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 capital of the region is a fine riverside city and one of the largest in the country
- Çamlıyayla — a town up in the mountains, once used by people of Mersin as a summer retreat to escape hot weather
- 2 İncirlik — a town east of Adana with a NATO air base and a heavy American presence
- Karataş — a sea-side resort mainly enjoyed by locals of the region
- 3 Mersin — a rapidly growing industrial city with a beautiful palm-lined waterfront and the region's main window to the sea
- Osmaniye — a city in the east serving as a base for remote attractions in the countryside such as the Karataş-Aslantepe National Park
- 4 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)
- Yumurtalık — a local beach resort
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, today 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 peasant communities of Syrian 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. There is also a sizable Kurdish community in the region, 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 forms the setting of most works of Yaşar Kemal, a native of the region and perhaps one of the best internationally known writers of Turkey. Using a lyrical language, his extremely colourful depictions of the region form the background for the tales, in a time of change, of the lives — joys and sorrows — of the common folk, 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 veterans who had been in search of their families who had relocated to unknown locations due to atrocities of war.
- Adana's international airport 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 north (Central Anatolia), O-51 to west (Cilician Mountains), O-52 to east (Southeastern Anatolia), O-53 to 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 8-lane motorway/toll-road O-51/O-52/E90, which lies a few kilometres north of D400 (and thus bypassing the cities and towns), form the backbone of local traffic.
However, due to the reports of banditry on quite desolate O-51/O-52, especially in the section between Adana and Osmaniye, drivers are advised not to stop even on the orders from someone seemingly police or to help what is seemingly an accident on the edge of the road, as these are usual tricks known to make drivers stop and easily rob them of valuables.
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, town with the station on the national rail network, on the way. Services east from Adana (towards Toprakkale and Osmaniye) are spotty at best, with seemingly vintage passenger cars dating back to 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.
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 1980s, and it's reported that there are still (weakened) populations of P. vivax in the region. While you will most likely be safe, take usual precautions (i.e., apply insect repellents liberally) at 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 visit to the region.
- For a change in scenery, and beaches that you will be the only human being for kilometres, head west to Cilician Mountains.
- You will certanly start to feel Middle-Eastern influences in culture, cuisine, and architecture while in Cilician Plains; for a lot more, head south to Hatay, from where trips further on to Syria can be arranged easily (keep the visa issues in mind, though).
- Southeastern Anatolia to east is another destination with much Middle-Eastern influences, and with impressive ancient towns.
- Just north of the mighty Taurus Mountains, across the Gülek Pass (known by Cilician Gates in ancient times), Cappadocia awaits.