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BLOG Mersin - The Pearl of the Mediterranean

4 September 2016 / Culture


Mersin

The Mediterranean coast of Turkey has long been a firm favorite with holiday makers looking for a beach holiday. But if lying on the sand in the beautiful sunshine is an activity that you feel should be a relaxing end to a busy day of exploring culture and natural beauty, perhaps consider the wonderful city of Mersin as your next destination. Set on the east side of Turkey’s Mediterranean coast just over an hour from Adana airport, Mersin is Turkey’s second largest seaport and an important hub of Turkey’s economy. Famously home to Turkey’s second tallest building, the Mersin Trade Centre, a total port area of 785,000 square meters with a capacity of 6000 ships per year, one of Turkey’s three, six-minaret mosques, an impressive collection of sports arenas that served the 2013 Mediterranean Games and a surrounding area filled with caves and caverns and a stunning coastline, it is no wonder the Turks call the great city of Mersin the “Pearl of the Mediterranean”.

The History

Named Zephyrion by the Ancient Greeks and Hadrianopolis by the Romans in honour of the emperor Hadrian, the Ottomans finally gave the city its name, Mersin. Famous Turkish traveller of the 17th century, Evilya Çelebi, believed that the city was named after the Turkish tribe, the Mersinoğulları clan. Another theory is that the name originates from the myrtle plants that grown in abundance throughout the region. The Turkish word for myrtle is ‘mersin’.

As with every area of Turkey, Mersin has a rich and ancient history with local excavations revealing 23 levels of occupation. The city became a part of many states and civilisations including the Hittites, Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Seleucids and Lagids. Mersin was also a major port of the Roman Province of Cilcia, which was later conquered by the Arabs in the early 7th century. Later came the Egyptian Tulunids, the Byzantines, the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, Mamluks, Anatolian Beyliks and finally the Ottomans, all of whom have left their mark on the area.

Due to its location, economically, Mersin has always been an important trade centre thanks to its accessibility by land and sea, particularly in the export of cotton. During the American Civil War, cotton was in high demand and the region suddenly became a major supplier. As a result, railroads were extended to Mersin in 1866 from where cotton was exported by sea and the city gradually developed into a major trade centre. In 1909, Mersin’s port hosted 645 steamships and 797,433 tons of goods. Before World War I, Mersin exported mainly sesame seeds, cottonseed, cakes and cereals, cotton and livestock. As of 1920, Mersin had five piers at its port, with one privately owned by a railroad company serving Mersin, Tarsus and Adana. Throughout the 20th century, trade continued to thrive in Mersin and the ports were extended to be able to accommodate the business. The city now sees around 6000 ships a year and was home to Turkey’s first Free Trade Zone.

Modern Mersin

Today, Mersin is a large city spreading out along the Mediterranean coast. For locals and visiting businessmen, the city is a southern hub of action with a popular and well utilised business district which complements the city’s trade and export success. Tourists can find huge hotels, an opera house, an annual music festival, local history, cultural centres, excavated ruins, stunning coastlines and delicious local food. Investors are particularly interested in the city of Mersin for its luxury real estate which can be found either near the sea or up in the hills that overlooks the Mediterranean. For beach bums and nature lovers, Mersin also has the longest seaside in Turkey and in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The city is made up of four quarters or municipalities. Akdeniz is the business district and home to the city’s railway station, harbour, free port and maritime authority and the shipping and customs agencies. Industries which have made their mark on this area of Mersin include petroleum refinery, glass, cement and soda factories. In the west of Mersin is Mezitli, a beautiful area that has the Mediterranean Sea to the south and the mighty Taurus Mountains to the North. The area is well known among visitors for its ruined city of Viranşehir and the ancient Greek city of Soli. The area has beautiful summer houses, popular with overseas investors and as second homes among the Turks.

Toroslar, the northern quarter of Mersin, accommodates the southern slopes of the Taurus mountains to the north and the Müftü River in the south west and is most famous for displaying the ruins of one of the earliest human settlements in Anatolia, Yumuktepe. John Garstang, the founder of the British Institute at Ankara completed excavations of the area between 1936 and 1938 and revealed a neolithic settlement which continued up to medieval ages. It was he who discovered the 23 levels of occupation in the city of Mersin.

Finally there is Yenişehir, a residential area and one of the wealthier neighbourhoods of Mersin. Along the coastline of this area is a park which measures at 3.7 miles long and is now a favourite spot in the city for many locals. Yenişehir is a cosmopolitan and modern area where you can find the Forum, a 65,000 square metre shopping centre, home to more than 100 shops, Mersin and Toros Universities and Mersin’s largest mosque, the Muğdat Mosque. It is also the area that was dedicated to sports development in honour of the 2013 Mediterranean Games which was hosted by Mersin. The Mersin Gymnastics Hall was built for the games and the Edip Buran Arena and the Nevin Yanıt Athletics Complex were renovated and modernised. The area is also home the Mersin Olympic Stadium and the Olympic Swimming Pool.

The Metropolitan Municipality is now developing the sea front areas of the whole city with walkways and parks, but there are already palm trees adorning the roadsides, especially where the younger generation like to hang out in the cafés and patisseries of smart neighborhoods such as Pozcu or Çamlıbel. Here you can find many well known shops and restaurants and the centre is a maze of narrow streets and arcades of little shops and cafés. The old quarter, near the fish market, is where you will find the stalls selling tantuni (a spicy beef or lamb wrap) and grilled liver sandwiches, two staples of Mersin cuisine.

Cuisine

The local cuisine in Mersin is particularly famous and restaurants specialising in the Mersin cuisine can be found all over Turkey. But where better than the place itself to experience the local food? Mersin specials include the Ciğer Kebap, a lamb liver kebab, Tantuni, a spicy beef or lamb stir fry and Bumbar, lamb intestines filled with a mixture of rice, meat and pistachios. Famous desserts include Cezerye, a turkish delight made of sweet carrots covered in pistachios or coconut, knife, a cheese and pastry dish which is wood oven baked and topped with syrup, karsambaç, a peeled ice or even snow filled cone topped with pekmez, a grape molasses, or honey. Kerebiç is a shortbread filled with a pistachio paste, popular as an afternoon snack, while Şalgam Suyu is a popular beverage made of fermented red carrots!

The Culture of Mersin

The city of Mersin has its very own State Opera and Ballet which works in association with the wonderful Mersin International Music Festival which established in 2001, takes place happens every October. The festival is a popular draw for locals and visitors alike, attracting artists from Turkey, Russia, Japan, Korea and much of Europe. ‘İçel Sanat Kulübü’, the Art Club of Mersin works closely with the State Opera and Ballet and the International Music Festival but also organises cultural activities across the city on a regular basis. From conferences about archaeology, mythology and philosophy and meetings with celebrated academicians from various universities and literary circles within Turkey, the club supports cultural events and arts organisations in Mersin.

Other activities organised by the Art Club include the running of two art galleries which support local and international artists, sculptors and photographers and a range of concerts and poetry recitals which are held all over the city and during the summer season, in scenic rural areas outside of the city centre. The group often leads hiking and backpacking excursions from the city too, offering the chance to do archaeological digs, findings of which are donated to the city museum. The photography association Mersin Fotoğraf Derneği is also one of the most popular and active cultural organisations in the city, providing events, workshops and exhibitions within the city.

Mersin is home to three main museums, the local Mersin Museum which displays local archeological finds, the Atatürk Museum, an homage to the Republic’s great founder and the Mersin Naval Museum. Another cultural must see is the Muğdat Mosque, which was built in the name of a companion of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, Miqdad ibn Aswad. With a 5500 person capacity, it is the third largest mosque built in during the Republican era of Turkey and one of only three six-minaret mosques currently in Turkey. Other mosques of interest in the city include the central Mersin Grand Mosque and the Old Mosque which was built in 1865 by Sultan Abdul Aziz in 1865. For those who do not practice Islam, there is also an interesting Roman Catholic Co-Cathedral in Mersin named after St Anthony of Padua and the Mersin Interfaith Cemetery, sometimes known as Tolerance, renowned for being a common cemetery of all religions. It is home to the grave of Muslims, Christians and Jews.

Things to do Around Mersin

Like anywhere in the Mediterranean region, beaches are an important consideration and a place that everybody would want to relax with the beautiful weather. Mersin city itself has quite a rocky and craggy coastline, so you need to venture a few kilometres outside of the city to find the pristine beaches. Akyar, Yapraklı Köy and Narlıkuyu are popular with a younger generation, offering beautiful beaches alongside a lively atmosphere with great bars and restaurants. Narlıkuyu has popular fish restaurants which are located around a small bay, famous for its unusually cool and fresh water, fed by underground freshwater streams. Families might prefer to head to Kızkalesi, a coastal village with a beautiful beach and a great view of the Maiden’s Castle, a Roman ruined castle set about three or four hundred metres from the coast, accessed by boat or pedalo, unless you are brave enough to swim over! Beaches Ayaş and Susanoğlu are quieter and also popular with families.

The area of Mersin is set upon a wonderful network of caves, the most popular being the Aynaligol Magarasi, or Gilindire Caves. Discovered by a shepherd in 1999, this cave has a wealth of stalagmites and stalactites, as well as pillar, wall and drapery dripstones, leakage stones and cave needles, which divide the interior into many chambers. At the rear of the cave is a large lake, surrounded by dripstones and pillars; the lake is 140 metres long and reaches a depth of 154 feet. It is called ‘Aynalıgöl’, which means ‘mirror lake’. The entrance to the cave faces the Mediterranean Sea and bays that are home to the Mediterranean monk seal; the cave itself is largely inhabited by bats. The caves have only been open since 2013 when they were designated a nature reserve by the Ministry of Forest and Water Management.

Then there are the Caves of Heaven and Hell, ‘Cennet and Cehennem’. two large sinkholes in the Taurus Mountains. Located next to each other. Supposedly Zeus kept Typhon in hell temporarily, before imprisoning him under Mount Etna. It is an easy walk down to hell, literally a super huge hole in the ground, while heaven is a little harder to reach, located in a deep valley with 455 steps to climb down to see it and back up to escape it. Other popular caves in the area include the Taskuyu Cave in Tarsus and the Astim Cave in Silifke.

Lastly, no visit to Mersin is complete without a small trek to Tarsus, a historic city dating back over 6000 years. During the Roman Empire, Tarsus was the capital of the province of Cilicia and the scene of the first meeting between Mark Antony and Cleopatra; it was also the birthplace of Paul the Apostle. The best known sites include Cleopatra’s Gate, The Roman bridge of Justinian over the Berdan River, the Tarsus Museum, Roman Roads and Kızlar Kalesi, a Medieval castle ruin. If you have time, you should also venture over to the Tarsus Waterfall and the Karabucak Forest for a day among nature!

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