Freewheeling Reports: Kızkalesi

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Kizkalesi combines together two things I love: castles and beaches.

Castles are obviously awesome. I have been drawn to castles ever since I lived in Alanya, a little Mediterranean resort town with a massive Selcuk fortress built on its hillside. Apart from the obvious appeals, castles might even have old graffiti scratched into its walls by ancient soldiers.

Beaches are awesome too, but their awesomeness is less obvious, because beaches are, in the first place, boring. At most there are only a half dozen different activities you can actually do at a beach. What I’ve realized is that the boredom is their virtue: when you’re stuck on a beach you have nothing else to do except nap, swim, read–all the simple, relaxing activities that are so hard to fit in within “real” (non-vacation) life. This summer, whenever I get behind on my reading, I go to the beach where cleaning, the internet, and other distractions can’t reach me.

Kızkalesi merges these two awesome things–beaches and castles–into one quaint package. Kızkalesi, meaning “Maiden’s Castle,” is a resort beach town in southeastern Turkey, near Mersin. It was surprisingly hard to reach–the closest airport is four or so hours away in Adana. Practically all of the people around me were Turkish families with young children, and this observation was borne out by a number of my friends who said they fondly remember Kızkalesi vacations from their childhood. Consequently, the beach atmosphere is laid-back and wholesome, full of kids, dads, and moms playing with water noodles and beach balls.

However, the Mediterranean coast has many lovely little beach towns. This particular one famous throughout the country for its eponymous Crusader castle (from around 900 CE), which seems to float atop the water on an island 1000 feet offshore. In the summer, the Mediterranean waters are calm and clear, so swimming right up to it is a breeze–one woman told me she swam the distance twice a day for exercise. Once there, you can pull yourself up onto the pebbly shore, wander into the castle and climb atop its walls. There are the gorgeous views and charming white-stone architecture, and even an inscription in Armenian from when an Armenian kingdom ruled the area. But the most remarkable things inside are the extant in-situ floor tiles and mosaics, including Roman (or Greek?) text and zoomorphic imagery.

Kizkalesi, Mersin

Interestingly, a local guide told me that the floating Maiden’s Castle has an identical legendary origin storyas the floating Maiden’s Tower in Istanbul (to whit, a king, a princess, a snake bite, etc.). In fact, the more likely backstory is more crass. These castles were built to defend the coastal towns against piracy, and apparently in antiquity, seafarers called such defensive bulwarks “maiden” castles if they had never been breached by pirates.

As if one castle is not enough, on the eastern border of the beach lies another, even more expansive and imposing castle, nicknamed simply Korykos after the city’s original name . In ancient times, a pier used to connect the sea fortress to the land one, and some remnants of that pier are still visible. The land castle is in a more ruined state than Maiden’s Castle, which (for me) adds to the fun; crumbling and overgrown with trees, but still very much intact, and little visited by the beach-going tourists, Korykos has a post-apocalyptic feel. And as Merlin & Rebecca point out in their post, this castle was partly constructed out of spolia from an old Roman town. It’s fun to look out for the unexpected characters, iconography, and temple columns built haphazardly into the walls, not to mention crosses from the chapels.

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There are supposedly a couple of underground caves near the town of Kızkalesi that are worth seeing. I can’t speak for the awesomeness of those. However, I can attest that Kızkalesi definitely delivers on two awesome things: beaches and castles.

Previous Freewheeling Reports, so-called after a homework assignment from one of my Turkish professors.

Photo above: Kızkalesi viewed from Korykos. Photos middle: interior of Kızkalesi. Photo below: Spolia inside Korykos.

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