If you have traveled to the Southern Turkey and came back without visiting Tarsus, then it is time to make new travel plans to see the town that has too many stories and legends that are worth hitting the roads again just to hear them.

Tarsus, one of the largest districts of Turkey, that loves sharing has too many stories to tell that, it cannot wait for you to catch your breath. It is an eight thousand years old world city. The energy of its history that reaches to the New Stone Age and to the Ancient Rome can be felt all over the town. The places to see are pretty close to each other, but don’t let this trick you. You might think that a few hours would be enough, but if you’d like to feel the spirit of the city completely, you need to spend more time in here. This enchanting town opens up like a matryoshka doll presenting you thousands of stories as the time you spend there goes by.

The Seven Sleepers Cave
You immediately realize the importance of Tarsus, which engages people with its magnificent legends and energy, to the human history from the brown signboards placed at the entrance of the town. Although, the places to see are close to each other, the Seven Sleepers Cave is located outside the town. Actually, what is more impressive than the cave is its legend…

During the times that the faith of people in mythological gods had lost its power, the seven young men who had run away from torture because of their faith in only one God had taken refuge in the cave with their dog Kıtmir. The rest of the legend tells that the first one to wake up among those people who are believed to be put to a 300 years of sleep by God went to the town to purchase food, but he was caught because of the old money that he had. The Seven Sleepers legend takes place in many holy scriptures.

Enchanted in Tarsus streets
You can begin exploring the town center from St. Paul’s Well, which its water is believed to be holy since the times that Christians used to occupy the region, and the Ancient Road. The walk along this road that graceful Tarsus houses are located on its both sides is very pleasant. After passing by the Shahmaran Memorial, and the Old Mosque that was used as a church during the 9th or the 10th centuries –also the estimated time of its construction–, and the Rome Hammam, you arrive in the Makam Mosque, which is where the grave of Prophet Daniel is located. The Makam Mosque has a divine atmosphere, although it is located right next to the most hectic street of the town. Across from it, the Ulu Mosque that is believed to house Lokman Hekim’s grave takes place. The construction of the mosque had been ordered by İbrahim who was the son of Piri Pasha of Ramazanoğulları Family in 1579.

Cleopatra Gate, which takes place within the town center limits today, is through where Cleopatra and her lover Roman General Antonius had entered the city after arriving in Gözlü Fortress, the harbor of the city during the period, in order to meet in Tarsus. It is hard to imagine that the sea was so close to the city center then.

Chasing the Legend of Shahmaran
Women manage the sixteen shops in the Kırkkaşıklar Bedesten (indoor bazaar) that is located right next to the Ulu Mosque. Chatting at the shops in here is blissful even on its own. Each of the shop owners tells you the legend of Shahmaran before entering into a deep conversation. The legends told are all different from each other and they are all gripping.

Shahmaran means ‘the Shah of the Snakes’ in Farsi. Thousands of years ago, there used to live the queen of the snakes named ‘Maran’ under the ground in Tarsus. According to the legend, Shahmaran had a body as white as milk. One day, a young man named Cemshab, who is the first human to see her, gains the trust of Shahmaran and begins to live with her in a heavenly garden under the ground. Years pass by and Cemshab begs Shahmaran to get her permission to return to his family because of his longing for them. Shahmaran allows him to go but under one condition that he has to promise not to tell anyone about her. Cemshab reunites with his family and keeps his promise to Shahmaran for long years, but one day the Sultan’s daughter becomes ill. The vizier, who wants to marry her, spreads the word that she needs to eat Shahmaran’s meat to heal. The vizier, who knows that half of the body of the human who sees Shahmaran would become covered by snake scales, orders everyone to bathe in a public hammam. So, Cemshab’s secret comes out and he is forced to tell him where Shahmaran is. Before Shahmaran comes out of underground, she convinces the snakes not to come after her and infest the city by telling them that the Sultan wants to invite her to his palace and she is going to be welcomed accompanied by the drums’ merry beats. She says to Cemshab, “Boil my tail and have the vizier to drink it so he shall die, boil my body, and have the Sultan’s daughter to drink it so she shall heal, and decapitate my head, boil it and drink it so you shall become Lokman Hekim.” Thus, the vizier dies, the Sultan’s daughter heals, and Cemshab becomes Lokman Hekim. According to the legend, today the snakes still don’t know that Shahmaran is dead. It has been believed that Tarsus is going to be infested by the snakes when they learn that she is dead. The drums are played merrily at the Drummer Bazaar every day, so the snakes would keep thinking that Shahmaran is still alive.

When sitting on one of the stools at the café, famous with its delicious boiling sherbet and Cleopatra Potion, it feels pleasant to breathe in the ambience of the Bedesten, where there are the kind of shop owners who say ‘May the poison of a snake become a remedy and the fertility of a woman become a blessing,’ while wrapping up a wooden box with Shahmaran pattern on it. It was a pleasure to chat with the cafe owner Serpil Hanım at the Kırkkaşıklar Bazaar where it is ordinary to become enchanted by the legends. The Bazaar is a great reason on its own to arrange a visit to Tarsus, as well as other places to see in the town.

Enter into a café and sip your cup of coffee to breathe in the tranquility and the beauty of the road where the Tarsus Homes are located. 

Let the ambience of the Bedesten carry you away and become enchanted by the legend of Shahmaran, which is told at the cozy souvenir shops.

Don’t return without purchasing ‘cezerye’ which is among the typical delights of Tarsus.

Take a break next to the Tarsus Falls.

Try the turnip juice, which is sold at snack shacks that you come across in every corner.

Taste Serpil Hanım’s Cleopatra Potion at the Kırkkaşıklar Bazaar.