Riding into History
4 Castles in 1 Day

By Terry Thompson
January 15th, 2009


Riding the roads of Turkey can be summed up as adventurous, dangerous and often times downright crazy.  If you have never been to Turkey, reading this story may stray you away, but at the same time curiosity will get the best of you.

My goal was to visit as many castles in one day as possible.  The first hurdle was locating these castles on the map.  I have included a map using Google to give everyone an idea of each sites location. 

The next hurdle was figuring out where the gas stops were and which one to use.  I know that the Owner’s Manual states that I can get about 180 miles to a full tank, but I start looking at 120 miles.  Locating each gas stop was a near impossible task considering Turkey’s roads are not well labeled.  If you are on the main highway your chances of locating something is great; however, venturing out into the rural or country roads can be a daunting task.  Most back roads are labeled by the local residents using scrap wood and hand painted signs with arrows for direction of travel. 

If this creeps you out there’s more.  You have to consider live stock; herds such as goats, sheep, horses, cattle’s and occasionally you will see dogs and people crossing the highway. 

Most of the towns on the eastern half of Turkey do not cater to tourism.  This is good news to me considering I don’t enjoy fighting a mob of tourists; however, this could also be bad news if I decide to stay overnight.  The further east you travel the more  you are  exposed to the language
         Yilankale in the background      
barrier.  English is not considered a “Universal Language” in this part of the world.  This is why I always travel with a pocket size English-Turkish dictionary.

Turkey is considered a “Land bridge between Europe and Asia.” The region that I will be traveling is known as Anatolia; an ancient Greek word which translates to “land of the sunrise” or Asia Minor; in present day it simply translates to “east.”

There are no accurate dates of this region however historians have dated it back to 3,000 years.  The documented ancient settlements of this region include Hittite, Romans, Greeks, Assyrians, Byzantine and Ottoman Turks just to name a few.  Each group of settlement will refer to this region as something different which makes it more confusing if you try to read its history. 

My first stop was Yilankale also known as “Snake Castle.”  This was a short trip of approximately 30 miles from Adana which was my starting point.  Built in the 11th century, this Crusader Castle of the Middle Ages is located on an ancient and historic road that runs between the Toros mountains and Antakya. It has 8 round towers and Regular Army door in the southern part of the castle; there’s also a church in the walls of this castle. The former name of this castle was Gavara.   

I never climbed this castle since riding boots were not               Yilankale above
made for climbing plus the road that leads to this castle was not paved.  I am not fond of riding uphill on loose gravel with two wheels; therefore, I took this picture near the base of the castle.  This castle is frequently visited considering it’s located along the main highway D400.
Breaking away from the major highways and entering the rural roads brought mixed emotions.  The town of Dumlu is a very small sleepy farming community with no gas stations, stores, pit stops or restaurants.  There is nothing else in this town other than the castle which is why this is not frequented by tourist.  I have done a lot of searching but could not find any information about the castle.  The only information that I could find was it was part of the Byzantine Empire and it was constructed around the 5th century AD.   I did not climb up to this castle since there
             Dumlu Castle           were no roads leading up to it.  I snapped this picture and pressed on to the next stop to prevent riding in darkness.

This castle was only about 10 miles from Dumlu.  I almost past the turn to Anavarza since the direction to the castle was hand painted on a particle board and staked to the ground.  I reluctantly made the turn following a partially paved single lane pathway.  Out of nowhere I see an arch that clearly signifies an entrance to the castle’s boundaries; however, as I continue down the narrow path, I discovered that this was one of many archways.  More ancient ruins of walls and archways emerges as I travel inward, but still no sight of Anavarza Castle.  Within these walls and arches were remnants of buildings and partially standing pillars. It was only  then  that  I realized that  this  was  once a                 Anavarza Castle                  
thriving  ancient city.  I was suddenly inspired to discover more about this ancient city.

A couple of searches on the internet gave me this information “This site which was known as Caesarea or Anazarbus during the times of the Roman Empire…”  This brings me back to the days when I was studying Western Civilization.  Actually standing there and seeing their accomplishment versus reading it on a text book brought a whole new meaning. 

I can’t help but marvel at their achievements.  Everything was built using lime stones.  Just imagine carving one to an exact desired shape and positioning it at a specific location. At this point I could no longer contain my excitement.  Finally about 1.5 miles from the first archway sighting, I see the castle which I captured on film along with another arch entrance. There was no information about Anavarza prior to the Roman Empire.  The name Caesarea was created by Emperor Augustus who visited the city in 19 B.C.  Thrilled about my new discovery, I had this overwhelming desire to reach the top of the hill and explore more.  Disregarding the fact that riding boots were not made for hiking, I didn’t care at this point; curiosity got the best of me.

At the end of the paved narrow road were a couple of locals that informed me to park my scooter along side of the road. This made me very nervous since I was parking uphill on loose gravel, but I had to satisfy my urge to discover more about the Anavarza Castle. 

I reluctantly parked my scooter as instructed and paid my dues to enter the castle.  The cost was 3 ytl (lira) which equates to about $2 (USD).  The price was for the entrance fee only, but there was another person there that was offering an English guided tour which would cost an additional $13 which I respectfully declined.  There was also another person who spoke no word of English but was offering me ancient Roman coins for sale.  I have been told to decline purchasing any historical remains to preserve the local culture; besides, it would have gotten me into a heap of trouble trying to get it through customs.
Anavarza Stairs below      
This journey was done over the Thanks Giving holiday of 2008. Although the region that I am traveling in does not get snow, it does get cold in the morning. I started this trip with the temperatures in the low 50’s.  Turkey is a region with high humidity; humidity and speed equals FREAKING COLD.  The temperature was a balmy 75 degrees with no breeze by the time I reached the base of the castle; perfect for riding, hiking on the other hand is another story.  At the base of the rocky hill, I begin questioning my decision to venture further on my quest and the decision for wearing thermos. 

Ancient civilization was kind enough to carve out stairs towards the castle; however, I never took consideration of the grade of this ancient staircase. The only English speaking person at the entrance informed me that there were over 500 steps up to the castle. “Great!” I thought as I proceeded on.

More historical archives revealed that Anavarza suffered from 2 earthquakes one in 525 AD and 561 AD; then in the 6th century it experienced a plague epidemic. In 1945 the region experienced one more severe quake which surprises me that most of its arches and buildings still remain standing.  Once beyond the castle walls, everything you’ve read about castle life comes to life.  The entire tour within the castle walls took me 2 hours.  There was much to see that I didn’t want to rob myself from this experience. 

Finally satisfied and descending down to the entry way of this historical site.  The only English speaking person offered me to view his back yard for more ruins.  He has informed me that his father has unearthed a couple of roman baths along with a couple of sarcophagus.  This person owned an orange and mandarin farm.  The Turkish government authorized him and his family to allow the public to view these ruins on his property.  In return, he asks each visitor for a donation for viewing and offers you oranges and mandarin picked from his garden.  















It was time for a late lunch and proceed on to my last stop which was about another 40 miles away. On my way out of Anavarza I experienced two traffic jams, one with a herd of sheep and the other one was of cows.


With my belly full it was time to conclude this journey.  On the highway, I passed a motorcycle gang of four on one bike who was obviously struggling with his overworked scooter.  I sped up and pulled over to get my well deserved burn break and still had time to grab my trusty camera to capture this biker gang’s image.

By the time I reached Toprakkale, I was tired with no desire to climb into this castle. I pulled off to the side of the road to capture this image.

This castle was built around the same period as Yilankale.  It is commonly referred to as the “Black Castle” due to its dark appearance.  This castle was created using mostly volcanic rocks which explains its dark appearance.

I have been in Turkey since June 2008 and nothing surprises anymore about this country.  If you think something is not possible, it is in Turkey.  In the past six months I have enjoyed many Journeys to the Past.  Since purchasing my bike, my goal has always been to travel and explore everywhere I can on two wheels.  Turkey has added the adventurous, dangerous and often times downright crazy part.

Additional photographs from Terry's Ride into History are "linked here" or you can find them in our photo gallery linked on our homepage, left menu bar and listed under Other Galleries.