Tarsus is one of the most ancient cities of Asia Minor. Because of its fine natural harbor, now silted up, and its proximity to the Cilician Gates, it has been continuously inhabited for thousands of years. Tarsus figures in Greek mythology; it was mentioned as Tarzi by the Assyrians in 850 B.C.; Islamic legend has it that Tarsus was founded by Seth, the son of Adam. Archaeological findings in a prehistoric mound at Tarsus revealed the presence of man from so dim a past as to make this belief quite credible!
When the Persian expedition entered Tarsus in 400 B.C., Xenophon described Tarsus as o wealthy city ruled by a native king, Synnesis. It was inevitabiy taken by Alexander the Great, who almost met his death there after bathing in the chilly waters of the Cydnus. After Alexander, Tarsus fell to the Seieucids of Syria, In the 2nd century B.C. the Jews first came to Tarsus, and no doubt among them, were the ancestors of Saui of Tarsus, who became the apostie, Saint Paul. Shortly before the Christian era, Tarsus became a part of the Roman Empire, and was the capital of Roman Cilicia. Cicero was the governor between 51 and 50 B.C. Caesar Augustus made a visit to the city. In 41 B.C. Mark Antony was in Tarsus to receive tribute from those who had opposed him, and there the romantic meeting between him and Cieopatra, the Queen of Egypt, took place.
At the time of Saint Paul, Tarsus was a university city surpassing Athens and Alexandria. Subsequently it became an early Christian center and passed into Byzantine civilization. In 641 the Arabs invaded Tarsus and it was destroyed. Under Harun-al-Rashid and Mamun, Tarsus was rebuilt and remained an Arab stronghold until the Roman Nicephorus Phocas retook the city after a siege, in 1087 Seljuk Turks captured the city and held it until the arrival of the First Crusade in 1097. Tarsus formed a part of Lesser Armenia for about 3 centuries, but Turkoman and Egyptian invaders disputed for its possession with the Greek emperors, Armenian kings, and with each other. At last Tarsus passed into the hands of Ottoman Turks at the beginning of the 16th. century The ruins of the ancient city are very extensive but they are below the surface and little has been excavated,
Gözlükule: The orcnaeological mound where artifacts were fqjnd pointing to its prehistoric origin is caiied Gözlükule, Excavations under Miss Betty Goldman, and sponsored by Princeton University, revealed layers of civilizations from Islam to the Bronze. Age, and beyond, it is especially interesting to go to the top of the hill to see the flat land toward the sea which formerly contained the old port of Tarsus. Following the curve of the hill, traces of the Medieval wall leading to Mersin, can be seen.
Old Baths : At the center of town there is a part af o Roman structure thought to be ruins of a Roman bath.
Ulu Cami: This mosque was designed as a civic çenter in the 15th. or 16th. century. It is a typical example of other Ulu mosques built in Anatolia. It Is of rectangular shape whose length is three times the width. The tombs inside the mosque are said to be those of the Caliph Mamur, Seth, and Lokman Hekim. Since Ulu Cami is built on the site of a Crusader church [the Cathedral of St. Paul), where Hugh of Vermandoia died and was buried, his remains are most probably under there somewhere too. From inside the beautiful court a fine shot of the two galleried minaret, built 217 years before (he mosaue, can be taken.
Kilise Cami: Next to the ruins of the Roman batn Is the mosque known as Kilise Cami, a masque made from a church. It was built by the Armenians In the 14th century. Across from Kilise Cami is another mosque known as Makam Cami. There is a legend of Islam that says that the Prophet Daniel is buried tinder the stream that flows nearby.
Saint Paul’s Well: Not far from the vegetable market there is a well from the Roman period that is called Saint Paul’s Well. Certainly it was there during Paul’s life time, and it is pleasant to imagine that he may have visited it many times. Onîy 1 meter below the earth the original old stanes surround it and it is hoped that it wlil be excavated and revealed in its Roman setting.
Old Covered Market: Recently the city of Tarsus has restored the old market caiied Kırk Kaşık (Forty Spoons), The market is near Ulu Cami and was built at about the same time. It is very picturesque.
Frozen Stone: On the east side of the city there Is a structure known locally as «Donuklaş» [Frozen Stone) Its location outside the medieval walls has saved it from the destruction of the rest rf the city. )t is well worth a visit. Popularly identified as the tomb of Sardanapulus, the Assyrian, it was more likely the sub-structure of a Greco-Roman temple. It has very thick Roman concrete walls from which the marble facing has been removed. The interior is large enough for a football game. Anyone interested in architecture can have a field day there.
Justlnion’s Bridge: Over the Tarsus River (Cydnus) there is a stone-arched bridge which was built by order of the Roman Emperor, Justinian, in the 6th. century. At that time he had the course of the river changed to prevent floods in the city. The bridge has been in continuous use since that time.
The Foils : Outside the city upstream on the Cydnus, is to be found a series of rapids and waterfalls, (t is a very pretty spot in the summer and ideal for picnics.
The Foresi: Also outside the city there is a man-made forest of eucalyptus trees planted in a large swamp area to absorb the water and drain the land. Through the dense forest there are pleasant drives and picnic areas. In the interior of the forest wild boar abound. The game birds am protected by law.