By SCOTT REDFORD; SCOTT REDFORD is resident director of Georgetown University’s McGhee Center for Eastern Mediterranean Studies in Alanya, Turkey.
ON their way to the Holy Land, the medieval soldiers, pilgrims, priests and nobles of the Crusades left behind them trails of settlement and plunder and awestruck accounts of the rich empires of the eastern Mediterranean. Although Jerusalem was the ultimate object of their voyaging, over the centuries many Crusader armies carved out principalities far from the Levant proper. Thus the numerous countries and fiefdoms of the Peleponnesus, the Aegean, Cyprus, Rhodes and, in a daring act of brigandage, Constantinople, were established.
Anatolia, too, bears many traces of the Crusades era. In fact, both the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts of Turkey are scattered with castles built, occupied or besieged by the Crusaders. Through them the traveler may visit some of the pivotal moments in several Crusades, when crossing Anatolia was one of the most perilous portions of the long trail east to the Holy Land.
The best-known Crusader castles today lie within the boundaries of Jordan, Israel, Syria and Lebanon. Kerak, Beaufort, Saone, Crac des Chevaliers: these names conjure up the romantic 19th century prints of ruined Crusader bastions. Today, those bastions, both Frankish and Arab, are major tourist sites.
Crusader remains in Anatolia are farther off the beaten track, though Turkey’s popularity as an inexpensive destination in the late 1980’s has made it easier than ever to travel there. In searching them out, the Western tourist can experience a sense of discovery of his own history. Although there are many castles and city walls associated with the Crusades in Turkey, especially in the southeast, four examples are particularly worth visiting: the city walls of Antioch and the castles of Silifke, nearby Kiz Kalesi and Bodrum. And all lie in scenic venues. Antioch
After the dangerous traverse of Anatolia, the first safe haven for all Crusaders was the city of Antioch. Antioch had been one of the great emporiums of the Hellenistic and Roman world. Despite its decline under Byzantine and Muslim rule, it was still a city of enormous strategic importance, commanding the northern Syrian coast and guarding access to the rich plain of Cilicia. A natural target for the armies of the First Crusade, Antioch was besieged, and finally conquered in 1098.
The visitor to present-day Antioch (Antakya in Turkish) will encounter little of the momentousness that once placed this city center-stage in world history. A pleasant provincial city of 100,000 people, the capital of the Hatay region, it lies in a valley astride the Orontes River, and below the heights of Mount Silpius, with which it was once linked by a circuit of bastions, towered walls, fortified gates and a citadel.
Apart from a visit to Antioch’s walls and its justly famous museum, visitors can use the city as a departure point for trips to the Roman town of Daphne (Harbiye in Turkish), about 10 miles to the south, as well as several nearby castles of the period. There is also a beach resort at Samandag, where the Orontes flows into the Mediterranean, although it is pretty commercial.
An earthquake in 1872 leveled Antioch, and subsequent rebuilding effaced many ancient remains. Only the spectacular mosaics in the museum and the grid layout of its downtown streets betray the city’s Hellenistic and Roman past. Gone too from the immediate vicinity of the city are the medieval walls.
But there is ample evidence of the fortifications that made the medieval city so redoubtable. The walls were Byzantine, rebuilt by Justinian the Great following a great earthquake in A.D. 526. Most of the remaining ones are to be found by climbing the steep slopes of Mount Silpius, which rises over a thousand feet above the city. The trek, about five miles, takes several hours on foot, but is well worth it for the refreshingly cool air and the view from the citadel at the top . A rough road also leads to the summit. After reaching it, one can slake one’s thirst at a cafe and absorb the magnificent view. Following the walls as they snake down toward the valley of the Orontes, one can trace the outline of the medieval city. Visitors may also clamber around the walls of the citadel and the massive Iron Gate, the postern from which Yaghi-Siyan, the Turkish ruler of Antioch, attempted to escape the final Crusader onslaught in 1098.
Descending from Silpius, a quiet evening meal can be had in downtown Antioch, followed, in warm weather, by a stroll along tree-lined streets by the Orontes River with the rest of the populace.
The best punctuation for the evening’s entertainment is a seat at a local pastry shop and a helping of baklava made with local pistachios, the most savory this side of Iran.
Several castles guarded the approaches to Crusader Antioch and can be visited by renting a car and driver in the town. The most impressive is Baghras, whose looming form dominates a valley in the Amanus mountains to the north. Silifke
The town of Silifke, ancient Seleucia Ciliciae, is picturesquely situated in a crook between the flat green of the Cilician plain and spurs of the Taurus mountains, near Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. Through Silifke flows the Goksu River, remarkable for the milky blue-green of its water.
The 13th-century Knights Hospitalers assisted in the defense of the Kingdom of Cilician Armenia, an ally of the Crusader states, by garrisoning the castle here. Sitting on a rocky promontory dominating the town, the castle is easily accessible by car or on foot, and a tourist restaurant sits in a portion of the moat, facing south toward the view. The walls, built of ashlar masonry attached to a now exposed rubble core, define a large oval enclosure at the top of the hill. From the outside, one can navigate its stout perimeter wall, studded with large round towers standing on solid rock.
Little remains of the once extensive interior constructions of Silifke Castle, although an occasional cistern or a tumbled vault can be discerned. Mainly constructed by the Hospitalers and restored in recent years, the castle retains the aura of a ruin, ripe for ruminations on the once absolute dominion held by its masters over the town huddled below.
Modern Silifke is a run-of-the-mill market town of about 50,000. In addition to the castle, it has a small museum and the ruins of a Roman Temple of Jupiter. Mainly, it is a transportation hub and market town, with frequent buses to Konya in central Anatolia, Mersin (some 50 miles away) and Adana (about 100 miles). The castle-minded traveler can use Adana or Mersin as bases for exploring the castles of the Kingdom of Armenian Cilicia, which perch atop surrounding crags. Anazarbus, Lampron, Sis and Yilan Kalesi are all sites of wondrous and well-preserved works of medieval masons. Kiz Kalesi
In addition, about 15 miles south of Silifke, lie the ruins of the classical and medieval city of Korykos, with its island castle clearly visible from the main road. Kiz Kalesi (Turkish for Maiden’s Castle) occupies an entire small rocky island some 500 yards offshore. A companion castle along the sea’s edge on the mainland was once linked to Kiz Kalesi by a now-eroded breakwater. Adventurous visitors can swim out to the castle; others can get there by renting a rowboat.
The tumbled masonry and overgrown buildings on both sides of the coastal road near the site remain from the classical city of Korykos. Its fine cut ashlar stones were reused by the Byzantines, who built both castles in the early 12th century to guard against Crusader expansion from Antioch. Crusader forces do seem to have gained control of Korykos by the mid-12th century, but the island castle visible today is generally of Byzantine design and execution. The land castle, notable for its double trace, is in ruins, but one gateway incorporating a classical triumphal arch still stands. Inside the castle walls one can see the outlines of three small stone chapels through the shrubbery.
One can eat agreeably while castle-hopping. Every region of Turkey is known for a different preparation of lamb, and the southeast is no exception. Whether in Silifke, Adana or Mersin, almost any restaurant will offer Adana kebap. Ground lamb spiced with hot peppers, it is wrapped on a skewer and grilled over a high flame, then served on thin unleavened bread with a garnish of radishes, parsley and tomatoes.
The spiciness of the meat is best balanced with a tall glass of ayran, a diluted yogurt drink that is incredibly refreshing, or, in the evening, with a glass of raki, the ubiquitous anise liquor of Turkey. Raki is called aslan sutu, lion’s milk, by the Turks, who claim that it never inflicts a hangover.
Silifke is easily accessible by car and bus, A few miles outside the town, on the inland road, one reaches the defile – the actual spot has been pinpointed by German scholars – where one of the pivotal events of the Crusades took place. It is there that Frederick Barbarossa, Holy Roman Emperor and leader of the Third Crusade, drowned one hot June day in 1190 while fording the Goksu. Before this calamity, the Crusader armies had reason to be glad: they had traversed most of Anatolia, warded off Byzantines and Seljuk Turks alike, and were close to Antioch. And yet, at the very end of the descent through the Taurus mountains, the aging Emperor (he was in his late 60’s, ancient by medieval reckoning) succumbed, plunging the whole Third Crusade into disarray. Bodrum
One of the most celebrated and best preserved medieval monuments in Turkey is the Castle of St. Peter at Bodrum on the Aegean Coast. It is the only surviving castle in Turkey built entirely by the Crusaders, who lingered here centuries after they had lost Jerusalem, or any foothold further east.
Writing in the late 12th century, William, Archbishop of Tyre, chronicler of the Crusades, cited several advantages in situating a castle. One of them, the presence of ruins for building materials, may have persuaded the Hospitalers to relocate on this rocky promontory following their defeat by Tamerlane at Smyrna (Izmir) in 1402. Bodrum is the site of classical Halicarnassus, and much of the tomb of Mausolos, or Mausoleum, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, which was mined for its stone, must still have been standing in the late Middle Ages.
Spotting the classical friezes and column capitals embedded in the walls is a minor pleasure compared to others this splendidly situated castle has to offer. Wandering its well-preserved ramparts and bastions, one can read practically the entire history of the castle in the escutcheons of the various langues or divisions of the Hospitaler order of knights. There are over 300 of these once brightly colored coats of arms peppering the walls, and with the help of a handy guidebook by Mrs. Evelyn Kalcas that is available locally, one can while away hours tracing out the insignia of some of the great noble houses of France, England, Italy and Germany.
As the word implies, each langue consisted of knights who spoke the same language, and each of these built and maintained its own tower. In the center rise the French, Italian and German towers, while the English tower overlooks the sea.
The Hospitalers held Bodrum, together with castles on Rhodes, Kos and adjacent Greek islands, until the fall of Rhodes in 1522. Bodrum was evacuated the following year, depriving the Crusaders of their last Asian stronghold. Today, the castle serves as Turkey’s only Museum of Underwater Archeology. The Turkish Department of Antiquities, assisted by the Institute of Nautical Archeology, College Station, Tex., has installed a series of exhibits of finds from underwater excavations.
Bodrum itself was once a sleepy fishing village of considerable rustic charm. All that has changed in the last decade, as Bodrum has developed into a major destination for cruise ships, yachts and tourists of all stripes. In summer it is mobbed. The approaches are strewn with concrete bungalows; vacation or retirement condos for upper-middle class Turks and hotels for European travelers seeking a cheap holiday. The Turkish press refers to this phenomenon as betonlasma, the cementing of once poor but pristine coastal regions.
If this development has a bright side, it is the elevation of Bodrum to something approaching iconic status as a refuge for intellectuals and artists. Bodrum in summer is filled with writers and musicians from Istanbul and Ankara who congregate at night in cafes and a couple of jazz clubs scattered among the fish restaurants lining the harbor. Lazy Bodrum summers have become a trope of contemporary urban Turkish life.
Riding anchor on its isolated mooring, the castle at night sits in spotlighted splendor. To either side, the shoreline of Bodrum’s double harbor is thick with pleasure craft, the streets are packed with tourists, and the walls echo with the pulse of music and the calls of importunate restaurateurs. GETTING AROUND AND LODGINGS Transportation
The airport closest to both Antakya (Antioch) and Silifke is Adana. There are daily flights from both Istanbul and Ankara on Turkish Airlines. In Adana, it is easy to rent a car from Hertz, Avis or other agencies.
Travel is also easy by bus in Turkey. The bus station, or Otogar, in Adana, bristles with bright signs advertising every known destination from Munich to Mecca. Turkish buses are clean, economical and reliable.
Kiz Kalesi is easily reached from the main road south of Silifke. There are tricky currents around the island on which the castle stands, so while it is possible to swim the 500 yards to it, renting a rowboat from a local concessionaire is recommended.
Bodrum is about four hours from the airport at Izmir. It is also accessible by bus from Izmir, Istanbul and Ankara. The town has many car rental agencies, and it is the point of departure for yacht cruises. Accommodations
In Antakya there are any number of clean, quiet hotels charging up to $30 a night for two. Two at the higher end of this scale are the Atahan and the Divan. Resort hotels complete with nightclubs are to be found at the nearby beach town of Samandag.
In Bodrum, it is advisable to book in advance. Many visitors prefer to stay in a simple pension in one of the neighboring and quieter towns, like Turgut Reis. The streets behind the harbor contain many old stone houses where a bed may be had for $3 to $5 a night. Towards the outskirts of town, there are newer guesthouses but lacking the charm of the port.
The fanciest Bodrum gets is the T.M.T. Hotel, modern, with gardens, tennis courts and pool. Rooms are about $50 dollars a night, double occupancy. The Halikarnas Hotel is also in the higher brackets, but it is best known perhaps for its discotheque. – S. R.
The island castle of Kiz Kalesi stands across from the ruins of the classical and medieval city of Korykos (Kurt Wyss); Sotiria (salvation) mosaic in the Archeological Museum in Antioch, ancient Greek site (Tom Brosnahan); fortifications at Silifke, which were built mostly by the Knights Hospitalers (Kurt Wyss); visitors strolling in Bodrum, site of the Castle of St. Peter (Kadir Kir) (pg. 14); shoeshine men on the main square in Antakya (Henry Kamm) (pg. 18); map of Turkey (pg. 14)