The Cilician Mountains forms the central part of the Mediterranean Region of Turkey. This rugged part of the ancient region of Cilicia also has an extensive coastline fronting the Mediterranean, which is one of the main drawcards, and the others are numerous ancient ruins and medieval castles dotting the region, although for the most part the overseas travellers are yet to discover them.
- 1 Anamur — the southernmost point of Asia Minor (near 36° N); well known for its banana plantations, and its charming seaside fortress is not to be missed
- 2 Aydıncık — a quiet coastal town; the nearby caves are the habitat of the Mediterranean monk seals and Mediterranean sea turtles
- 3 Bozyazı — another coastal town situated on one of the rare plains
- 4 Erdemli — a coastal town between Mersin and Silifke
- 5 Ermenek — a small town with preserved stone architecture over the Taurus Mountains
- 6 Gülnar — the home of the nomadic Yörük tribes
- 7 Mut — a town up in the mountains; when arriving from Central Anatolia, you will be welcomed by the Mediterranean climate and the associated subtropical vegetation here
- 8 Silifke — the primary city of the region is slightly inland on the banks of the azure Göksu River
- 9 Taşucu — a small town with Mediterranean architecture, and is the gateway to Cyprus as there are frequent boats to Kyrenia from the harbour
- 1 Elaiussa Sebaste — the ruins of a Roman city, including a surprisingly impressive amphitheatre relative to its size, clearly visible from the highway east from the Maiden's Castle
- 2 Göksu Valley — between Silifke and Mut. Formed by the turquoise Göksu River (the ancient Saleph River) through the Taurus Mountains in millions of years, the valley, with its deep cliffs, canyons, forests, and lots of citadels dotting the hillsides has a spectacular scenery. The valley once conveyed, among others, the army of the Third Crusade, on their way to Jerusalem, but it also signaled the end to a branch of Crusaders, as their leader Frederick Barbarossa of Germany drowned in the river in 1190. The 3 Göksu Delta, where the Göksu empties into the Mediterranean near Silifke, is home to 106 species of birds of international importance, 12 of which are endangered species. The delta is also home to 3 species of sea turtles, all endangered.
- 4 Heaven and Hell Caves (Cennet-Cehennem) — two huge chasms located a few minutes of walk from each other, which were formed when the ceilings of two underground caves collapsed. They are situated near the town of Narlıkuyu.
- 5 Maiden’s Castle (Kızkalesi) — a quite big and well-preserved castle built on an offshore islet. There is a story that a powerful king had the castle built away from outside interference to protect his beloved daughter from death after hearing a prophecy told by a fortuneteller, but a snake had found its way to the castle (inside a basket of fruits) and, as you have already guessed, had bitten and killed the princess (quite the same myth with that of the Maiden’s Tower in Istanbul). The castle is situated between Silifke and Erdemli, very near the Heaven and Hell Caves. Small boats from the mainland village of the same name take the visitors across.
Although nowhere near as widely visited as its western neighbour, Pamphylia, the Cilician Mountains has a lot to offer to every taste. For history lovers, it offers hundreds of castles, city ruins, temples, inns, and artifacts dating back to the Roman, Biblical, Crusade, Seljuq, and Ottoman epochs. For nature lovers, it may mean mountains, mountains, and again mountains covered with pine forests. For green warriors, it holds the last shelters for the endangered Mediterranean monk seals (Monachus monachus) and Mediterranean sea turtles (Caretta caretta). For sun and sea seekers, it has hundreds of miles of beaches, both sandy and pebbled, spared from pollution, and lying under perhaps one of the sunniest skies of Turkey and of Europe.
Despite its close proximity to Turkey’s main touristic areas, upon venturing out into the region you will find that being a "traveller" is still the norm here, as opposed to being a "tourist". If you want to have a cup of tea, then you should head for a local coffeehouse, not a fancy café pretending to be straight out of Paris. When you'd sleep somewhere, then it would most likely be at a guesthouse where the other regional guests are staying, not an “all-inclusive” holiday resort as part of a package tour. Therefore the people are more friendly, and the prices are lower.
The region, the western and southern parts in particular, is mostly rugged and wooded, and is dominated by the Taurus Mountains with very little (or no) flatland between mountain slopes and the shoreline. Quite surprisingly, this mountainous area—one of the remotest and most beautiful along Turkish Mediterranean coast—has one of the least population densities anywhere in maritime Turkey and distances between the towns are huge. From Silifke eastwards, the mountains retreat a little inland, but the coastline still keeps its hilly topography.
In ancient times, this region was called Cilicia Trachea, i.e. "rough Cilicia" or more precisely "mountainous Cilicia", as opposed to Cilicia Pedias, i.e. "flat Cilicia" lying to the east of the region. The European travellers of the 18th and 19th centuries knew the region as Karamania, after a local medieval kingdom based in the inland city of Karaman to the north, preceding the Ottomans. In modern political terms, the Cilician Mountains extend over western and central two-thirds of Mersin Province, as well as the southern panhandle of Karaman Province (the rest of which is associated with Central Anatolia).
The region is Turkey’s main citrus (predominantly lemon, orange, and grapefruit) and banana growing region. Almost always sunny climate also allows intensive greenhouse operations, which cater Turkey’s central and northern regions (and also parts of the Middle East and Europe) with fresh vegetables in winter.
The typical Mediterranean climate; hot and dry summers, mild and rainy winters. Temperatures often climb to around 35°C in summer, while winters average 12-15°C during the daytime. It is also relatively sheltered from rainstorms that affect the rest of Mediterranean Turkey, which, unfortunately, does not completely erase the possibility of severe storms during winter. September is the best time for a beach holiday for those not used to the summer heat, as the waters are still warm by then.
In eastern part of the region (i.e. around Erdemli), you would probably be fine with a little bit of English, especially in tourism-oriented businesses. Some German can also be useful as Germans are the largest number of foreigners visiting Turkey. In more remote places, such as those in the western and southern parts of the region, you will need at least a few Turkish words. However, Turkish spoken in parts of the region is a bit far away from standard Turkish (i.e., that is spoken in Istanbul), lying in a medium between Konya dialect and Cypriot Turkish (closer to the latter). So, it may be best to ask for written answers as the pronunciations in the phrasebooks are not exactly how the people of the province pronounce the words. They all understand standard Turkish, though.
Nearest airport for both international and domestic flights is in Adana. For the southernmost part of the region (Anamur and its environs), international airport in Antalya is another possibility, although it's still a fair distance to the airport.
There is no station (nor any railtracks) in the region. The nearest station with passenger services is in Mersin.
D400 highway between Adana and Antalya enters the region from its one extreme and follows (or at least tries to follow as long as rugged geography permits) the coastline until the other extreme in the NE-SW axis of the region. It traverses all the towns located along the shoreline. D715 from Konya in the north also joins D400 in Silifke after passing through a pass on Taurus Mountains (Sertavul Pass) and Mut.
The main highway of the region, D400, is wide (mostly 4-lane), smooth and straight in the section between Erdemli and Taşucu, 15 km west of Silifke. All other roads in the region are narrow (only wide enough for two cars passing side by side) and very (in some cases, extremely) winding because of the very rugged landscape.
People are friendly towards hitchhikers. Despite its favourable climate and proximity to Turkey’s main touristic areas (e.g., Pamphylia), there are not as many travellers as you may assume, therefore people treat you like guests (but don’t expect them to do more than giving you a lift and may be offering a fruit). The general problem is that there are not many vehicles in much of the region, and therefore waiting for a lift can take up to 2 hours, under the cruel sun between April and October. Don’t forget to take lots of water and sunblock lotion! The drivers that offer a lift also are mostly driving town-to-town, so there is little chance to find a long-haul lift, but that is not such a bad thing as you will experience more of rural/real spirit of Mediterranean Turkey.
Locally produced ayran (no matter pre-packaged or being sold "fresh" in roadside stalls) tends to be saltier than those found in the rest of the country, which is great to recover the sodium you lost by sweating but may take longer to get used to if you haven't had any ayran before.
In the western and southern parts of the region, always carry an extra amount of cash with you. Most of the settlements you’ll come across are far in-between, rural and doesn’t have enough population to justify setting up an ATM. Also, supermarkets are rare as well, and the smaller the place you are in, the less chance that your (or any) credit card will be accepted.
Being located at the same latitude with the Mediterranean African cities such as Algiers or Tangier, sun is very strong in this part of Turkey. Even non-local Turkish people (those from more northerly locations, such as Istanbul) can have hard time. Don’t forget to drink lots of water to stay hydrated, to have more salt in your diet than you are used to for balancing your sodium loss by sweating (or better drink at least one cup of salty ayran evey day), and to use sunblock lotion.
Respect the nature:
- Most of the region is covered with pine forests. Hot and dry Mediterranean climate, which reigns in the area, makes them very vulnerable to wildfires. A forest fire in Summer 2007 destroyed an extremely large tract of forest (the width of damaged area is somewhere around 10-15 km) and couldn’t be taken under control for 4 days. Therefore, in wooded areas, be careful with your fire (and your cigarette!), or better, do not use any fire if possible at all.
- In some places on the road (even on the highway), you’ll see turtle signs. They mean the place in question is used by endangered Mediterranean sea turtles (Caretta caretta) for crossing into their egg-laying area. Don’t ask why on Earth the turtles are attempting to cross the road, they just follow their million-year-old habits, and the road was built in a different era, when habits of turtles (and the turtles themselves) weren’t much of an interest. Be extremely careful when driving in an area with such a sign. Also, be aware that many of the sandy beaches in the region (especially those in the southern part, i.e. around Anamur) are used by turtles as egg-laying areas, whether there is a sign or not. So be careful when using these beaches, avoid thrusting sharp things—such as beach umbrellas—into the sand, and do not leave behind even the smallest piece of trash.
The telephone code of the region is 324.
- Cilician Plains to east — larger cities, some of which has sites of Biblical importance; extensive transportation links connect the regions
- Pamphylia to west — a more heavily-touristed destination; accessible by a winding road through a verdant mountain scenery from the region
- Central Anatolia inland to north — wide open steppe landscapes; accessible by a winding road through beautiful Göksu Valley or even wilder and remoter mountain road north of Anamur
- Northern Cyprus to south — beautiful small towns and castles; a short ferry ride from Taşucu