Our tour of south East Turkey was drawing to a close but there were still some fabulous things to see and do.
We left the incredible and innovative Museum Hotel in Antakya and drove for around 50 minutes to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea near Samandağ (the medieval port of Saint Symeon).
It was wonderful to see the sparking blue waters of the Med as we walked up the hill to visit the next amazing historical landmark – the Vespasianus Titus Tunnel.
The tunnel is part of a water diversion system built during the 1st and 2nd Centuries AD to divert floodwaters that ran down the mountain carrying sand and gravel and threatening to silt up the harbour.
This ingenious piece of Roman engineering transferred flood waters to the sea through an artificial canal and tunnel.
According to the archaeological records and the various epitaphs on the tunnel, around one thousand people – mostly slaves – constructed this technological marvel.
The tunnel has been recognized by UNESCO as one of the Roman Empire’s most incredible engineering feats.
We were able to walk along most of the tunnel’s 1,380 metres (4,527 feet) and imagine what a ghastly time the slaves (many of them from the Jewish revolt against the Romans in 66-79 AD) would have had during its construction.
The tunnel is seven metres high and six metres wide and was built with no heavy machinery and no explosives. Just those poor slaves chipping away with hammers and chisels, day after day – for years on end.
We walked back down the hill to our mini bus, taking a closer look at other Roman remains including some tombs in a cave and a pretty bridge.
By this time we were feeling peckish and our guide Baran, knowing how much we all loved being by the ocean and near to boats, took us to a small fishing harbour for a late lunch.
The wharf was a hive of activity with fishing boats being made ready for sea and lots of comings and goings.
After watching one of the larger craft leaving to fish in the open sea, we went to sit down at a “pop up” restaurant where we ate absolutely divine “Balik Ekmek” (a grilled fish fillet inserted in a half-loaf of bread along with a scoop of “salata” (lettuce, tomatoes and onions,) made all the more delicious by being washed down by a bottle of beer obtained from another restaurant nearby.
The following morning was taken up with the drive to Adana from where we would all fly back to our respective boats. Before going to the airport there was still some brilliant surprises! First of all, Baran – our guide – took us to the second largest mosque – and one of the most marvellous – in Turkey, called the Sabancı Merkez Mosque.
The mosque was largely paid for by the Sabanci Foundation (run by a mega wealthy famous Turkish family) – hence its name.
Located on the banks of the Seyhan River, Sabancı Central Mosque is a majestic structure with six minarets. Eight massive pillars carry the main dome that has a diameter of 32 metres (105 feet).
The interior of the mosque was breathtaking – everything about it was designed to inspire and impress. The sheer scale of the auditorium (built to contain 28,500 people) the massive tiled panels, the wide expanse of luxurious wool carpet, the immense lighting structures – everything was designed to be awe inspiring.
Next was a very pleasant lunch on the terrace of a restaurant/patisserie overlooking the Golden Lake where there were some very tempting and delicious looking cakes on offer.
We were then whisked off for a quick look at some of Adana’s main sites, including the 32 foot Great Clock Tower, (Büyük Saat), the bazaar and the Oil Mosque, (so named due to an Oil reservoir in its precincts) which was once a crusader Church and converted into a mosque in 1501.
Parts of the madrasa (Islamic school) in the courtyard were used as craft workshops and we were able to see some of their marbling and felting work during our rather brief visit.
By this time the sun was becoming low in the sky and Baran hurried as back onto the bus as he wanted us to experience the sunset in a very special spot.
Our driver Cezar, dropped us off on the banks of the Seyhan River near the majestic Taşköprü (stone bridge) – a historic Roman Bridge known as the Ponte Sarus when it was built in the second century AD.
Since 2007 it has only carried foot traffic but up until then it was one of the oldest bridges in the world open to motorized vehicles. The bridge has 21 arches but some of them are now not visible due to stabilisation work on the river banks.
Walking onto the bridge we were surprised to find a festive atmosphere with lots of people milling around, vendors selling snacks and drinks and a group of people launching Chinese paper “sky”lanterns.
The views from the bridge were stunning – especially those of the Sabancı Merkez Mosque that we had visited earlier in the day.
The river was completely calm and serene with not even a ripple of wind to disturb the perfect reflection of the twinkling lights of the mosque as the sun set.
It was almost time to head for the airport but there was one last stop to accomplish something very important – something that everyone one who visits Adana is urged to do – eat an Adana kebab!!
Baran took us to the famous Cik Cik Ali restaurant where we feasted on the delicious kebabs cooked on hot coals and served on a wide metal skewer.
Made from lamb mince meat, mixed with red bell peppers, the Adana kebabs are served with charred peppers and tomatoes, an onion-sumac-parsley salad, and lavaş (thin flat bread).
These delicious kebabs are hand minced with two rather curious implements more reminiscent of scimitars than kitchen utensils!
Ali, the owner was delighted to demonstrate his prowess with his “swords”, twirling them in the air above his head like an oriental warrior.
Too soon it was time to drive to the airport to fly off to our various yachts. All that was left to do was say a goodbye to our new friends and to say a huge “çok teşekkürler” (thank you very much) to our amazing guide Baran and our ever patient driver Cezar for giving us a trip of a lifetime round South East Turkey.