About 30km east of Mersin, across the factory-dotted cotton fields of the Çukurova, lies TARSUS, birthplace of St Paul and the city where Cleopatra met Mark Antony and turned him into a “strumpet’s fool”. St Paul was born as Saul in Tarsus about 46 years after the meeting between Cleopatra and Antony. He returned after his conversion on the road to Damascus, fleeing persecution in Palestine. He seems to have been proud of his roots and is described as having told the Roman commandant of Jerusalem: “I am a Jew, a Tarsian from Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city.” Nowadays, however, only a few reminders of the town’s illustrious past remain, located nearby to the Kancık Kapısı.
Near the main bus drop-off point, the Kancık Kapısı (“the gate of the bitch”) is a Roman construction, also known as Cleopatra’s Gate. Although it doesn’t actually have any known connection with the Egyptian queen, she is thought to have come ashore for her first meeting with Mark Antony somewhere in the vicinity (at that time Tarsus was linked to the sea by a lagoon which has since silted up).
From Cleopatra’s Gate, go south to a roundabout flowing with fountains and turn right; a hundred metres west, the Cultural Centre (Kültür Merkezi) houses Tarsus museum, with an unexplained mummified lower arm of a woman and the odd case of jewellery. On Adana Caddesi nearby, the Antik Şehir or “old city” has been exposed by excavations. A good section of black-basalt main street and associated stoas and temples lie well beneath present-day ground level.
Make your way through the backstreets to St Paul’s well; you’ll have to ask for “Sen Pol Kuyusu”. It may be something of a disappointment, since it’s just a borehole in the ground covered by a removable lid. However, as it’s said to be on the site of St Paul’s house, the steady stream of visitors gladly pay 2TL for a sip of water from a bucket hauled up from the depths. North of the well, past the Hükümet Konağı (law courts), is a large mosque and local landmark known as Makam Cami. Opposite is the Eski Cami, a mosque that started life as a church, and, next door, the Roman baths.Read More