 300th step is the entrance to a large cave where there is a small church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. If you penetrate deep into the cave you can hear the thundering sound of the underground river, which the ancients believed to be the River Styx in the Underworld. Just to the north of Heaven is the far more intimidating chasm known as Hell. With its sheer walls plunging to a depth of 128 metres the name fits it perfectly. Another sight in this area is the Cave of Wishes, another natural wonder filled with stalagmites and stalactites, whose air is believed to relieve asthma.

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Chasms, caverns and castles
2003 / September

Crossing the main road and descending towards the sea brings you to Narlikuyu, where you can reward yourself for all your exertions with a delicious meal of fish and salad, accompanied by a magical view over the turquoise and azure sea. The white building behind the row of restaurants is probably Turkey's smallest museum, where there is a lovely Roman mosaic depicting the Three Graces, the beautiful sisters Aglaia, Thalia and Euphrosyne, dancing amidst doves and partridges. A few kilometres further on is a large Roman necropolis known as Adamkayalar, where the tombs have been cut into the cliffs of the Seytanderesi gorge. They are decorated with carved reliefs representing the deceased in various scenes, sometimes alone and sometimes with members of their families. Returning to the coast road and continuing eastwards, brings us to a romantic castle built of pale stone standing in the sea.

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Chasms, caverns and castles
2003 / September

This is Kiz Kalesi or Maiden's Castle. Facing it on land is Corycus Castle built to protect the town of the same name. In ancient times the pair of castles were linked by a causeway. Our last stop is Kanlidivane, or Kanytelis, an ancient city whose remains surround a deep chasm where prisoners are said to have been flung to lions, watched by the city's nobles. Hence the Turkish name meaning 'madness of blood.' A tall watchtower dating from the Hellenistic period, cisterns, mausoleums, and the remains of several basilicas can be seen here. The most interesting sight is a carved relief depicting a family of five people on the wall of the abyss. These members of the local nobility watched in their time, and have now become the watched. Leaving them behind we continue on our way.

* Evin Dogu is a freelance writer

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