Tarsus in Cilicia

This morning we went to Tarsus, the native home of the apostle Paul. Tarsus is located near the Mediterranean Sea about 30 miles below the Cilician Gates. Tarsus in Cilicia served as one of the great crossroads of history. Paul described it as “no insignificant city” (Acts 21:39; 9:11; 22:3). Cleopatra once came up the River Cydnus to Tarsus to meet Mark Antony. The city now has a population of about 212,000. The fertile land of the Cilician plain near the city is suitable for growing many kinds of fruit, including citrus. North of the city in the hill country vineyards and wheat fields are abundant.

In Tarsus we saw a gate called Cleopatra’s Gate (or St. Paul’s Gate), sites associated with Paul (whether authentic or not), the recent excavation of the Roman street, and the Roman bath. There has been a recent discovery of a Roman bridge that once spanned the river. It is underneath a mosque that claims to contain the tomb of the prophet Daniel. I know of no historical reason to connect Daniel with Tarsus. We had lunch at the beautiful waterfalls on the outskirts of the city. It is difficult to imagine Paul not seeing these falls many times during his years in Tarsus.

Tarsus Waterfall. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

About 12 miles north of the city, near the village of Saglikli, there is a wonderful stretch of Roman road. This road, the Roma Yolu in Turkish, was the road that connected Tarsus with the Cilician Gates. We walked almost the full length (about 1.5 miles) of this road. On previous trips I had been unable to get to this road, but thanks to directions from Dr. Mark Wilson, a friend who spends about half of each year doing research in Turkey, I was able to locate it. This was the first time our experienced guide of 18 years had seen the road. Take a look at Dr. Wilson’s web page, Seven Churches Network for some good resources on biblical Turkey. I think every member of our group enjoyed walking on this road that was constructed in about A.D. 200 during the reign of the Emperor Septimius Severus. Did Paul and Silas follow this same route on an earlier road during the second journey?

The Roman Road from Tarsus to the Cilician Gates. Photo by David Padfield.

Today we really traveled ancient roads. Tomorrow we have plans to go to Syrian Antioch (now in Turkey) and Seleucia.

2 responses to “Tarsus in Cilicia

  1. Hi there – that stretch is unlikely to link Tarsus to the Cilician Gates – it goes pretty much East West, and away from the Gates from the edge of the scarp. The Road up to and through the Gates is lost/obscured under the new autobahn as far as can be told.

    It is very hard to find out who has done the Archaeology there – (I am IOA trained but have found no academic references to it).

    Very nice to find that someone else has seen it though.

  2. Would you mind sending me directions to the roman road you all traveled on? I’d love to go check it out some time. I pass through Tarsus twice a week on my way to a lesson in Mersin from Adana. I’d love to get out and see this road some time.

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