Mersin has been a crossroads throughout the centuries and the meeting point of different civilizations including the Hittites, Phrygians, Assyrians, Persians, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, Karamanids, Ramadanids and the Ottoman Empire.
The findings of the excavations carried out in Yumuktepe and Gözlükule, showed that Mersin has been an important settlement centre since prehistoric eras. “Neolithic Age” has been identified as the lowest layer in Yumuktepe, located in the Mersin city centre.
Maiden Castle (Kızkalesi), also known as the Sea Castle, is the symbolic structure of Mersin coastline. With its magnificent walls preserved until today, the castle is located on an islet in the middle of the sea in Erdemli. There are various rumours about the construction of the castle. According to inscription found here that the castle was built by Leon I in 1199. However, according to famous historian Herodotos, the castle’s historical name is Korykos, and it was built by a Cypriot prince named Korykos. Strabon mentions that pirates used the castle as a shelter in the Roman Period. The establishment of Maiden Castle, which was dominated by the Seleucids, Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, Armenians, French, Karamanids and Ottomans throughout the history, dates back to 4th century BCE. The castle’s distance to the shore is approximately 600 metres and the visitors can swim to the castle or go by pedal. Maiden Castle was also included to UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List in 2014. There is a very common myth told about Kızkalesi. An oracle at the time tells the king that his daughter will be bitten and killed by a snake. In order to save his only beloved daughter, the king builds a castle in the middle of the sea and places his daughter there. One day, the snake hiding in a grape basket leading to the castle, bites and kills the princess. A similar myth is told for the Maiden Tower in İstanbul.
Mersin Archaeology Museum
At the Mersin Archaeology Museum, visitors have the opportunity to take a journey through history in the time tunnel on the ground floor and watch how civilizations develop in the chronological exhibition hall. In addition, visitors can learn about burial customs in different cultures. They can also see ethnographic artefacts and a replica of the Huğ House found near Yumuktepe Tumulus. The museum also exhibits the rich collection of artefacts from the Yumuktepe Tumulus, the Ancient City of Soli-Pompeipolis and Elaiussa-Sebaste.
Standing out with its 6000-year historical heritage, Tarsus district of Mersin welcomes many visitors throughout the year. Tarsus, the centre of the Cilician civilization, is one of the oldest cities in the world with uninterrupted settlement since its foundation. The region, almost as old as human history, is one of Anatolia’s most important faith centres. Tarsus is also home to various historical monuments from many great empires and civilizations such as Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman. The Eshab-ı Kehf Cave (Seven Sleepers’ Cave (Yediuyurlar Mağarası), St. Paul Memorial Museum, the Tomb of Prophet Daniel, Roman Road and Roman Bath, Cleopatra Gate, Gülek Castle (Gülek Kalesi), Ulu Mosque (Ulu Cami), historical Kırkkaşık Bedesten (Kırkkaşık Bedesten), the 6th century Justinian Bridge (Justinyen Köprüsü) and historical Tarsus houses are among the prominent historical values of Tarsus – the city that has always been a centre of attraction throughout history.
Mausoleum of Daniel
Prophet Daniel lived during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, the 2nd King of Babylon (605-562 CE) and saved the Jews from Babylonian captivity with his knowledge and prophecies. Rumour has it when the King of Babylon dreamt that a boy from the Israelites would shake his throne, he ordered the deaths of all Israelite boys. For this reason, when Daniel was born, he was left in a cave at the top of the mountain to be saved from death. Daniel, who grew up under the protection of a lion and a lioness in the cave, mingled with his tribe when he became a teenager. Daniel was invited to Tarsus in a famine year and there was abundance when he came to the city. Therefore, Daniel didn’t leave for Babylon again. After his death, he was buried in what is now called the Makam Mosque (Makam Cami) in Tarsus. After the excavation in this area, the tomb was unearthed, and it was opened to visitors as the Mausoleum of Daniel in 2014.
Eshab-ı Kehf Cave
Eshab-ı Kehf Cave (Seven Sleepers’ Cave/Yediuyurlar Cami), located in Tarsus, is considered a sacred place both by Muslims and Christians. According to the myth, Dacianus, a Greek ruler of Tarsus city (around 250 BCE), warned seven young men, who agreed to worship a single god, that they would be punished if they did not worship idols. The seven believers fled from the tyranny of the ruler and took refuge in this cave where they slept for 300 years. Christians specifically memorialize the myth on 7th of July each year, however the cave is open to visitors throughout the year.
The city walls built in the Byzantine period had three gates: Mountain Gate (Dağ Kapısı), Adana Gate (Adana Kapısı) and Sea Gate (Deniz Kapısı). The walls of Tarsus with three very strong doors were demolished by İbrahim Pasha of Egypt in 1835, and the only remaining gate was the Sea Gate remained. According to the legend, when Cleopatra, popular Egyptian queen, came to Tarsus to meet with her lover Roman General Antonius, she entered the city through the Sea Gate. For this reason, it was also called Cleopatra Gate (Kleopatra Kapısı).
St. Paul Memorial Museum and St. Paul Well
The St. Paul Church (St. Paul Kilisesi) was built between the 11th and 12th centuries BCE in the name of St. Paulus, one of the leading figures of Christianity who is thought to be originally born in Tarsus. The Church was opened to visitors in 2001 as the St. Paul Memorial Museum after the restoration. St. Paul Well (St. Paul Kuyusu) is located in the garden of a house considered to be the house of St. Paul, in an area where historical Mersin houses are mostly located. With a depth of 38 metres, the water of the well never decreases in summer and winter. Christians passing through the region on their way to Jerusalem to be pilgrims drank from the water, which was considered sacred. The St. Paul Church and the St. Paul Well are on the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List. St. Paul Church Memorial Museum and St. Paul Well which is considered sacred by Christians, are visited as a pilgrimage destination every year and they constitute one of the top religious tourism destinations.
Tarsus Museum (Tarsus Müzesi) consists of Ethnography Hall and Archaeological Works Hall and exhibits Ethnographic and archaeological artefacts from the Chalcolithic, Bronze and Iron Age, and Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods.
Tarsus Grand Mosque
Tarsus Grand Mosque (Tarsus Ulu Cami) known as Cami-i Nur, is located in the centre of Tarsus and is one of the prominent works of Turkish-Islamic art. The mosque was built in 1579 during the Ramadanid era and its minaret is decorated with black and white marbles bearing the characteristics of Mamluk architecture.
Anemurium Ancient City
The Anemurium Ancient City, located in Anamur, has hosted many civilizations throughout the history. The establishment date of the first settlement in Anemurium is unknown, but it is thought that the ancient city was established in the 4th century BCE. Throughout the history, many civilizations such as Sassanids, Persians, Anatolian Seljuks and Arabs, chose Anemurium as a settlement area. It has been an important commercial city where natural resources in the region were exported. Many buildings in the city still remain intact today. Baths, theatre, and odeon are among its most spectacular historical remains. The necropolis area is one of the best-preserved areas in the region and there are approximately 350 graves in the area.
Known as Kanytella in the ancient times, Kanlıdivane is the ancient city and sacred settlement of the Olba Dynasty founded in the 2nd century BCE. The city is located around 60 metres deep sinkhole accessible with ancient stairs carved on a rock. Due to the size of the sinkhole, it was thought to be sacred and the city has been a religious centre throughout its history. The Byzantine Emperor Theodosius II founded a holy Christian centre in Kanlıdivane. Today, in the region, visitors can see the ruins of a temple, church, cistern, necropolis and ancient houses dating back to the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine ages. In Kanlıdivane, there is also a Hellenistic Tower built in the 2nd century BCE. By virtue of its acoustic quality, nowadays, some concerts and events like International Mersin Music Festival take place in Kanlıdivane.
Mersin Caves and Sinkholes
Cennet Cehennem Sinkholes (Heaven and Hell Sinkholes/Cennet ve Cehennem Obruğu) in Silifke were formed by the collapse of the cave ceilings millions of years ago. The sinkholes’ depth is respectively 70 and 128 metres. Visitors can go down to the Cennet Sinkhole with 450 steps, but the Cehennem Sinkhole is narrower and deeper and can be only reached with mountaineering equipment. The Cehennem Sinkhole can be viewed from the observation deck.
The formation of the Astım Cave (Astım Mağarası), located in Narlıkuyu region, near the Cennet Cehennem Sinkholes, dates to the 3rd geological period. It is possible to see curiously shaped giant stalactites and stalagmites formed by the accumulation of silica minerals in the connected galleries that have a total length of 200 metres. Since the humidity in the cave reaches up to 85 percent in summer and 95 percent in winter, it is believed that the air is good for asthma patients.
In Aynalıgöl Cave (Aynalıgöl Mağarası), which takes its name from the lake that reflects like a mirror inside, there are stalagmites and stalactites dating back from the Ice Age. One of the most beautiful caves of Türkiye, Aynalıgöl is a wonder of nature with a breath-taking view. The depth of the lake inside the cave reaches up to 47 metres and the most striking feature of the lake is that the stalactites and stalagmites inside the cave continue in the lake. The 555-metre-long cave, which was formed in a period of 30 million years, is quite impressive. Aynalıgöl also attracts diving lovers with its yearlong temperature of 20-21°C.
Soli Pompeiopolis Ancient City
Soli Pompeiopolis Ancient City (Viranşehir), located in Mezitli, has hosted many civilizations throughout the history. It is accepted that the city was first established by the colonists from Rhodes Island who came to Anatolia from Cyprus in the 8th and 7th centuries CE. Soli, one of the important port cities in this period, came under the rule of the Roman Empire in the 1st century CE. The ancient city, which has preserved its vitality in every period of the history, today welcomes photography enthusiasts with its fascinating atmosphere.
Alahan Monastery (Alahan Manastırı), located in Mut, was established on the slope of the Taurus Mountains and it is thought to be one of the stops of Saint Paul and Barnabas during the spread of Christianity. After the religion was officially accepted, it became a pilgrimage centre heavily visited by Christians between the 4th and 6th centuries BCE. The monastery had two churches reflecting Early Christian and Byzantine architecture, one of which was destroyed and the other is still standing. This church is visited as a museum today. The monastery also has a baptistery, bathhouse and some accommodation facilities. Alahan Monastery was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List in 2000.
Uzuncaburç, which was the religious centre of the Olba Territorium in the Hellenistic era, separated from Olba in the Roman era and became autonomous with the name Diokaesareia. After the Byzantine era, the Turks called it “Uzuncaburç” by giving it the name of the Hellenistic Tower, the symbol of the city. Today, the visitors can see some important monuments in the region such as Hellenistic Tower (Helenistik Kule), Sütunlu Cadde (Street with Columns), City Gate (Şehir Kapısı), Zeus Olbios Temple (Zeus Olbios Tapınağı), Tyche Temple (Tyche Tapınağı), ancient graveyard, and ancient theatre.
Mamure Castle (Mamure Kalesi) is one of Türkiye’s largest and most magnificent castles located in Anamur, on the Mediterranean coastline. The castle has survived quite well today, and its architectural features indicates that it has hosted many different civilizations throughout the history. Mamure Castle, which fascinates visitors with its 1500-year history, is on UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List.
Yumuktepe Tumulus is a crucial for archaeological researchers. The history of Yumuktepe dates back to 7000 BCE and it has been inhabited continuously since the Neolithic Age. Archaeobotanical analysis revealed that the region is homeland of olives and figs in the Mediterranean and it is one of the first regions in the world where agriculture started. In addition to that, some findings indicate that wheat was first grown in the region, and bread was made here for the first time. Visitors can find a rich collection of artefacts from Yumuktepe in Mersin Archaeology Museum.
Adam Kayalar (Human Rocks) is located in Şeytan Deresi Valley in Erdemli, 5 km away from Kızkalesi. Adam Kayalar, which still maintains its mystery, contains the figures of 4 women, 11 men, two children, a mountain goat and a Roman eagle in 9 niches.
Narlıkuyu Mosaic Museum
Narlıkuyu is a lovely bay about 65 kilometres away from Mersin. As the underground waters meet the sea in Narlıkuyu, visitors can enjoy swimming in the refreshing and clear waters of the region. Known as Porto Calamie in the Middle Ages, this settlement had a magnificent bath built in the 4th century BCE. Today, only the abreuvoir and the floor mosaic remained from this bath. Narlıkuyu Mosaic Museum (Narlıkuyu Mozaik Müzesi) was founded to preserve and to exhibit this precious mosaic. The mosaic depicts Zeus's three daughters, Aglaia, Thalia and Euphrosine in geometric, local bird and flower motifs.
Aya Thekla (Aya Tekla), located in Silifke and considered as a pilgrimage centre in the early ages of Christianity. According to the legend, Thekla was a saint who, influenced by St. Paul, devoted her life to Christianity. She survived the persecution and hid in a cave. She disappeared in this cave when she was about to be killed. The cave, considered holy by Christians, became a church after the 4th century. In the cave, a bath, cistern, cemetery and walls have survived until today.
Göksu River and Delta
Göksu River (Göksu Nehri), which meets the Mediterranean in Silifke, is one of the unique destinations for rafting lovers with its 91-kilometre-long parkour. Göksu Delta, located at the point where Göksu River flows into the Mediterranean, has a basin of 10 thousand square kilometres and is one of the few bird migration routes in the world. It is home to rare and endangered bird species. For this reason, the delta is a centre of attraction for birdwatchers. The rare Purple Gallinule (Porphyrio Porphyrio) bird is the symbol of the region. Flamingos (Phoenicopterus Ruber) are also seen in the delta. Göksu Delta is one of the main nesting areas in the Mediterranean, where sea turtles such as Caretta Caretta and Green Turtle lay their eggs. The Delta is also home to many endemic plants.