Lost City Of The Taurus

Dotted with ancient cities large and small, the Cilician plain harbors millennia-old mysteries just waiting to be explored.

When sitting in front of the computer in the usual flow of work at the magazine, it’s difficult to estimate in advance the extraordinary adventure to which a telephone call might take one. The voice at the end other was that of a friend who knows the Taurus like the back of his hand. Breathless and excited, he was explaining that they had discovered an ancient city in one of the deep valleys of the Taurus mountains. For us here at Skylife, that was reason enough to board the first plane via Adana to Mersin and the Çamlıyayla - Namrun Castle in the township of Tarsus the next morning.

To be perfectly honest, the details we learned on arrival caused us a little concern. To reach the ancient city, we were going to have to traverse a highly treacherous canyon in the Taurus’s famous Cehennemdere National Park. What awaited us was a hitherto unpublished site, little known even in the region. Every good thing naturally comes at a price. After purchasing provisions at Çamlıyayla and checking vital necessities like hiking boots and sleeping bags one last time, we set out for the national park.

Arrival at the campsite
We pitched our camp at a watershed, a confluence of two tributaries of the same river.  By the time we had unloaded our jeep, our experienced ‘yörük’ (local nomad) guides, whose people have inhabited these areas for generations, already had a fire going. After sipping strong steeped tea around the campfire and recovering from our journey, it was time to head for our destination. In front of us was a 12-kilometer-long road we would have to negotiate on foot. An approximately 5-kilometer segment of the road involved walking through a river as deep as a man’s height in places and swept by powerful currents.

The segment of road not through the river meant narrow paths over steep rocks with hidden caves. Such a place is Cehennemderesi Canyon, one of Turkey’s most treacherous! But the magnificent nature that underlies these arduous conditions and the ancient city we were hoping to explore spurred us on. The emerald green pines and the blue cedars that seem to radiate tranquility even as one is looking at them were a veritable visual feast. And the tiny but extremely tasty fruit of the wild mountain figs more than satisfied our craving for sweets. When we got thirsty, we gulped the icy cold waters of the river in which we were walking. As wild as the conditions of nature often are, they always harbor a balance. The water that makes progress difficult simultaneously satisfies your thirst. The dense trees and thorny brush hear the voice of your hunger and provide mini-treats. We were convinced the wild mountain goats on the steep mountain slopes were eyeing us with curiosity. And the snakes that occasionally slithered out from among the dried pine needles, causing us to lose our foothold for an instant, were eye witnesses to our zeal.

Speckled Trout
On one of the short breaks we took as we proceeded through the long and perilous canyon, we were quite surprised when one of our guides told us there were speckled trout in the river through which we were trudging. For we knew that this extremely rare fish with its distinctive sprinkling of red dots, unique to Anatolia, is on the endangered species list. Knowing that it had found a habitat for itself and was thriving in the canyon’s Cehennemdere, Cocakdere, Sivriseki and Hörüdamı regions gladdened all our hearts.

To the Lost City
With every minute and every step taken, we were getting closer to the ancient city we hoped to see. Like kids on a family vacation, we were incessantly pestering our guides with the question, ‘How much farther?’ But the reply was always the same: ‘Hang on, it’s not far’. After getting this answer several times in succession, we finally stopped asking and concentrated on walking as fast as we could. When one of us finally succumbed again to curiosity and asked how much farther it was, the reply rekindled our excitement. For this time we were told less than a kilometer remained.

Lost City in the Mountains
And so it was that we succeeded in reaching the ancient city after an arduous six or seven hour hike. Before us lay a city lodged in the rugged foothills of the Taurus Mountains near an exuberantly flowing river. What events had occurred here? What civilizations had left behind vestiges? The questions were endless. What attracted my attention was the way all the members of the team were standing there with the air of proud commanders who have just conquered a city. After a brief respite we began exploring the environs. With curious eyes we started to search for clues that would help us unravel the mysteries of this city amidst the ruins. Tile fragments and semi-processed patterned stones were evidence that the history of this place dates back to very ancient times. At one point voices began to rise from the team and we hurried in the direction of the sound. When we got there, the reason for the hullaballoo was evident: In front of us stood the foundations of two houses!

A City Waiting to be Explored
The foundation was in the shape of a circle and reminded us of the famous round houses of the Kar people near Bodrum. We speculated that this area could belong to a lost civilization which was part of the same cultural basin. A few walls were still standing. Indeed, resisting time’s depredations, they seemed to beg to be explored and recognized. Before us lay a center of civilization going back perhaps to the Ancient Greek, Roman or Byzantine era. Perhaps, too, priests had lived here, having escaped from human society and devoted themselves to God. Or it might have been a refuge for people fleeing from the plague, that scourge of the Middle Ages, or from some other epidemic, or perhaps from a terrible invading army.

Given the inaccessibility of the site, all these possibilities had to be kept in mind. At times of year other than when we crossed the canyon, and especially in spring and summer, the river rises to three to five meters in depth with a current strong enough to uproot trees. In other words, a horrendous natural obstacle restricts access to this ancient city. One would therefore expect that uninvited guests from afar, armed and supplied, would wait until autumn to try to penetrate the canyon. And since the harsh winter weather that would follow would make turning back impossible, probably no one would embark on such a venture so lightly. But until the experts conclude their scholarly investigations, all our team’s heated claims will remain mere speculation.

All the same, the rounded, dome-like surface of the earth was whispering to us that there were definitely some important finds here. At this point however there isn’t much we can do apart from informing the authorities and hoping the excavations can be completed as soon as possible. Standing there amidst the ruins of an ancient city to which we had come having endured so many hardships, most of us having even postponed our work, we were exhausted but elated by our success.

Time to Return
The time had come to leave the city that we had explored and reconnoitered like proud old-time soldiers savoring the taste of victory and that we planned to publicize to the outside world through photos. Spending more time there would put our return to the campsite in jeopardy. Because the canyon is so deep and narrow, the magnanimous Mediterranean sun withdraws it rays from here early in the day. Munching on the apples our guides took from their bags, we started our return, ever heedful of their sage warnings.