Mersin, a rising star of world tourism, is set on a long coastline in the eastern part of the Turkish Riviera and boasts the cleanest seawater along this coast.
Mersin is a city of long beaches and enchanting inlets with the Taurus Mountains rising immediately behind them. Mersin is one of the important ports of the Mediterranean and a centre of maritime commerce, just as it was during ancient times. The plains of this sun-kissed city are resplendent with some of the best lemon and orange groves in Turkey and its countless vineyards curl up into the low foothills of the mountains.
A long history of human habitation
The story of mankind began a long, long time ago in Mersin. The Çukurova plain, one of the best naturally irrigated and fertile spots in the Mediterranean basin, was the site of one of the first settlements where people learned to work the land. What is more, there were also forests just behind this great plain so suitable for agriculture. The first settlements in this area, known in ancient times as Cilicia, date back to the Prehistoric age. The city of Mersin (ancient Zephyrium) occupies the site of an extremely ancient city known as Kizuwatna of the Hittites. At the Yumuktepe Tumulus, 3km west of the city, excavations have unearthed several successive settlements dating back to 6000 BC and the Neolithic age. There are remains of various civilizations throughout Mersin, but the majority are from the Roman, Byzantine and Turkish eras.
Eleven kilometres west of Mersin can be found a row of Corinthian columns that once lined the main street of Viranşehir (ancient Pompeiopolis and Soloi), founded in 700 BC by the Rhodians. At Kanlıdivane are the ruins of ancient Kanytelis, with tombs resembling small temples, and churches and sarcophagi dating from Roman and Byzantine times. The city and its ruins can be found on the sides of a deep chasm.
Kız Kalesi, Mersin - Photo: Orhan ÖZGÜLBAŞKız Kalesi, Mersin - Photo: Orhan ÖZGÜLBAŞ
Kızkalesi, 50km southwest of Mersin, is a lovely county with fine sandy beaches, motels and camp sites. It is also home to the ancient city of Korykos. The 12th century castle of Korykos on the shore faces another castle, Kızkalesi (Maiden’s Castle), standing on a tiny island 200m offshore. Just beyond Kızkalesi, on a bay lined with fish restaurants at the little fishing village of Narlıkuyu, a Roman mosaic known as the Three Graces can be found. Further on at the bottom of a valley is a naturally formed cave, 275m by 125m in size, known as Cennet (Heaven) and there is also a deep chasm (50-75m wide and 80-120m deep) called Cehennem (Hell). In the so-called Vale of Heaven are the ruins of a temple converted into a Christian chapel in the fifth century. Nearby is the deep Narlıkuyu Cave full of stalagmites, stalactites and calcium carbonate, with stairs carved by the Romans. The humid air of the cave reportedly helps those who suffer from respiratory diseases. East of Mersin, on the edge of the fertile Çukurova Plain, is Tarsus, the birthplace of St Paul and once a capital. Of the many ancient cities in Mersin, Cilician Seleucia, Demircili (Imbriogon), Uzuncaburç (Diocaesarea), Ura (Olba) and Anamur (Anamorium) are the most important ones. In each of these ancient settlements visitors have the opportunity to see such historical structures as temples, bridges and ancient theatres dating back thousands of years.
Besides its historical and cultural wealth, Mersin charms visitors with its natural beauty and excellent beaches. Ovacık, 44km west of Taşucu, is a quiet spot well-known for its fisherman's wharf and beach. The Peninsula (ancient Cavaliere) of Ovacık is one of the natural highlights of Turkey, an ideal area for diving. The surrounding sailing waters to the west of Ovacık are clearly marked, ensuring yacht safety along this breathtaking stretch of coast. The shore road that clings to the pine-clad mountain slopes steeply down to the sea, offering spectacular views of cliffs, coves and crystal clear waters of the Mediterranean. 36km to the west of Aydıncık district is Bozyazı, a holiday centre with clean and roomy camping sites along its wide beaches. The county of Anamuris nestled in between the mountains, with banana plantations surrounding it. Situated on terraces above the sea, it is perfect for a climb to the top which overlooks one of the cleanest and most pristine coasts in Turkey.