The Cilician Plains, or Çukurova in Turkish, is a region on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. It is characterized by the pine-clad Taurus Mountains sharply dropping to the pancake-flat, sweltering-hot agricultural land of the exceptionally fertile plains of the Seyhan and Ceyhan Rivers, extending to the sand dunes at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. Home of the occasional rocky outcrops topped by Crusader-era castles, remote Hittite sites, early Christian landmarks and a renowned culinary tradition, this is one of the parts of the country surprisingly little-visited by international travellers.
- 1 Adana the regional capital has an old town plus huge modern mosque.
- 2 Çamlıyayla — a town up in the mountains once inhabited only seasonally as a retreat of Mersin to escape the summer heat
- 3 Karaisalı-Pozantı — the north of the region features various natural and historical attractions amidst mountainous scenery
- 4 Karataş — a sea-side resort mainly enjoyed by locals of the region
- 5 Mersin — a rapidly growing industrial city with a beautiful palm-lined waterfront and the region's main window to the sea
- 6 Osmaniye — a city in the east serving as a base for remote attractions in the countryside such as Karatepe-Aslantaş National Park
- 7 Tarsus — a fairly large city between Mersin and Adana, with a well-preserved old quarter and sites related to Biblical personalities such as St Paul (one of the residents of the town)
- 8 Yenice — a small town on a major railway junction which had its moment of fame in 1943, when Churchill, the British prime minister and İnönü, the Turkish president secretly met in its station of all places to discuss the Turkish entry into World War II
- 9 Yumurtalık — a local beach resort
There are several national parks in this part of Turkey, many with excellent hiking opportunities.
- 1 Akyatan Lagoon – major stop over for migrating birds, popular with bird watchers
- 2 Karatepe-Aslantaş National Park – national park with an ancient Neo-Hittite settlement
- 3 Yumurtalık Lagoon – a Ramsar Wetland site
Çukurova is Turkish for "hollow plains", describing its geography in relation with the soaring Taurus Mountains that surround it fairly well. It is the largest lowland of Turkey with much agricultural production, especially of cotton, peanuts and citrus.
In modern geopolitical terms, the region extends over all of Adana and Osmaniye Provinces, and the eastern third of Mersin Province. Bordered by the Cilician Mountains to the west, Central Anatolia across the Taurus Mountains to the north, Southeastern Anatolia to the east, and Hatay to the southeast, the region has a shoreline on the Mediterranean to the south, but unlike its neighbours to the west, the extensive beaches of this part of the coast are not well known to the outside world, although fairly popular with the locals.
In addition to its traditional agricultural output, some heavy industry has also entered the scene, as have the oil and gas pipelines coming in from the Caspian Sea through the Caucasus and reaching the Mediterranean ports here.
Commanding the few passes that allow crossing through the sheer Taurus Mountains and as such providing a reasonable land connection between Europe and the Middle East, the Cilician Plains had been much contested for.
The region was at the heart of a series of states known as the "Neo-Hittites" or "Syro-Hittites", formed after the collapse of the Hittite Empire (which was based in Hattusa far to the north in the Anatolian plateau) around 1180 BCE, during the Iron Age, with a unique culture drawing from both that of the Hittites and of the ancient Near East. Later on, the area became part of the Seleucid Empire, a Hellenic state founded by a general of Alexander the Great. During the first century BCE, an Armenian state formed in the region, which came to be known as the "Lesser Armenia" between the 11th and 14th centuries CE, when it was allied with its co-religionist Crusaders, who stormed through the area in pursuit of the Holy Land. The Turkish settlement, of various Oghuz tribes, in the region began in the 12th century, after it was captured by the Seljuks. These tribes then were united under the rule of the Ramazan kingdom, one of the last Turkish petty kingdoms to be annexed by the Ottomans, in the 17th century. Even then, the area was more under influence of the autonomous rulers of Egypt than of the Ottoman throne in relatively distant Constantinople.
People and culture
While a small Roman Catholic community in Mersin, mostly of Italian extraction, and the Alawite communities of Syrian peasant origin elsewhere call the Cilician Plains home, the region is no longer the multicultural hotspot it once was, and most locals are ethnically Turkish. They are often descendants of the nomads, masters of horsemanship and falconry who roamed between their summer meadows up in the mountains and the lowlands of the Cilician Plains, before being forced into sedentarism starting from the 1860s, when the Industrial Revolution was in full force around the World and the cotton was in high demand in the markets — and so was the workforce, initially formed from involuntary nomad-cum-farmers, needed to grow it in the fertile, humid, and hot plains of Çukurova. Others with relatively sizable regional populations include the community of Cretan Turks/Muslims, unilingual Greek speakers when they were expelled from their native island in the late 19th and early 20th centuries during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and settled in the coastal areas, especially Mersin (as well as elsewhere along the Anatolian and Levant coasts), and the Kurdish community, which started to form after their homeland in Eastern Anatolia was invaded by the Russian Empire during World War I, although most are newcomers to the main regional cities in search of jobs.
Historically the region was better linked with the Levant than with the rest of Turkey, as food lovers will quickly find out upon their experience with the great local culinary treats strongly influenced by the Middle Eastern cuisine.
With a population of almost 6 million people, the Mersin–Tarsus–Adana–Osmaniye area (along with its southern extension of İskenderun in the neighbouring Hatay region) is one of the largest metropolitan conurbations in Turkey.
Çukurova is the setting of most works of Yaşar Kemal (1923–2015), a native of the region and one of the best internationally acclaimed writers of Turkey. Using a lyrical language, his extremely colourful depictions of the region form the background for the tales of the lives — joys and sorrows — of the common folk in a time of change, whether they be nomads unable to secure a land to overwinter as all wintering grounds had been ploughed into agricultural land, landless peasants whose abilities had become worthless due to mechanization, or noble outlaws who dedicated their lives to fight injustice of the greedy feudal landlords, who in their turn failed to realize they were soon to be outplaced by the even greedier nouveau riche capitalists of the new order.
- Adana's international airport, Adana Şakirpaşa Airport (ADA IATA), is so far the only airport in the region.
- Adana and Mersin is well served by intercity buses and trains (you will need to transfer to a local train for Mersin, though, as the main trunk line bypasses the city).
- The region is connected by the motorways O-21 to the north (Central Anatolia), O-51 to the west (the Cilician Mountains), O-52 to the east (Southeastern Anatolia), and O-53 to the south (Hatay). There are also toll-free highways that are in fairly good condition from all directions.
The highway D400, which traverses through major cities and towns of the region, and the 8-lane motorway/toll-road O-51/O-52/E90, which parallels D400 a few km north of it (and thus bypassing the congested urban areas), form the backbone of local traffic.
Fairly frequent and modern (best of all, air-con) trains connect Mersin with Adana, also calling at Tarsus, the other major city of the region, and Yenice, a town with a station on the national rail network, on the way. Services east from Adana (towards Toprakkale and Osmaniye) are spotty at best, with apparently vintage passenger cars dating back to the 1950s.
- Şalgam suyu or fermented hot carrot juice, though possible to find at kebab joints and some supermarkets nationwide nowadays, is originated from this region. It's an acquired taste — very salty, nowhere near what you may expect from carrot juice — and the original here has a much more distinctive, garlicky aftertaste than what is available elsewhere in the country. Fresh product is available from the specialized shops around late September, the season of black carrot harvest.
- Meyan kökü şerbeti or liquorice root juice is another local acquired taste. Its appearance is like cola drink, but its taste couldn't be further — the most similar analogy might be somewhere between a heavily burnt coffee and lignosulfonate waste of paper milling but even that isn't close enough. You can find it sold comfortably chilled by street vendors, for 4-5 TL a cup (Oct 2022).
The Cilician Plains are the last part of the country where malaria has not been totally eradicated—it was indeed a common disease in the region until up to the 1980s, and it's reported that there are still (weakened) populations of Plasmodium vivax in the region. While you will most likely be safe, take the usual precautions (e.g., apply insect repellents liberally) during visits May through October, when mosquitoes are active, and go see a doctor if you happen to perceive the symptoms within two weeks after your travel to the region.
- For a change in scenery, and beaches that you will be the only human being for kilometres, head west to the Cilician Mountains.
- You will certanly start to feel the Middle-Eastern influences in culture, cuisine, and architecture while in the Cilician Plains; for a lot more, head south to Hatay. This route was also a major gateway into Syria before the civil war there.
- Southeastern Anatolia to the east is another destination with much Middle-Eastern influences, and impressive ancient towns.
- Just north of the mighty Taurus Mountains, across the Gülek Pass (the ancient Cilician Gates), Cappadocia awaits.