Turkey's Mediterranean region welcomes tens of thousands of holidaymakers every year, mostly in Antalya and its environs. But other parts of the same coast that are less well known also offer fascinating historical sights and beautiful scenery. The area around Mersin east of Antalya is one such destination. The cooler autumn months are particularly suitable for sightseeing in this region, and we have chosen Maiden's Castle and its environs to tell you about this month. On our way to the castle, we stopped off to visit Kanlidivane, 25 kilometers north of the town of Silifke.

 

Kanlidivane is a fearsome swallow hole, around which stand Roman and Byzantine buildings. The most striking of the sights here is undoubtedly the stone figures who have sat unmoving for centuries on the pit's south wall. They perhaps represent an emperor with his empress and family. According to legend, prisoners were thrown into the pit to be eaten by lions, watched by the local nobility, hence the name Kanlidivane or Place of Bloodshed.

 

Continuing southwards to the coast, you come to a castle standing in the middle of the sea. Kiz Kalesi, or Maiden's Castle, lies 200 meters offshore on a tiny islet. The view of a castle surrounded by water is so striking that one tends not to notice the second castle facing it on dry land. Both castles used to keep watch over Corycus, one of the most important eastern Mediterranean ports in the middle ages. Both castles were built in the early 12th century during the Byzantine period by Armenian kings of the Rubenian dynasty, and once upon a time were linked by a wall that stretched out to sea. Maiden's Castle was constructed on the tiny island of Crambusa, which was a pirate stronghold.

 

According to the legend which lent the castle its popular name, a king living in Mersin to the east of here prayed night and day that God might grant him a daughter. Finally, his wish came true, and a beautiful daughter was born to him. As she grew older, she won everyone's love, not only for her beauty but for her kindness.

 

One day a fortune-teller came to the city, and the king invited her to the palace to learn what the future held in store. When the fortune-teller looked at the princess's hand, she fell silent. The king insisted on hearing what she had seen, and she told him that his daughter would be bitten by a snake and die. Her father was determined to do everything in his power to avert this fate, and so he built a castle of white stone on a tiny island 60 kilometers away and sent his daughter to live there. However, one day, a snake concealed in a basket of grapes sent from the palace bit the princess, and she died. Henceforth the castle became known as Maiden's Castle.

 

The walls of the castle are 900 meters long. Recently concerts have been held here. Now, Maiden's Castle stands uninhabited, the pirates but a memory and the city it guarded so faithfully in ruins. A few kilometers west of the castle is Adamkayalar, where Roman reliefs can be seen carved on the steep rock wall of the Seytan river valley. These date from the 1st-2nd centuries BCE and mark the site of ancient graves.

 

The same road is two more renowned swallow holes, known as Cennet (Heaven) and Cehennem (Hell). Both these huge pits were created by the collapse of the caverns' roofs gouged out of the limestone by underground rivers. Cennet is the largest, measuring 200 meters wide and 70 meters deep. A flight of 452 steps dating from the Roman period leads down to the bottom. At the 300th step is the Church of St Mary, built in the 5th or 6th century at a cave's mouth. This is the mouth of an enormous cave system, and as you penetrate deeper inside, if you put your ear to the rock wall, you can hear the sound of the rushing underground river. This river ancient people called the Styx and believed to flow through the dead's underworld. A short way from Cennet is Cehennem, a pit that is far more intimidating in appearance. Although only 50 meters wide, Cehennem is 120 meters deep and has sheer sides impossible to descend. When you see it, you are in no doubt that Hell is an appropriate name for this gaping hole in the earth.

 

Mythology relates that when Zeus defeated the hundred-headed monster Typhon, he imprisoned it here.

 

Beyond Cennet is another cave known as the Wishing Cave or the Asthma Cave about its therapeutic qualities. An iron staircase enables visitors to descend easily into the cave filled with stalagmites and stalactites. This is believed to be the original home of Typhon. The constant temperature and humidity level in the cave are why the widespread belief that it relieves asthma. By now, you must be tired and thirsty, and what better place to take a rest than Narlikuyu, a small cove a little to the west of the Maiden's Castle? Narlikuyu is famous for its fish restaurants. Right behind the tables with their snow-white tablecloths, you will notice a tiny white building. This must be Turkey's smallest museum. Yet it contains one of the world's wonders: a mosaic depicting three beautiful women dating from the 4th century BC.

 

When Poimeinos, Roman commander of the Princes Islands in Istanbul, built baths here, he had its floor laid with a mosaic depicting the semi-divine sisters Aglaia, Euphrosyne, and Thalia. This picture of three beauties who loved enjoying themselves and giving pleasure to others arouses the same wonder in us today as it must have done those who first saw it two and a half thousand years ago.