Why does every archaeological site have a tale of woe overflowing with horrendous suffering and devious behaviour? Yes, yes I realise that most archaeological sites have been there for eons and so, of course something resembling the Red Wedding would have happened at some point over the course of thousands of years, but after visiting Silifke (ancient name: Seleucia) I realise that this little town, apart from being as dull as dishwater today, seemed to have had more than its fair share of woe in its many years of existence.
I had passed through the town many times over the years but have never been tempted to stay for more than a toilet break or a glass of cáy and so, after reading up on its gruesome history, it was decided that a trip to Silifke to explore would be a great day trip from Mersin with just the right amount of gore to keep Daughter (growing up in an age of The Walking Dead) interested.
The town’s main attraction is Silifke Kalesi (Silifke Castle), an imposing structure atop a hill allowing a 360 degree view of the surrounding valley. The Kalesi dates back to Byzantine times and was used as a defence and garrison against the Arabs before it was passed through the hands of many including the Armenians, the Cypriotes and finally the Ottomans in the late 1400’s. It has been attacked many times, destroyed and re-built but the walls and some of its towers remain today as an example of Byzantine architecture coupled with 13th century Armenian influences.
Historical tale of woe No 1:
In 1226, Philip of Antioch, was murdered while imprisoned at Sis Kalesi (near Adana). His distraught (and no doubt traumatized by the fact that she was married off at the tender age of 12) widow, Isabella I, Queen of Armenia, sought refuge in the Kalesi. The regent for the Armenian kingdom, Constantine of Barbaron, arranged for his own son, Hethum, to marry Isabella (poor underaged girl cannot even grieve in peace before being married off again) and demanded that Bertrand de Thessy, the castellan of Silifke Kalesi, return her at once. The Hospitallers, who would not suffer the humiliation of surrendering Isabella, nor dare to fight the assembled troops of Constantine, eased their conscience by selling him the Kalesi with Isabella in it.
It makes it kind of hard to want to aspire to be Queen. I think I am quite happy to be a pleb, thank you very much.
Archeologically speaking the outer walls of the Kalesi are in really good shape but inside has been reduced to rubble. Daughter enjoyed terrorizing me by climbing the walls and hanging over the edge taking ridiculously dangerous selfies and I admit that the view from the top, overlooking the town and valley, was gorgeous, but is it worth driving all the way to Silifke? Meh.
The town of Silifke itself also does not warrant spending any of your precious time. The otels are mostly old and not particularly welcoming so no need to stay the night and there is not a lot of activities for the visitor after you have explored the Kalesi. There is a small museum which is filled with sculptures, coins and other artefacts. There is also an ancient church by the name of Ayatekla just south of Silifke in the small village of Burunucu.
Historical tale of woe No. 2:
St. Thecla was the first women to convert to Christianity by St. Paul (who you may recall originated from the town of Tarsus, east of Mersin). She took refuge in a cave before simply vanishing into thin air. Poof! Was she simply murdered or was she afforded a miracle and ascended straight to heaven’s door? We shall never know. A shrine was built to remember her on the site and then the basilica was added in the 5th century. There are also several cisterns cut into the rock which suggests that there was probably a sizeable settlement in the past.
There are many hiking trails outside of Silifke following the Göksu Nehri (Blue Water river) and many little picnic spots to while away the hours. You can go white water rafting on the river in the mountains outside the town although I believe from my nephew it is more of a relaxing jaunt rather than a thrill seeking white knuckle ride.
Historical tale of woe No 3:
Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, the Saleph of the Armenian Kingdom, drowned while either trying to cross in the strong current or while taking a bath. There are two stories going round, I kind of like the idea of him drowning while bathing. It’s definitely more amusing to me at least.
Having now visited Silifke can I give you an honest opinion? Yeah? Don’t hate me Silifke lovers but honestly spend an hour, photograph the view and the walls and then hop back in your car. Either continue on the D400 towards Taşuscu (where you can catch the ferry to Northern Cyprus) or further on to Antalya (becoming a lot easier now with the tunnels slowly being completed) or perhaps hop on the D715 up into the mountains to visit the waterfalls at Mut (they also have their very own fortress and even a monastery further up the road at Karaman). Don’t get me wrong it is definitely an interesting day trip and for the history buff there will be more than enough to keep you engrossed but for the average Joe (or in this case Janey) it didn’t hold my interest for too long. Perhaps I am a simpleton.
For those of you wanting your fill of castles and archeological sites but still within a day’s drive of Mersin you can visit the famous Maiden’s Castle Kiz Kalesi or Korykos Kalesi and, coupled with Elaiussa-Sebaste and Cennet ve Cehennem, you will definitely have a full couple of days exploring without the need to travel quitte so far outside of the city.
Need to Know:
Silifke Kalesi is off the D400 three hours west of Mersin. There are no buses to the site itself so you will need to either drive or walk. If you intend on walking it is almost 86 metres above sea level so good hiking shoes are a must.
Entry is free.
There is a small café at the bottom entrance of the Kalesi although it was closed when we visited.
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