The Castle of Yılankale
/ By Josh
Great for: Crusader Castles, Armenian History, Castles, Medieval History
Built atop a high limestone ridge that rises up from the midst of the Çukurova Plain (Cilician Plain), the castle of Yılankale was built as a part of a wider network of medieval castles designed to keep watch over this crossroad of the ancient world.
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The origins of the castle are not well known, though based on the architecture and what is known of the general history of the area, it is thought that Yılankale was built around the 12th and 13th centuries by the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, also known as Lesser Armenia. However, some other sources suggest that Yılankale may have been built by the Crusaders who also ruled in the area, sometimes in cooperation with the Armenians of Cilicia.
From Yılankale you can see the Castles of Anavarza, Tumlu, and distant Kozan. Further east in the plain are numerous other Crusader and Armenian Castles, built to keep control of the plain and the passes that connected the Syrian and Anatolian Plains with the Mediterranean world. The numerous castles attest to just how important this region was.
The Castle of Yılankale consists of three sections: the main body of the castle occupying the uppermost portion of the ridge, a smaller outer bailey immediately to its south, and a lower portion on the southeastern portion of the ridge, ringed in by a smaller, lower quality wall. To enter the upper bailey one would first have to pass through the two others, each protected by its own gate.
Yılankale has managed to survive with numerous vaulted halls, arrow loops, gatehouses, latrines, and crenellations in a state of excellent preservation. Recent restoration work has helped keep the medieval structure from falling into a state of disrepair. Perhaps the most heavily damaged portion is the small building that sits in the midst of the upper bailey. If we compare Anavarza Castle, with its similar masonry and design, to that of Yılankale, then it seems likely that this small ruin would have been a chapel. The fact that the building is facing to the east supports this.
The upper gatehouse into the innermost bailey is particularly interesting, it is in excellent condition and bears a relief of a king flanked by lions with a cross above his head. Unfortunately the relief does not include a name which would help give a date for the construction of this fantastic castle.
The name Yılankale (also Yılanlıkale) is Turkish for “Snake Castle” in reference to local legends that stated the castle was the home of the Shahmaran, a half woman half serpent creature. According to the legend a young man entered the caves beneath the castle to find honey but got lost in the tunnels. There he found a beautiful paradise like cave with snakes and the Shahmaran living together (Shahmaran is Persian for “King of Snakes”). The young man and the Shahmaran fell in love and the Shahmaran taught him the secrets of herbs and medicine.
After a time, the young man began to miss his old life above ground and left the cave, telling the Shahmaran that he would keep her existence a secret. One day the king of Tarsus (which is at the western end of the Çukurova Plain) become deathly ill. The young man returns to the cave of the Shahmaran and asks her what could to be done to save him. The Shahmaran tells him that he must kill her and feed her flesh to the king as well as blanche her and extract her essence. The young man does so, and the king is healed. When the young man drinks her essence, he gains the wisdom of the Shahmaran and becomes a skilled healer.
How To Get There
Unfortunately, the Castle of Yılankale cannot easily be reached by public transit.
From the City of Adana drive east along the D400 (Adana-Osmaniye highway). About 37 kilometers down the road you will be able to see the castle on your right, follow the brown signs marked for Yılankale up the hill to the parking lot.
From Osmaniye, head east on the D400 (Adana-Osmaniye highway). About 46 kilometers from the city turn left following the brown signs marked for Yılankale. The castle will be obvious ahead of you.
For more about car rental and driving in Turkey make sure to read our full drivers guide.
Where To Stay
From Yılankale the closest option for hotels is in the town of Ceylan which has at least one hotel. Otherwise your best options are in Osmaniye (47kms) or Adana (38 kms), both of which have lots of hotels and a variety of qualities to choose from.
Planning on visiting Yılankale? Make sure to visit nearby Anavarza Castle and the many other medieval Castles of Osmaniye.
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