City born from North-South War: Mersin
Mersin, which hosts the 17th Mediterranean Games, is not an ancient city. The excavations and studies made in Mersin show that although there are some signs indicating that Mersin is an area of settlement since Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods, the foundation of the city does not date back to long ago.
Mersin appears at the stage of history during the mid-19th century.
The city, which was a village at that time, used to host a migrant Turkmen tribe. Especially when the cotton production was developed in Çukurova region to end the cotton shortage in the world during the U.S. Civil War, and railway construction in the region in 1866, the fate of Mersin underwent a change. In this period, Mersin rapidly evolved into a center of trade where the products in Çukurova were exported.
There are different stories about the name of this city. The oldest name of the region, Kizuvatna, was replaced by Que in the period of Hittites and became Cilicia in the Classical Age. According to the Ottoman Turkish traveler Evliya Çelebi, Mersin took its name from Mersinoğulları tribe. According to another story, Mersin took its name from the cranberry grown in the city. Cranberry is called “yaban mersini” in Turkey.
Crossroad between Christians and Muslims
Mersin reflects the traces of many civilizations in the history. Mersin region was ruled by the Hittites, Phrygians, Assyrians, Persians, Macedonians, Romans and Byzantine Empire respectively. Then it was ruled by Muslim communities such as Seljuks in 11th century, Karamanoğulları and Ramazanoğulları in 14th century, and Ottoman Empire in 15th century.
Even though Mersin’s city center does not date back to long ago as a city center, the history of its districts is much older. Especially when its ancient villages and towns such as Tarsus are considered, it could be said that Mersin has a very long history.
Mersin also has three important centers that are important for religious tourism. These centers include the House of Saint Paul, one of the apostles of the Jesus Christ. Located in Tarsus province, this house was declared as a place of pilgrimage by Vatican. The other two are Aya Tekla Church, which was the pilgrimage destination inthe early Chrisitan period, and Ashab-ı Kehf (Seven Sleepers) Cave in Tarsus.
These three centers attract thousands of foreign tourists each year. Ashab-ı Kehf Cave is regarded as a sacred place for both Christians and Muslims, and often welcomes a great number of visitors.
Capital of ancient kingdoms: Tarsus
Mersin’s Tarsus district is definitely worth seeing. The excavations
made in 1934 in the district’s Gözlükule tumulus showed that the first
settlements in Tarsus began during Neolithic age and continued until the
Middle Bronze Age without an interval. Historic records indicate that
Assyrian king Sardanapalus founded Tarsus.
The ancient name of Tarsus is “Tarsa”, which was found in the Hittite texts. According to Asyrrians, Tarsus was the capital of Que Kingdom. In 8th and 7th centuries B.C., Asyrrians named Tarsus as Tarzi (Tarzu). During 6th and 5th centuries B.C., its name did not change during the reign of Asyrrian and Syennesis Kingdoms. Also, the name of Tarsus is found in the coins made by Persians. According to an Arabic history called “Miratüliber”, Tarsus was founded by Noah’s grandson Tarasis. Tarsus was firstly called Tarsos, which is a Greek derivative, then changed into Tarsus, which is the Latin version of it. Tarsus has a particular importance for Christians since Saint Paulus, one of the founders of Christianity, was born there.
Soli: City of Pirates
The ancient city of Soli Pompeiopolis, which is located 11 kilometers southwest of Mersin, is one of the must-see destinations. Hosting a variety of civilizations such as pirate colonies, Alexander the Great, Slevki Empire and Ottoman Empire; Soli Pompeiopolis is a large archeological site situated in the city center.
With the permission of Roman Emperor Julius Caesar, Commander Pompey launched a major expedition against pirates. In his expedition to Mersin’s shores, Pompey destroyed the pirate shelters. However, he showed tolerance to the apologizing pirates and declared Soli as the “city of pardoned pirates.” Since then, the city is known as Pompeiopolis. So far, only 40 of the giant pillars, which were estimated to be 200 originally, could be found.
Soli, which is surrounded by large residential areas now, became a busy port during Byzantine times. However, after an earthquake known as “Grand Antakya Earthquake” in 528, which is predicted to be very violent, the city was destroyed to a great extent.
Saint Paul’s Well
Another important tourist attraction in Mersin is the Saint Paul’s Well located in the eastern district of Tarsus. St. Paul (Paulus), which is among the places where Christianity began to spread first, has a crucial place in the history of Christianity. St. Paul was born in Tarsus as a Jew (Otto Menardius).
He went to Jerusalem for his education at a very young age and was involved in the attacks against the Christianity, which began to spread at that time. St. Paul finally converted to Christianity after he saw Jesus Christ in a journey he made to Damascus. Devoting himself to spread the Christianity, St. Paul took to the roads with this aim. His long journeys became the longest and most influential ones made on behalf of Christianity during the first century A.D. In these journeys, Paul formed the first Christian communities. The well, which is located in a yard recognized as the location of St. Paul’s house, is known as St. Paul’s Well. The importance of St. Paul in Christianity and the remains of the house and the well that are regarded as sacred for a very long time are interpreted as the traces of the Christian community living in Tarsus.
Cicero’s homeland: Kızkalesi
Kızkalesi (maiden’s castle), which hosts increasingly more visitors with its fine sanded beach and blue sea, is located 70 kilometers west of Mersin. The castle was built on a rocky ground in the middle of the sea.
There are different legends about the construction of this castle, which was reinforced with eight towers.
Some sources say the castle was built for military reasons. Piracy, which was very effective in Mediterranean shores and sometimes even caused the migration of locals, also threatened the coastal town of Korykos along with the whole region.
Renowned statesman and lawyer Cicero, who was assigned to the region as a governor in 51 B.C., fought with pirates and achieved considerable military successes. In his fight against pirates, Cicero formed a defense system by using the two castles on land and sea.
In case of an attack, chains were hung between the two castles and the enemy boats’ entrance into the port was prevented.