Heaven and Hell in Eastern Anatolia

Grahame said that I should not entitle this piece “The Armpit of Turkey” even though graphically, if not metaphorically, that is actually where we are. The East-West Mediterranean coastline of this country curves around South to the Levant and this is where we arrived yesterday at a town called Adana, some fifty miles from the Syrian border and (for the more biblically minded) part way between Tarsus and Antioch.

We are here for Emine and Sean’s wedding which promises to be a whole lot of fun despite the fact that I had to deliver their gift to them in Wimbledon because otherwise I just would not have had room in the luggage for my hat. Our arrival was marred by the total failure of our hire car company to send anyone to meet us at the airport; a stressful occurrence at the best of times but made considerably worse when you have just stepped off of the aircraft into an oven-ready 38 degrees and all the airport staff seem to be busy packing up for the night. Somehow G kept his cool and disappeared off to fix the “problem”. I was just about melting into the tarmac by the time he got back to me, now behind the wheel of a brand new BMW with complete with Siberian aircon. If I get a bill for an upgrade when I get home I will just hand over my credit card with a resigned smile. Sometimes it really pays to bring a man along.

Our hotel and the celebrations are in the nearby seaside town of Mersin: known for its busy port, miles of rather down-at-heel holiday resort and extremely plentiful supply of oranges. In fact, the city not only has an orange on its flag but the fruit is so ubiquitous that fibreglass orange kiosks selling guess what hi-vitamin juice sprout at every street corner. Fortunately for us, the celebrations will not begin until the evening and so there has been time for G to drive us 30 miles West to the Classical Greek region around Selifke (ancient Seleucia, aka Cilicia).

This part of the Turkish coast is so liberally sprinkled with Greco-Roman sites that not all of them are even properly identified to the visitor but sprawl across the hillsides intermingled with groves of olives and (of course) citrus fruit. The Rough Guide is pretty sniffy about most of them and I suppose that, compared to the glories that are Pergamon and Ephasus, they are probably lacking in a certain “wow factor”. Nonetheless, we decided that anything called the Caves of Heaven and Hell (Cennet ve Cehennem) was definitely not to be missed.

The Cave of Hell is a 500m deep cenote: a limestone formation that is basically a hole in the ground but this one is impressive even by Yukatan standards and, although too steep to be entered, revered by the Greeks as one of the gateways to Hades. Heaven, on the other hand, is a gorge accessible by some four hundred steps, the steepness of which should be gauged by careful consideration of just how difficult they will be to ascend on the way back. Sensibly, neither of us made it to the very bottom although G did manage to get as far as the temple of Zeus.

We are told that the temperature will fall during the next couple of days. I do hope so.

Postscript: I have not even explained how I managed to get here from China via Heathrow, Worcestershire, Wimbledon and the horrors of holidaymaker-infested Gatwick in under four days. Perhaps it’s a trial best overlooked but I must admit to a certain amount of relief at the prospect of a few months with an empty calendar.

Categories: Middle East

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