Explore The Mediterranean coast and the Hatay
The Mediterranean coast of Turkey, where the Toros (Taurus) mountain range sweeps down to meet the sea, broadly divides into three parts. The stretch from Antalya to Alanya is the most accessible although intensive agriculture, particularly cotton growing, and package tourism have taken a toll on the environment. East of Alanya, the mountains meet the sea head-on, making for some of Turkey’s most rugged stretches of coastline and some of its most hair-raising roads. As a result, this is the least developed and unspoiled section of Mediterranean coastline. Further east the mountains finally recede, giving way to the flat, monotonous landscape of the Ceyhan river delta. South and east of here, turning the corner towards Syria, the landscape becomes more interesting, as the Amanus mountain range dominates the fertile coastal plain, with citrus crops and olives the mainstay of the economy.
The stretch of coast between Antalya and Alanya is one of the most developed in Turkey. With a four-lane highway running right behind many beaches, all-inclusive hotels and holiday-village complexes in various stages of completion, it is hard to imagine this was once ancient Pamphylia, a loose federation of Hellenistic cities established by incomers from northern Anatolia. The bustling, modern city of Antalya is the region’s prime arrival and junction point. East of here, in the ancient region of Pamphylia, the ruins of three cities – Perge, Aspendos and Side – testify to the sophisticated civilization that flourished during the Hellenistic period. Perge and Aspendos, in particular, are both well-established day-trip destinations from Antalya, while the modern town of Side has become a package-tour resort. The more isolated Termessos, a Pisidian city north of Antalya, is the most spectacularly sited one, and its rugged terrain peppered with stone ruins makes this a more than worthwhile excursion. Seventy kilometres east along the coast, the former pirate refuge of Alanya – now a bustling package-tour destination – is set on and around a spectacular headland topped by a Selçuk citadel.
The region between Alanya and Adana formed ancient Cilicia, and was settled by refugees from Troy at the same time as Pamphylia further west. Its remoteness meant that it was never as developed and its rugged, densely wooded coastline was a haven for pirates. This eventually spurred the Romans into absorbing Cilicia into the empire in the first century BC. Today, it retains a wild appearance, and travel through it involves some frighteningly daring drives along winding mountain roads that hug the craggy coastline. All this is to the good if you’re trying to escape the crowds further west, since far fewer people make it along here. The best places to break your journey are Anamur, where a ruined Hellenistic city abuts some of this coast’s best beaches, and Kızkalesi, whose huge Byzantine castle sits 200m from the shore of a sandy bay. Kızkalesi also makes a good base from which to explore the ancient city of Uzuncaburç, a lonely ruin high in the Toros mountains. Beyond Kızkalesi is the fertile alluvial delta known as the Çukurova, where the Ceyhan River spills down from the mountains and meanders sluggishly into the eastern Mediterranean. This end of the coast – characterized by concentrations of industry and low-lying cotton plantations – has very little to recommend it. Mersin has regular ferry connections to northern Cyprus; Tarsus, the birthplace of St Paul, has a few surviving reminders of its long history; while Adana, one of the country’s largest urban centres, is a hectic staging-post for journeys further east.
From Adana, routes head north to the central Anatolian plateau or east to the Euphrates and Tigris basins turns its attention south, towards the area formed by the curve of the coast down towards Syria. This is the Hatay, a fertile, hilly region where different cultures have met – and often clashed – in their efforts to dominate the important Silk Route trade. Antakya is the Hatay’s main centre and the best starting point for exploring the region, though cosmopolitan İskenderun makes for a surprisingly agreeable base. From Antakya there are frequent dolmuş connections to the town of Samandağ, from where you can visit Armenian Vakıflı and what’s left of the ancient Roman port of Seleucia ad Piera.Read More
A few kilometres north of Samandağ is the village of ÇEVLIK, easily reached by dolmuş from Samandağ town centre. In ancient times, Çevlik was the port of Seleucia ad Piera, serving Antioch, and it is from here that Paul and Barnabas are thought to have set off on their first evangelical mission to Cyprus. There are still a few ruins scattered around, including the 130-metre-long Titus ve Vespasiyanus Tüneli (open dawn–dusk; 3TL), a huge channel carved out of the hillside to prevent flooding and silting of the harbour. It’s usually easy to find someone who will assist you to scramble around the huge gorge-like site (expect to leave a tip); two inscriptions at the upper end give details of its construction. Also scattered around you’ll see foundations, sections of ruined wall and Roman tombs. Swimming is probably unwise, although the village beach is popular with local fishermen.
- Wildlife in the Göksu delta
The history of the Hatay
The history of the Hatay
The region only became part of modern Turkey in 1939, having been apportioned to the French Protectorate of Syria following the dismemberment of the Ottoman Empire. Following the brief-lived independent Hatay Republic of 1938 it was handed over to Turkey after a plebiscite. This move, calculated to buy Turkish support, or at least neutrality, in the imminent world war, was successful. It was Atatürk, in a move to “Turkify” the region, who dreamt up the name “Hatay”, supposedly based on that of a medieval Turkic tribe. The majority of people here speak Arabic as well as Turkish and there’s some backing for union with Syria though it for its part seems to have recognized de facto Turkish sovereignty. Relations between the two countries have improved significantly in recent years with new border crossings being opened and a relaxation in visa requirements.
Arab influence in the Hatay goes back to the seventh century AD, when Arab raiders began hacking at the edges of the collapsing Byzantine Empire. Although they were never able to secure long-lasting political control over the region, the Arabs were able to establish themselves as permanent settlers, remaining even when the Hatay passed into Ottoman hands. Prior to the arrival of the Arabs, the area had been held by the Romans and before that the Seleucids, who prized its position straddling trading routes into Syria.