The name Adana has been synonymous with fertility down the ages. Historic capital of Turkey’s southeastern Çukurova region, it is the region’s leading center of culture and commerce today.

One of the most amazing journeys you could take in Anatolia is one to the origins of the names of the settlements. Some will tell a completely different story, and occasionally you will encounter another name entirely. But a journey in pursuit of the name Adana will take you back to the Hittites, whose name you will encounter immediately in accounts of every civilization in Anatolia. Used in the Kava Inscriptions to indicate Adana and its environs, the name ‘Uru Adania’ is the sound nearest to the name Adana as used today. Adanus and Sarus, the two sons of the sky-god Uranus, pitched camp here on this fertile plain on their return from a bloody battle. And since they never did strike camp, the town of Adana was founded on the spot.

The concepts of fertility and plenty have characterized these lands down the ages. We are only reporting what we’ve heard, but we can describe to you what we saw as we strolled about...

I head first for the narrowest part of the Seyhan River, for the Stone Bridge (Taş Köprü) which I’m off to see upon the recommendation of the 17th century Ottoman traveler Evliya Çelebi. Before I even reach the river, the arches of the bridge are reflected in the minarets of the Sabancı Mosque at its western end. Despite being modern, this structure, whose graceful silhouette appears as an Adana icon in almost every photograph of the city, rises like a centuries-old monument of Adana’s history. Dating back to the Roman era, the Taş Köprü already has fifteen centuries behind it and was restored in the Ottoman period. With its signature asymmetrical arches, it is known to be the oldest stone bridge still open to vehicle traffic.  

With a past going back some six-hundred years, the Ramazanoğlu Konak, the oldest house still standing in Turkey, and bazaar of the same name date to the 16th century. The Bebekli Church and the Yağ and Hasanağa Mosques are among the other extant structures dating back hundreds of years. As with examples of local architecture in many Anatolian towns, the houses of Adana, too, are scattered throughout several neighborhoods like pieces from a rare collection. You will encounter the last remaining examples on the strolls you take through the districts of Türkocağı, Tepebağ, Kayalıbağ, Alidede and Sarıyakup.

Seyhan Avenue, which you will cross again and again on your stroll through the streets, boasts another important sight, a must-see before you leave the city center. One of the first ten museums founded in Turkey, the Archaeological Museum is the exhibition center for the finds unearthed in digs underway in the Çukurova region today. It houses a variety of artifacts and fragments from the Hittite, Assyrian, Phoenician, Phrygian, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods. The ethnographic museum at Kuruköprü meanwhile is housed in a church that dates to 1845.

Venturing outside this city that sits smack dab in the center of the civilizations that arose in Çukurova brings you closer to other historic centers. As a slightly cooler alternative to Adana’s notorious summer scorchers, the Seyhan Dam Reservoir, which has become a popular destination for boat outings and family picnics in spring, extends northwards like a resort area. The ancient city of Misis (Yakapınar) rises before you as you head further east, and the Misis Bridge, the first Roman bridge built in Anatolia, tells one of the tales on our journey. The Muslim sage and physician Lokman Hekim was crossing this bridge one day. As he did so, a gust of wind snatched up the slip of paper on which he had noted his recipe for an elixir of immortality and dropped it into the waters of the Ceyhan. The village of Sirkeli on the road from Misis to Ceyhan is one place you must definitely stop for a glass of tea in order to see the Muvattali Reliefs, thought to be the oldest Hittite reliefs in Anatolia. Emperor Muvattali sojourned here on his way to the famous Battle of Kadesh which he waged with the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses, and the Hittites believed the spot to be sacred. After you spend half a day at the Misis ruins, the Yılan Kalesi or ‘Snake Castle’ will await you with another legend in the direction of Ceyhan. And when you climb up to the castle, little boys conversant in several different foreign languages will pop out of the village to be your tour guides.

I head for a restaurant whose decor reminds me of my childhood for a combined late lunch - early dinner. To a place where I’ll be told that Adana kebab without hot spices is out of the question! As the kebab I’ve ordered is being placed on the grill, I am invited to a neighboring table to chat. While the family members scurry industriously about, I meet the boss and pater familias Zülfü Bey, a man of tough love whose family has operated this establishment for three generations. He begins his disquisition on Adana cuisine by informing me that Adana kebab without the hot spicing is absolutely unthinkable. Before the kebab arrives, a cocktail of beet and carrot juice arrives on the table without my even asking. Black pepper, red pepper flakes, dried oregano and red pepper paste are de rigueur in any case. The spicy kebab that takes it name from Adana; ‘mumbar  dolma’ or tripe stuffed with rice and red pepper paste; ‘vardavit’ made of boiled green beans and tahina; dumpling soup; and savory pastries made with nettles are the local specialties whose names and ingredients I note down. As they sre seeing me off, they advise me to try the street kebabs ('tablacı') that start setting up braziers in the Adana bazaar at evening. Just before leaving, a sweet ring-shaped pastry or ‘halka’ is also served on the house.

The ancient city of Anavarza in the village of Dilekkaya in Kozan township is a highly developed settlement since it was the capital of the ancient province of Cilicia. With its city walls, restored following a major earthquake in its history, its colonnaded way and mosaic-paved pool, it is a site worth seeing. And the ruins of the theater and stadium are wistful symbols that invite you to conjure up its distant past. Perched high on a hill, the citadel houses a church in its inner keep. Now a resort in its own right, Yumurtalık to the south is known for its beach, two castles, ancient city ruins, Süleyman Tower and Marco Polo landing pier. The ruins of the city of Aega are displayed in front of the ‘kaymakam’ building on an island almost within swimming distance of the shore.

Starting on Friday afternoon I spend a whole weekend tracking down dozens of settlements and historic ruins all worth seeing within a radius of 200 kilometers. Sinking into the pleasant weariness of a rather hurried and intensive journey, I sit down to rest in Ataturk Park at a spot not far from where I started my explorations. Out of the corner of my eye I can see my ‘bicibici', thick cranberry juice over crushed ice, melting away drop by drop. I am  230 kilometers from Şar, city of the mother-goddess Magda Mater. Sis Kalesi, the ‘Castle of Mist', is 40 kilometers further on at Kozan. In the foothills of Mt. Düldül lie the Haruniye thermal springs and the Taurus highlands, a refuge for those fleeing the sweltering Çukurova heat. Not to mention the Havraniye Caravanserai, a small, single-domed mosque, and mosaics illustrating the story of Noah’s ark. Did I see these things, or merely read about them? Or did I hear of them from one of the village elders who regaled me with stories? Adana offers countless alternatives for a journey filled with history, adventure and fun. I’m putting it at the top of my list of places to be revisited at the first opportunity