TARSUS, the birthplace of St Paul and the city where Cleopatra met Mark Antony and turned him into a “strumpet’s fool”, lies about 30km east of Mersin, across the factory-dotted cotton fields of the Çukurova. 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. Proud of his roots, he 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, the Antik Şehir or “old city” has been exposed by excavations, but although there remains a good section of black-basalt main street and some underground stoas and temples, only a few reminders of the town’s illustrious past survive.