Ancient City and Castle of Anavarza
(Anavarza Antik Kenti ve Kalesi)
/ By Josh
(As of spring 2019 entrance was free. A small entrance building has been newly built and apparently there was discussion regarding charging admission so its possible that entrance may no longer be free)
Great for: Castles, Roman History, Colonnades, Ruins, UNESCO Sites, Old-School Pharmacists
In a region full of beautiful mountain top castles and ruined Roman cities, Anavarza is certainly one of the most beautiful, and most interesting. What makes Anavarza so spectacular is that the site combines an awe-inspiring mountain top castle with a vast ancient ruin. Each of these would be reason to visit on their own but combined together makes for something quite unique.
The original name of the city was Arnazarbus, which is Persian for ‘Invincible’. This name was altered by the Romans who named it Ceasarea ad Arnazarbus in honour of Ceasar Augustus. Over time the name evolved to its present form of Anavarza.
Anavarza was a very wealthy city and was the recipient of some impressive imperial building projects.
The wall that surrounds the city was an impressive 1.5 kilometres long with regular towers and three gates. One of the gates was built as a beautiful three-arched triumphal gate. As of spring 2019 the gate was under reconstruction as a part of an effort to revitalize Anavarza as a major touristic site.
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Within the city walls are the remains of numerous grand buildings, though all are utterly ruinous. The ruins of Roman Temples, Byzantine Churches, and Roman Baths scatter the broad field. The remains of a massive 1.7 km colonnaded street runs through the city. A portion of the street is 32 metres wide, making it the largest known street of its type in the Roman world. Today only an impression of the roadway, flanked by broken columns, remains.
Some of Anavarza’s most interesting buildings were built outside of the city walls. To the north of the city, running alongside the road, is a 25 km aqueduct. Immediately to the south of the city is the city’s necropolis, a hillside of carved graves and tombs. Tucked into the hillside between the necropolis and the city wall is a theatre partially built up and partially carved into the hillside. Other than a bit of rubble and some rows of seating carved into the rock.
Across the modern road is a field against the side of a tall cliff. The field is actually what’s left of the old Hippodrome, or race stadium. You can still see some of the pillars that once sat in a long row down the middle of the track as well as rows of seating carved into the cliff. Unfortunately the Circus Maximus amphitheatre, one of only three fully circular theatres built in the ancient world, has been completely destroyed leaving little more than a bush-covered hill of rubble.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Anavarza is the beautiful castle that sits 200 metres above the city on a great block of natural limestone. The castle can be divided into two parts: an upper and lower bailey. The lower bailey is roughly a broad square with cliffs on three sides and a large wall along its lowest edge. The second inner bailing sits on the highest portion of the limestone mound, surrounded by sheer cliffs. It’s connected to the lower by a narrow strip of land which is guarded by a large square tower known as the Maiden’s Tower.
Apparently, the king of nearby Yılan Castle and the king of Kozan Castle had a son each and both kings wanted their son to marry the daughter of the powerful king of Anavarza. To win the right to the hand of the princess the prince had to devise a way to bring water into the city of Anavarza. The princess however, knowing that there would be war no matter who she married, decided to spare the people and instead threw herself from the top of this tower. It seems most Maidens Tower legends involve the maiden dying.
Beyond the upper bailey is a wall that continues along a narrow ridge. In recent years people have died attempting to climb so please be careful!
To get to the castle a 400-step stairway leads past the necropolis and theatre to the lower bailey. The path is rough and broken with many sections of the stairs missing. Along the way you’ll see small, weather-worn plaques carved into the stone. From the top of the castle you’ll get one of the best views of ancient Cilicia with the city below and the plain spreading out in the distance.
Like many places in Turkey, Anavarza has ancient, pre-roman roots but reached its zenith in the 1st century AD as it became a regional capital in the Roman Empire. Then it was captured and made a Persian city, then Byzantine, then Abbasid, then Byzantine again, then incorporated into the Crusader Principality of Antioch. Following these, possession of the castle changed hands from back and forth between the Byzantines and Armenians before finally being taken by the Mamluks at which point the city was abandoned though the castle continued to be used by subsequent rulers. Throughout this time of regular attack and conquest there were also plagues and numerous earthquakes, making it a wonder that anything of this once glorious city should be left standing.
While the city did truly suffer, Anavarza Castle, due to it’s strategic location, was maintained until a much later date while the city was left to ruins
Anavarza was the home of Pedanius Dioscorides, considered to be one of the most important men in the history of Medicine with his 1st century book about the medicinal uses of various plants called, On Medical Material, and was widely read for 1500 years.
How To Get There
Leaving Adana head east along the D400 then turn north on the D817 towards Kozan. 26 kms later head east to the town of Dilekkaya; there are brown signs marked Anavarza along the way.
For more about car rental and driving in Turkey make sure to read our full drivers guide.
Where To Stay
The town of Kozan is only about 30 kms away and has some limited hotels available. The city of Osmaniye is closer than Adana (Osmaniye 45km Adana 65km) though Adana will have more hotel options than Osmaniye.
Planning on visiting Anavarza? Make sure to check out some of the other sights in the region!
Have any tips or info to add? Spot any mistakes? We’d love to hear about it.