Ulukişla to Çiftehan. Into the Cilician Gates

From Ulukişla we begin to leave the Anatolian Plateau to the Cilician Coast, a journey of around 100km, or five days along the old and now defunct winding mule track.

We are taking a route which has been an artery of history – the Cilician Gates.  It is just a pass in the gorge of the Gokoluk River, but cuts dramatically through the rugged and already snow-capped Taurus Mountains.  Alexander the Great and the army of ten thousand came this way before the battle of Issus, then Romans and Crusaders of the First Crusade.  For Christians or derivatives, Paul of Tarsus came this way on the first and second Missionary Journeys  – to the Galatians.

While walking the new E90 Tarsus-Ankara Highway,  we can see the old serpentine mule track in places – 6-8 feet wide.  It is the same that the Hittites and Alexander would have known.

The start of the Cilician Gates

More noticeable is a miraculous narrow-gauge railway built by Germans during WW1  between Istanbul on the Sea of Marmara and Baghdad.  The viaducts and tunnels are still remarkable – and still in constant use by freight and some passenger trains.  Vorsprung…… the line respects an ancient tradition.

We are aimed at Tarsus and Mersin, the latter being Yumuktepe with a renown as one of  the oldest fortified settlements in the world with origins at 4500BC. The City has guarded the South Eastern end of the Cilician Gates ever since.

The substrate for all of this human history  – is a geological history of violence and vulcanism.


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5 Responses to Ulukişla to Çiftehan. Into the Cilician Gates

  1. nilsjonasewe says:

    Fantastic grand landscape! More about the mule track pleeeeeeeeeeeease Sir. Any historic structures along the road like ruined watchtowers, bridges, etc? I hope the tarmac is not killing your feet.
    viel glück,

    • It’s there in places from Ulukisla – but cut to pieces by the modern roads. It winds around the contours, and therefore survives where the modern road cuts more directly in a new channel. Today that includes a 6 lane motorway driven through the Cilician Gates, which joins the route just before Posanti. Obviously its the same old same old….reusing the few passes for the terrible new autobahns has pretty much wiped away anything and everything. However, from Posanti the old track is still above the motorway and to the side up to Tekir (and we hope beyond) as a quiet two lane road. Tekir at 1300m or so is a truly odd place, more reminiscent of Turkey 20 years ago.

      In Turkey in general there are fewer traces of old structures and surfaces than elsewhere…they have simply been removed and reused. The Turks are less than keen to acknowledge the non-Turkish past sometimes. Patriotism here can be a bit extreme…

  2. Sadly, after Pozanti the new motorway monopolises the ancient route and the gates all the way to the final exit to the Tarsus plane. There may be some ways of going along it and off the motorway – visible from satellite mapping, but we couldn’t get there, or see the route as a recognised way. The old road appears to be there, in the gorge, dissected and cut by the new autobahn. As usual in Turkey no provision is made for pedestrians or cyclists.

    Instead all other “traffic” is taken on a circuitous route to the West, which does show at least two fortresses. One is signed as a monument, but no other information is available at site. One visible fortress looks 18th or 19th C – but was too large a diversion for us to consider on foot.

    All very frustrating. I think it will need some local assistance – and a proper effort to do some research to recreate the route. I wonder if the Turkish Government might consider a footpath in the gorge in due course?

    Ian 15th October 2011. Tarsus

  3. nigde51 says:


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    Keep up the good writing.

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