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castles in Turkey?

Castles in Turkey? There are some from North to South with a concentration of ancient cities in the province of Cilicia (southeastern Turkey). It is the route of the crusades that defines the expeditions to the Holy Land from 1095 to 1291. The crusades are the most important fact that Western Europe experienced during the Middle Ages. During the first four Crusades, Western Catholic Europeans fought against the Seljuk Turks of Anatolia. The result is more or less well-preserved remains, watchtower castles with eloquent loopholes, often built by the sea to better protect the coast. Fortresses or monasteries, these ruins line the roads, from the Mediterranean coast to the peaks of the Taurus surrounding Antalya. For us travellers, these castles are the pretext for amazing walks between sea and mountains. They are always located on extraordinary geographical sites lost in the vegetation at the edge of a river or at the top of a fashionable seaside resort. We set off to explore Antalya and Antioch (Hatay), part of southern Turkey. We are both in the West and in the East. Mehaba! Good morning !

Antalya, a thousand-year-old city and a major tourist hub

The discovery of Antalya is a pleasure, if only for the sun and the deckchairs by the sea. But there is above all the old town dating from the Hellenistic period (the last period of ancient Greek civilization), protected by two horseshoe-shaped enclosure walls. The old town overlooks the sea and the small marina where small boats are anchored. It has been a busy port since Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman times. We will survey Kaleiçi (city city) on foot, early in the morning or at the end of the day when the air is charged with the scent of cypresses and orange trees from private gardens. The Ottoman houses with tiled roofs follow each other without looking alike. Of the walls separating the different districts, all that remains is Hadrian’s Gate (Üçkapilar) built by the Romans and dating from the 2nd century, the Clock Tower, the Hidirlik Tower and turrets. As you stroll, you will come across a 13th century mosque and its minaret, a 17th century Ottoman medersa and the watchtower.

Head for Alanya, its orange groves, its banana plantations and its citadel

A three-hour drive from Antalya, we will reach Alanya called “where the sun smiles”, one of the most beautiful seaside resorts on the Turkish Riviera. On the way, we stop at Aspendos, once the eastern city of the kingdom of Pergamum (an ancient city in Asia Minor). Its ancient theater, well preserved, is leaned against the hill, towards the East; The sun rising in the east, it did not bother the spectators during the shows in the morning. One likes to imagine the tragedies or the comedies which were given there as well as the representations of gladiators. In Alanya, the fortress perched in the middle of the pines offers a beautiful panorama from the ramparts. It was the haunt of corsairs who attacked grain-laden ships on their way to Rome. We will then descend on foot along a path lined with pines and fig trees, then by cable car to reach the beaches and the Red Tower (Kizil kule). This work of the Seljuks, built in 1226, defended the naval base. Luckily, when you come, the ethnographic museum on the ground floor will be open and you will learn more about the way of life in the Seljuk period. Marc Antony gave Alanya to Cleopatra as a wedding gift. One of the beaches bears the name of the Egyptian queen.

The castles of Anamur and Silifke

110 km from Alanya, we will visit the castle of Mamure in Anamur, renowned for its beaches and its sites where sea turtles come to lay their eggs. Mamure Castle in Anamur was a fortress intended to protect against attacks from the sea. Built in the 4th century, it was there to protect the city from pirates of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. In the 14th century, it fell into the hands of the Franks who used it as an outpost for their Cypriot settlement. Recovered in the 15th century by the Ottomans, it served to defend itself from offshore Cyprus and from the English settlement in the 19th century. Ravaged by an earthquake around 580, and after the capture of Cyprus by the Arabs, the city was deserted and never repopulated. A small mosque, three courtyards, a lighthouse and ancient baths can be visited. A short drive away is Silifke Castle, where excursions to the area depart from. This city on the Mediterranean coast has an imposing fortress that looks medieval but dates back to the Hellenistic period. From the ancient city there remain a few temple columns, a Byzantine cistern and a Roman point. The museum houses a fine collection of Seleucid coins (Hellenistic dynasty that ruled over part of Asia). The said castles were on the Silk Road, crossing cities that make you dream, Aleppo, Damascus…

The Maiden’s Castle in Mersin, Antioch and its Splendor.

25 km from Silifke, in Mersin, we will take a boat to see Kiz Kalesi, the castle of “the maiden”, offshore. Kiz Kalesi is an island. Its construction dates back to the beginning of the 12th century. This castle is famous because of the legend that accompanies it. Once upon a time there was a king who had a daughter much loved by his subjects. One day, an oracle predicts his untimely death from a snakebite. The king had this castle built offshore for his daughter. But in a basket of grapes which will be intended for him for his 18th birthday, a snake has hidden. No one escapes his fate. Mersin, “myrtle” in Turkish, is a pretty port town from where ferries depart for Northern Cyprus. Several hours drive from Mersin, we will arrive in Antakya (Antioch), third city of the Roman Empire and epicenter of Christianity. It passed into the hands of the Arabs, then the Byzantines, the Crusaders, the Mamluks, then the Ottomans. Alexander the Great went there. A must in Antioch, the archaeological museum. Nice collection of mosaics. A skeleton drawn on a wall tells us that in life, you shouldn’t take yourself seriously. Obligatory selfie in front, in the position of the skeleton. The Titus tunnel, near the beach, is also worth a visit. Impressive trench dug in the rock by thousands of slaves, it offers the pretext for a walk in the cool. Rich in history and vestiges, Turkey will leave us with memories of beautiful nature and fascinating culture.

Thanks to Kadir Simsek, tourist guide.

Pictures Brice Charton.

Practical notebook:

To enter Turkey, vaccination is sufficient. Otherwise, PCR test of – 72 hours.

To read : “Turkey”, guide see, Hachette.

Go : Paris-Istanbul then Istanbul-Antalya with Turkish Airlines, around 7 hours of flight and 190€ return trip in economy class.

Staying there:

“Narin Hotel” in Antakya (Antioch). Four stars. Modern, nice spacious rooms and very good kitchen. Good internet connection. From 80€ per night with breakfast.

Dine there:

-At Alara, on the road to Alanya, we will see ramparts and a caravanserai on the banks of a river. A restaurant on stilts cooks for you delicious dishes based on fish, vegetables and homemade fries.

-In Antioch, the Maison de la Gastronomie offers traditional Turkish cuisine with European, Asian and Oriental influences. Difficult to resist the meat kebap, the gozlem (savory crepe) and the kizir (tabbouleh), the Turkish delight and the künefe.

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