Spring is coming…The sun is going to awaken the traveler in us. And if you ask where to go, here’s an idea for you.
The shores of the Mediterranean are the scene of a human invasion in summer. Holiday makers cut loose from the big cities descend on the resort villages and coastal towns, taking refuge in the shade of their white-painted houses and cooling their sun-roasted bodies in the refreshing seawaters. But the Mediterranean, whose heat is so sweltering in summer, is equally beautiful in spring when the tiny, almost invisible droplets of water that hang in the air after a rain turn the sunshine into a rainbow of spray. One of the routes that will take you to the Mediterranean in spring lies through Karaman, Mut and Erdemli, along a road that winds down to the sea from the snow-capped peaks of the Taurus, and is one of Turkey’s most beautiful.
THE SOUNDS OF SILENCE
There is hardly a Turk who doesn’t know the folk song, ‘Yoghurt of Silifke’. But most of those who do are unaware of the natural and historic attractions of the Silifke region. To see them, you must set out from Karaman and negotiate the
1610-meter-high Sertavul Pass. At 20 kilometers from Mut you will see the yellow sign for ‘Alahan’. Three kilometers later, the twisting, winding road will bring you to the Alahan Monastery, whose silent splendor following a rain you absolutely must behold. Thought to have been built between the 5th and 6th centuries, this monastery is reminiscent of a setting from one of Umberto Eco’s novels, its walls standing there like the code letters of a past still waiting to be deciphered. Try to time your arrival with the setting sun and observe how, as the sun sinks behind the hills, the sky is stained first red, then purple.
As you continue along this road, the Göksu river will accompany you through a series of canyons all the way to Silifke. As its name indicates, this river, which appears on maps like a child dropped into the lap of the Mediterranean, was born of the blue of sea and sky. If you travel by daylight, you will see steppe, pine forests and hills adorned with intriguing rock formations. As you take in the view at Kargıcak 65 kilometers from Alahan, you can enjoy the taste of the tangerines, oranges, bananas and pomegranates sold at the many roadside stands.
THE WONDERS OF NATURE
For a view of the city, climb to the top of the Citadel at Silifke. Then, leaving the coast behind you, head for Uzuncaburç about 28 kilometers away. The monumental tombs that dot the fields of Demircili village are remnants of the Roman period. You can chat here with the women who boil the seeds of the laurel trees that grow in their gardens to extract the oil. On the road, larks, robins and hoopoes will swoop past your vehicle. And take care that you don’t run over a chameleon slinking your way across the ground.
Uzuncaburç was founded as the sacred precinct of the town of Olba (Ura), an ancient Hittite settlement four kilometers away, the aqueducts, fountain, temple, ruins of a theater and monumental portals here being reminders of the ancient city.
If you turn back now from Uzuncaburç and taken the road from Silifke to Erdemli, you will arrive 23 kilometers later at Narlıkuyu, where you will find Heaven and Hell on earth! Over thousands of years the underground waters here wore away the layer of limestone above them until if finally caved in, resulting in two deep sink holes that have been dubbed ‘Heaven’ and ‘Hell’. ‘Heaven’ is a natural wonder consisting of a series of rocky depressions known in antiquity as the Corycaian cave. A stepped path leads down into this 70-meter-deep pit. But you’ll need strong knees for it because there are 450 steps in all! As you follow the path, the entrance to a large cave will appear in front of you and, immediately next to it, a small church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. If you are not completely exhausted by now, you can make a journey down into its depths. If you do, you will hear from below the rushing sound of a mythological underground stream. Seventy-five kilometers north of ‘Heaven’ is the 120-meter-deep ‘Hell’ pit, a descent into which is not only very difficult but also dangerous. And 300 meters from ‘Heaven’ is Dilek Mağarası (the Cave of Wishes), whose stalactites and stalagmites come alive in the special illumination. Bats will seem to fly at your head as you wander through the interlocking passageways.
DAUGHTER OF THE MEDITERRANEAN
If you head due east from Narlıkuyu and turn left after Akkum, a narrow road will take you to the Adamkayalar Necropolis. Asphalt for the first few kilometers, it later degenerates into a dirt road covered with small sharp stones. If the tiny metal sign for the Adamkayalar (literally ‘Man Rocks’) has been worn off, be sure to ask somebody, for you must do the final 200 meters on foot. Then, suddenly, you will find yourself at the brink of a steep precipice. Beyond the canyon that gapes below you, you will see the Kızkalesi, or Maiden’s Castle, resting like a pearl on the sea. The descent down the cliff face is not for everybody, but if you want to see the Adamkayalar then you have no other choice. When you have done so, you will find yourself confronted with human figures carved in relief on the sheer slopes of a deep gorge and dubbed the Adamkayalar, or ‘Man Rocks’, since they consist of seventeen human figures and a goat, all carved during the Roman era. But the high point of our journey is the Maiden’s Castle itself, which you will reach at Corycos
25 km further on from Silifke. When you see the fortress, which was built to protect the ancient city of Corycos from its enemies, you will think you have happened upon an imaginary landscape. There is also a legend associated with it: Once upon a time there was a king who prayed to god for a daughter. His prayers were answered and a daughter was born to him. She grew tall, and one day the king asked a fortune-teller who stopped in the city to forecast his daughter’s future. The fortune-teller told the king a snake would bite his daughter and kill her. So the king had a tiny castle built of white stones on a little island and immured his daughter inside it. Incarcerated here for many years, the princess was eventually bitten by a snake that escaped from a basket of grapes that were sent to her, and she died. This legend bears a close resemblance to the one told about the Maiden’s Tower at Istanbul. And the most memorable moments of your journey will be spent watching the sun rise like a golden globule from beside the Castle at dawn.
Let us not conclude our account without mentioning the Kanlıdivane, over which criminals were once said to be tossed and their bodies picked to pieces by birds of prey. At 18 kilometers from Erdemli, Kanlıdivane is near the village of Artıklı. A Byzantine basilica rises over this enormous natural depression, which is definitely worth of a visit by photography buffs for the sheer diversity of its geological strata and the city ruins that surround it.
ARTICLE – PHOTO:AKGUN AKOVA