Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Kizkaleski, The Maiden's Castle

Off the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, in the present city of Mersin, lies two Amenian castles of Kizkaleski.  One of the castles rests on the sandy beach and the other is literally out in the sea, about 150 meters.  The city of Mersin is a two-hour drive from Adana, with the city of Tarsus rests between the two.   The two hour drive is an interesting one; as Adana is flat, fertile and heavily agricultural.  As we drove South towards Tarsus, we found ourselves entering into the Tarsus Mountains.  Yet further south, in Mersin we found ourselves driving along the Mediterranean coastline.  Although I have not spent a great deal of time around the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, I would have to say that the Sea I saw was an amazing clear turquoise-blue; much more so than the oceans I have seen in the USA. 
We were under the impression that Kizkaleski was just past the city of Mersin, so when we passed Mersin and had not found it, we started to get a little discouraged.  Leah encouraged me to stop at a gas station and with limited Turkish and a great deal of “charades” she eventually communicated that we were looking for Kizkaleski and the gas station attendant in return communicated that it was still another 30 km down the road. 

It was impossible to miss.  We found the castle out in the sea first; quite a way down the road, and then saw that another castle sat on the coast. 

Visiting any of these castles is free; as one could actually swim to the castle out in the sea.  Given that it is winter here right now, and at best 65 degrees, we decided to take a paddle boat to the castle which cost us 15 Lira.  We enjoyed the paddle boat, and loved looking into the Sea and seeing our shadows, and the bottom.

The history of this land goes much further back than Yilankale.  I learned that it even dates back to before Christianity.  The original founder of this castle is thought to be a Cypriot Prince, built around 197 BC.  It was then taken over by Syria and eventually the Romans.  Christianity became this area’s State religion around 391 AD and numerous churches and basilicas were built in this area and the ruins still stand here today.  The city continued to be developed and was finished during the period of the crusades and became part of the Cilician kingdom. It was then seized by the Sultan of Karaman and then later conquered by the Ottomans.  Following the Ottomans, the area was abandoned and people began to settle and this is when this castle was named Kizkalesi (Maiden’s Castle). 
Of course, there are also legends about why this castle exists.  The most popular being that a prophesy foretold the death of a princess via snakebite.  Her father, with hopes to protect her built the castle to prevent any snakes from being near her.  Inevitably, a viper did get into the castle in a basket of figs and the prophesy was fulfilled. 
The land castle was actually built-up by the Romans from the ancient Korykos remains, and therefore has many Roman columns, towers and doors, as well as three churches inside of it. 
The sea castle has walls that are three meters thick and 8 meters high and has towers that are 10 meters.  There is also ruins of a church located in this castle. 

Leah and I are standing on one of the walls of the castle.
It feels amazing to sit uptop a castle tower and look out along the Mersin coast.

The towers, especially have many rooms and stairwells in them; perfect for exploring.

Here is another room in one of the towers.  A window was at each side so one could see any trespassers or visitors coming from any direction on this side of the castle.

The stairwells were curvy and steep.  Leah and I had to "duck" to get up them without hitting our heads.

Panoramic view of half the castle from the inside.

Although we did not get the opportunity to travel beyond the Kizkaleski castles, further up the road one can find ancient tombs, towers, Roman roads, gorges and caves and remains of ancient Christian churches. There are a few in mind that I am already looking forward to visiting.  I'm sure they will be equally as spectacular. 

All in all, it was pretty surreal that Leah and I, two related Wyoming natives spend our holiday together in Turkey, touring castle ruins.  This is a New Year that will not be forgotten.

Monday, January 3, 2011

How did you spend your New Years?

Some people may have heard a lot about Turkey’s beautiful and diverse countryside.  I assure you, these stories are factual.  We all have experienced seeing landscape so breath-taking with hopes to freeze that moment in time so it may last forever. Inevitably, being disappointed with the photograph and finding that the picture does not encompass the same effect that the real experience offers (unless you are a professional photographer with amazing capabilities; which I do not).  None-the-less, here is my effort to share with the world my amazing New Years adventures. 
 My cousin, Leah, blessed our family with her trip to Adana, Turkey from her home in Ankara.  We got to give her a tour around the base and show her how we live on a Turkish military base. 
The following day, we decided to take a half-day trip and picnic just a few miles from base to witness the illustrious Yilankale (Snake) Castle for ourselves.  I had never been, but was told it was close and a must-see.  Rumor said Yilankale is a very easy find and we soon found that it was in fact, nearly impossible to miss. 

Feeling self-assured at our successful spotting of the castle without any real directions, we ventured up a windy gravel road towards the base of the hill.  We found parking area and began our hike.  The path began very wide and paved but soon transformed into a rocky trail.  We followed this trail, until there was nothing of the sort left. 

 We were not going to give up quite so easily, as Arion was in favor of a nice climb.  So climb we did; and began the next part of our journey up the castle.  

As we ventured up, the trail became more obsolete and eventually disappeared all together.  There were no safety signs, equipment or guard rails of any sort on this climb so each climber was on their own while exploring this area. 

The view from Yilankale is breath-taking.  As I said before, snap-shots are frustrating in that they just don't give the same ombiance as being there in person.  Standing so high above everything else made it pretty clear why this castle was built on this very location. 

The precise history of this castle is unknown; however it is suspected that it was build by Armenian Crown Prince Leo III sometime between 1270-1289.  This castle contains a cistern, storerooms, chapel, other rooms and several interior gates. Ancient mythology states that the castle was owned by a ruler who was half man and half snake and used snakes to enforce his will.

There were many obscure passageways and stairwells we discovered in the castle.  Arion enjoyed imagining that a beautiful princess and a handsome prince once ruled this castle.

The view from any window in this castle could hold the attention of even a child for a long time.  There simply is nothing else like it.

Arion looks forward to going back to Yilankale again soon to show Michael.  He, unfortnatley was not able to go along on this trip, but I plan to get him there in the very near future.  Our next adventure, Kizkaleski was equally as amazing, for many different reasons.  But I will talk more about that in a later blog.