Kızkalesi Castle

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Rising from an island 300m offshore, Kızkalesi Castle is like a suspended dream. Check out the mosaics in the central courtyard and the vaulted gallery, and climb one of the four towers (the one at the southeast corner has the best views). It’s possible to swim to the castle, but most people catch the boat (₺10) from the beach pier near Corycus Castle. Another option is to rent a dolphin-themed pedalo (around ₺25) and pedal on over.

Hatay Archaeology Museum

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This museum contains one of the world’s finest collections of Roman and Byzantine mosaics, covering a period from the 1st century AD to the 5th century. Many were recovered almost intact from Tarsus or Harbiye (Daphne in ancient times), 9km to the south.

At the time of writing, the museum was in the final stages of a long-awaited move to purpose-built premises on the main road to Reyhanlı, about 1km past the Church of St Peter.

The new museum is set to provide a brilliant modern canvas on which to display the dazzling collection, much of which has never been put on show before, due to a lack of room at the old museum.

Among the museum’s highlight pieces are the full-body mosaic of Oceanus & Thetis (2nd century) and the Buffet Mosaic (3rd century), with its depictions of dishes of chicken, fish and eggs. Thalassa & the Nude Fishermen shows children riding whales and dolphins, while the fabulous 3rd-century mosaics of Narcissus and Orpheus depict stories from mythology. Other mosaics in the collection have quirkier subjects: three of the museum’s most famous are the happy hunchback with an oversized phallus; the black fisherman; and the mysterious portrayal of a raven, a scorpion, a dog and a pitchfork attacking an ‘evil eye’.

As well as the mosaics, the museum also showcases artefacts recovered from various mounds and tumuli (burial mounds) in the area, including a Hittite mound near Dörtyol, 16km north of İskenderun. Taking pride of place in the collection is the so-called Antakya Sarcophagus (Antakya Lahdı), an impossibly ornate tomb with an unfinished reclining figure on the lid.

Anemurium Ancient City

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Anemurium’s sprawling and eerily quiet ruins stretch for 500m down to a pebble beach, with mammoth city walls scaling the mountainside above. From the huge necropolis area (which itself looks like a city), walk southeast past a 4th-century basilica; look behind it for a mosaic pathway of tiles leading to the sea. Above the church is one of two aqueducts. The best-preserved structure in Anemurium is the baths complex with coloured mosaic tiles that still decorate portions of the floor.

Also worth seeking out is the theatre dating from the 2nd century AD and, opposite, the more complete odeon, with 900 seats and a tiled floor.

Although founded by the Phoenicians in the 4th century BC, Anemurium suffered a number of devastating setbacks, including an attack in AD 52 by a vicious Cilician tribe, and most of the visible ruins date from the late Roman and Byzantine periods onward. Archaeologists have also uncovered evidence that an earthquake destroyed the city in about 580.

Approaching Anamur from the west, or down from the Cilician mountains, a sign points south towards the ruins of Anemurium Antik Kenti. The road then bumps along for 2km to the gişe (ticket kiosk); it’s another 500m to the car park.

Caves of Heaven and Hell

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Near Narlıkuyu, a road winds north for 1.5km to several caves – sinkholes carved out by a subterranean river and places of great mythological significance. The walk from Narlıkuyu junction to the main entrance gate is quite steep. Enterprising locals usually offer taxi services up the hill for ₺5 (one way).

The mammoth underground Chasm of Heaven (Cennet Mağarası) – 200m long, 90m wide and 70m deep – is reached by 450-odd steps to the left of the ticket booth. Right in front of the cave mouth are the tiny but beautiful remains of the 5th-century Byzantine Chapel of the Virgin Mary, used for a short time in the 19th century as a mosque. Once inside the cave, the stairs can be very wet and slippery and there are no handrails, so wear decent shoes and walk carefully. At the furthest end of the colossal grotto is the Cave of Typhon (Tayfun Mağarası), a damp, jagged-edged, devilish theatre. Locals believe this to be a gateway to the eternal furnace and Strabo mentions it in his Geography. According to legend, the cave’s underground river connects with the hellish River Styx – this seems plausible when you hear the underground current thundering away below.

Follow the path from the ticket office further up the hill to the Gorge of Hell (Cehennem Mağarası) with its almost vertical walls that you view by stepping out onto a heart-stopping platform extending over the 120m-deep pit. This charred hole is supposedly where Zeus imprisoned the 100-headed, fire-breathing monster Typhon after defeating him in battle.

Around 600m west of the main entrance is the Asthma Cave (Astim Mağarası), which supposedly relieves sufferers of the affliction. It’s worth the extra ₺5 to explore these other-worldly grottoes, with their staggering limestone formations.

Welcome to Tarsus

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Should Tarsus’ most famous son, St Paul, return two millennia after his birth, he would hardly recognise the place through the sprawl of concrete apartment blocks. For pilgrims and history buffs, the scattering of early Christian sites here is reason enough to linger, but stroll through the historic city core, with its twisting narrow lanes rimmed by houses slouching in various states of dilapidation, and you’ll really find this town’s timeless appeal.