Ask Mehmet: Origins of Snake Castle

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- Ask Mehmet is a forum for people to ask questions of the local area, as well as the outer confines of the region and the country as a whole. To submit a question, send an e-mail with the subject "Ask Mehmet" to 39abw.pa@incirlik.af.mil. Then, look for an answer to the question on the 39th Air Base Wing's official website at www.incirlik.af.mil and Incirlik Air Base's Facebook page.

Question:
Mehmet, what is the reason for the name of Snake Castle? Did it get its name because there are a lot of snakes? Will you tell us about it please?

Answer:
Snake Castle is the closest ancient site to Incirlik Air Base and is only 20 minutes away from the base on highway D-400 going east toward Iskenderun. At the intersection of D-400, which lies at the end of the alley, turn left. After driving about twenty minutes, you'll see a brown sign that says "YILAN KALE," which means Snake Castle, pointing to the right. You can see the castle at the top of a rocky hill from miles away before seeing the brown sign. The road will lead you to the bottom of the castle. After parking your vehicle, you can climb up to the castle. You will be asked to pay an entrance and parking fee.

At the top of Snake Castle, there's a spectacular view of the area and the Ceyhan River. Snake Castle is one of about 40 series of castles in and around the Adana region. Not much is known about its history, other than it was built in the 11th or 12th century A.D. and was used by the crusaders. It is believed that the main reason the castle was built at its location was to control the route we know as highway D-400. The highway has been a major route of travel for thousands of years. The D-400 was used by Alexander the Great on his journeys. It is also part of the historic Silk Road.

There are three towers on the castle. Two towers are on each side of the gatehouse, and the third faces the entrance. The third tower has a carving of a lion. The castle contains a cistern, storerooms, a chapel and many inner rooms. In addition to the main gate, the castle has several inner gates. The openings in the walls gave inhabitants a great opportunity to watch activities below. Those openings were used by the archers to launch attacks, such as throwing rocks and pouring boiling oil onto enemies while defending the castle.

Many scholars believe the castle was built to be the fortress of a prince instead of the castle of a king.

There's an interesting tale about how the castle got its name. According to legend, the towns and cities in this part of the world used to be ruled by their own kings. Each city was its own kingdom. All the kingdoms were living happily in peace and enjoying good relations with their neighbors. The major cities in the area were Adana, Tarsus and Misis.

Snakes dwelled inside the castle, and were at peace with human beings. The snakes farmed the fields and traded with their neighbor city kingdoms. They were prosperous, as well, but the king of Tarsus was a jealous man. He envied the snakes' prosperity.

One day, the king of Tarsus held a festival and invited all his neighbors, including the king of snakes, Sahmeran. As the story goes, Sahmeran had a human head with the body of a snake. He went to Tarsus to participate in the festival. The king of Tarsus welcomed Sahmeran and his men and asked them if they'd like to take a bath before joining the festivities. Thinking of the heat and dusty road, he appreciated the gesture. Sahmeran and his guards went into the old bath of Tarsus. Before entering the bath all the guards left their arms and weapons at the entrance. While Sahmeran and his men were bathing, they were ambushed and killed.

Today, there are some dark brownish spots on the walls of the Old Bath in Tarsus. The locals of Tarsus believe they're the blood stains of Sahmeran when he was killed.

The tale says after that incident, the snakes spread word to the world they would be enemies of human beings. The tale also says that one day Tarsus will be ruined by snakes, Adana by floods and Misis by wind.

Actually, Misis is now very windy, there are a lot of snakes in the fields around Tarsus, and if it weren't for the dams built on the Seyhan river, Adana would flood frequently.

Snake Castle is an ideal place for a half-day trip from the base. The view of the sunset is great from the castle. In fact, watching the sunset from any ruin throughout Turkey is gorgeous. Keep in mind, safety and protection measures on the castle is the responsibility of the visitor. Climbing up and walking around the castle ruins is very difficult, and one should watch their own footing and also always keep close watch over small children.