Ask Mehmet: Tarsus offers historical, close trip destination

  • Published
  • By Mehmet Birbiri
  • 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
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 Then, look for an answer to the question on the 39th Air Base Wing's official website at and Incirlik Air Base's Facebook page.

Mehmet, I have heard that Tarsus, Turkey, is so close to Adana. Would you tell me how to go there and what to expect to see there?

As you say, Tarsus is so close to Adana. It is only 40 kilometers west of Adana or 50 kilometers, or approximately 35 miles, west of the base.

Getting to Tarsus is very easy. At the end of the Alley, turn right on the D-400 highway toward Adana. As soon as you pass Adana, there are directional road signs for Tarsus and Mersin. Drive about 30 miles until you see a traffic intersection with an overpass and signs showing to turn right for Ankara. Turn right at that intersection. After approximately one mile, there is a directional sign instructing you to turn left for Tarsus, which will lead you the heart of Tarsus.

Tarsus has a very long and troublesome history. Tarsus has been continuously inhabited for the last 5,000 years. Its history goes back to the early Bronze Age from 3000 to 2500 B.C.

Tarsus is purportedly the birthplace of the Apostle Paul, and it became a very important Christian center.

Alexander the Great came through Tarsus in 333 B.C., got very sick and almost died. He became sick either from swimming in the frigid waters of the Cydnus River, which flows through the city, or from a fever from the malaria-ridden area. During the first century, pirates annoyed the area until it went under Roman rule. Roman Emperor Julius Caesar visited Tarsus in 47 B.C.

In 41 B.C., another Roman Emperor, Marcus Antonius, sailed to Tarsus to meet with Cleopatra, the Queen of Egypt.

Tarsus enjoyed enormous prosperity as a port city during the Byzantine rule. It is silted up by the Berdan River and the sea is about 10 miles away from Tarsus now. Tarsus changed hands several times between the Christian and Muslim forces until the Ottomans held it in 1515.

The first thing you could see in Tarsus is Cleopatra's Gate. When you drive into Tarsus, the road will lead you to the gate. Cleopatra's gate was part of the city walls and the main entrance to the city. It is believed that Cleopatra used that entrance when she came to Tarsus to meet Marcus Antonius.

Then at Cleopatra's gate, turn around toward Adana and take the first right turn. That road will lead you to the Tarsus American High School, established in 1888 by American mission workers. That school has an excellent reputation throughout Turkey. The school is founded on top of a mound with the ruins of a Roman hippodrome.

The St. Paul Church, founded in his name in the 17th century, is very close to Tarsus American High School. You can see the church building and its bell from a distance.

Go back to the main street, cross it and look for the signs for St. Paul's well. In less than 100 meters driving, you will see a fenced area on your right. You will notice an excavation site behind the fence. Stop there and visit the excavation area.

When they were digging the ground for the foundation of a building about 20 years ago, workers discovered a historic Roman Road was. The archeologists continued to excavate and found a big section of the Roman Road through Tarsus. Excavation continues today, which you can see behind St. Paul's site.

Continue on and follow the signs for "St. Paulus Well." You will see the foundation of St. Paul's house and the famous well in the yard. The well is 103 feet deep and still operational. You can pull your own water from the well. In fact, several years ago, the pope blessed the site and the well. The site became a holy site and the water of the well became holy water.

If you feel tired and need a break, go to the Tarsus Waterfalls and relax. Drive on the same street and look for the sign "SELALE," which means waterfall. Turn left at that sign. After driving for about a mile, you will see the beautiful waterfalls - a very pleasant location for lunch or snacks. There are several restaurants, cafes and a four star hotel near the waterfalls.

The Berdan, or Cydnus, river used to run through Tarsus and flood the city frequently. In order to prevent the floods, the river was diverted. This created the waterfalls.

You will notice a statue of a man-headed snake statue at the intersection where you turn to St. Paul's well from the main street. That statue is related to the tale of Tarsus and Snake Castle, which is also near the base.