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Write: Melih Uslu Photos: Haluk Uygur
Warm, Hospitable, Voracıous Adana
Warm, Hospitable, Voracıous Adana
Eastern Mediterranean capital where the sun shines year round, Adana will warm your heart with its historic stone bridge, its kebab shops with authentic Turkish folk music, its mysterious castles, its amazing caravanserais and its yellow roses.
Adana is surely the place where Luqman the Wise discovered the elixir of life and then inadvertently dropped it into the Ceyhan River in his jubilation. A landscape where the sun bestows its blessings on the soil ten months of the year. Where the cotton-white Çukurova plain provides inspiration to artists. A place whose flourishing markets, stuffed tripe, ice-cold rutabaga juice and refreshing ‘bici bici’ are sorely missed by its natives off working in the big cities. ‘The easiest place to ask directions to an unfamiliar address,’ as Nebil Özgentürk puts it. For whoever you ask will take you by the hand and personally deliver you to the place you’re looking for. The richness of mayhem Mediterranean-style. A vibrant, multicultural basin where old and new, tradition and modernity, rich and poor intermingle. A place where cooking and eating are regarded as an art. If you’re from around here, then the spread on the table has to satisfy both the eye and the stomach. In short, Adana is at once one and all these things.
Blessings of the earth
Transport from Adana Airport to the city center is rapid and convenient. Only 23 meters above sea level, Adana lies on the delta formed by the Seyhan and Ceyhan Rivers. Administrative capital of the Cilician civilization in antiquity, Adana today is numbered among the ten largest cities in Turkey. Attractive with its five-star hotels, wide palm-lined avenues, and high-rise office blocks and shopping centers, the city center immediately makes you feel you have come to a metropolis. Deriving most of its wealth from the vast, fertile Çukurova Plain, Adana also boasts a deep-rooted past. Once you’ve settled into one of the hotels at the city center, where you can find alternatives to fit every budget, the best place to start your city tour is the Great Clock Tower. One of the city’s oldest structures, this 32-meter tower on Ali Münif Caddesi south of the Great Mosque of 1507, was erected in 1882. One of the symbols of Adana today, the Taşköprü (Stone Bridge) stands at the entrance to the city.
This historic Roman bridge which joins the two sides of the Seyhan River at its narrowest point is approximately 1500 years old. Just beyond the bridge, which underwent repairs in the Ottoman period, stands a striking temple, the Sabancı Central Mosque. Among the other monuments preserving the city’s historic texture are the Ramazanoğlu Madrasa, built in 1540, the Ramazanoğlu Konak, one of the oldest of Turkey’s stately mansions, Ramazanoğlu Market, the Yağ Camii (literally, Oil Mosque), originally a Crusader church converted into a mosque in 1501, and Hasanağa Mosque. There are also around a hundred old Adana houses to be seen in the city center.
An ‘Adana’ please!
Linked to its neighboring towns of Mersin, Hatay and Gaziantep by modern highways, Adana is a place you might go simply to eat and shop. Each one of the streets around the Great Clock Tower ends at a bustling market where everything from clothing and toys to spices and electronic equipment is sold and an authentic atmosphere reigns. Serving up a unique synthesis of Anatolian, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines, the city is also rich in street food. When the aromas wafting up from the kebab shops whet our appetites, we take time out in the famous Kazancılar Çarşısı, or Boilermakers’ Market, which hums with activity into the middle of the night. Chock full of rutabaga-juice and kebab vendors’ stalls, with restaurants enlivened by local orchestras of clarinet, fiddle, drum and ‘saz’ (the traditional string instrument of Turkey), not to mention the compulsory belly dancer, Kazancılar Çarşısı is your address for Adana-style food and entertainment.
The minute you take a seat at any venue in the market, your table will immediately be covered with ‘gavur dağı’ tomato and onion salad, fresh herbs, eggplant in sauce, strained yoghurt, fresh olives, hot pepper purée, pickled peppers, crisp ‘pide’ (Turkish flat bread) and onions with sumac, before you even order! If you prefer the more genteel restaurants to the working class joints in the market for sampling the local specialties, then Ziya Paşa Bulvarı is the place for you. Famous for its palm-studded parks and cooling fountains, this boulevard is also a popular meeting place for students and faculty of Çukurova University. And the kebab shops in the vicinity are a favorite with famous names like Mircea Lucescu and Hincal Uluç. The perfect accompaniment to any meal in Adana is, without a doubt, the juice of the rutabaga, Turkish ‘şalgam’. At once tart, spicy and salty, this ruby red beverage is available in every restaurant and on practically every street corner in the city and is perhaps the true symbol of Adana. If you happen to go there in summer, you won’t really have gotten to know the city if you don’t try ‘bici bici’. A variation on the snow cone, this traditional sweet, prepared by grating ice over fresh sour cherry or rosewater syrup, also seems to be the best antidote to Adana’s scorching heat.
Harboring the secret to immortality
Our destination is the Misis Ruins at Yakapınar near Adana. This city (Mopsuestia), named for a Cilician warrior called Mapsos, was one of the main stops on the Silk Road and a place of settlement from the time of the Hittites right through the Ottoman period. Among the Byzantine mosaics on display in the tiny one-story museum at the entrance to the village, the most interesting is a 6th century floor mosaic that depicts Noah being rescued from the Flood. There is also a legend attached to the 4th century, nine-arch Misis Bridge, a relic of the ancient city. The Islamic sage Luqman the Wise, who dispensed medicinal potions he concocted from plants, discovered the secret of immortality one day in a flower that grew in the mountains. As he was dashing across the bridge in jubilation, the scrap of paper on which he had noted the formula was torn from his hand by the wind and flew into the Ceyhan River. Ever since, the secret to immortality has remained concealed in Çukurova’s unparalleled beauty and the diversity of its flora.
We stroll through the countryside, captivated by the freshness of the orange, lemon and clementine trees. Reminiscent of a medieval chateau, Yılankale (Serpent Castle), which rises atop a steep rock formation, gazes down on us from the opposite bank of the Ceyhan. This majestic structure, also known as Şahmeran Castle, is one of four that dominate Çukurova Plain. Built in the 11th century, this Crusader castle is named for the horned serpents with hairy necks once rumored to inhabit it. Winding among the Ceyhan villages, we proceed eastward across Çukurova Plain. Mesmerized by the dense forests that cover the slopes of the Taurus, we look now for the holy city of Kastabala in Eastern Cilicia. Important for its Temple of Artemis in antiquity, this city won fame for its acrobatic priestesses who danced on red hot coals.
Another castle, Bodrumkale, rising on a rugged outcropping to the east of the ruins, was built by the Crusaders in the 13th century. Also nearby is Karatepe National Park, one of the region’s treasures. This 7,716-hectare park on the shores of Aslantaş Dam Reservoir is the largest hiking and picnic area in Çukurova. Here, too, is the last Hittite city in Anatolia, founded in the 8th century B.C. There are monumental gates, sculptures and reliefs from the Hittite and Phrygian periods on the site of the ruins, which also doubles as Karatepe Open Air Museum. There are many things to see and discover in Adana. All you have to do is perk up your ears and listen.