13 February 2012

Anavarza Castle

Anavarza is the most difficult of all the hikes offered by Outdoor Recreation.  It is also one of the most intact castles with awe-inspiring views of the surrounding ancient city and farm lands.  Below the Byzantine castle, cows and sheep graze among ancient Roman ruins. 

Photos Courtesy of Fatma Yoksuloglu 
Entrance Fee - NONE

Difficulty Getting There - MEDIUM  Use a map or go with Outdoor Recreation

Physical Difficulty - HARD - Steep inclines, loose rocky footing, climbing over rocks

Be sure to make a pit stop at one of the gas stations along the way before you arrive at Anavarza castle.  There are no bathrooms, restaurants or any amenities near by.  Just you, the wilderness, and an old Turkish gentleman who serves çay (tea) for 1 TL when you finish your hike.

Wear a good pair of walking shoes or hiking boots as it's 425 steps up steep inclines and loose rocky terrain to reach the castle.  There are no guide rails or safety precautions. Once you get to the top the castle is large and there are lots of interesting things to explore.  Among the castle ruins you can find ancient texts and a fresco.

History of Anavarza Castle
From Turkey Ministry of Culture & Tourism website http://www.kultur.gov.tr/EN/belge/2-20200/anavarza.html

Climbing up the hill to the castle.
"Anavarza was named Caesarea by Emperor Augustus who visited the city in 19 B.C. and it started to be known as “Caesarea near Anazarbus.” In 206 AD Anavarza, like other Cilician cities was captured by the Sasani King Shapur. Anavarza was destroyed by Balbinos of Isaura in the 4th century A.D became capital of Cilicia Secunda (Cilicia of the Plain) which was established during the reign of Theodosius II. The city was badly hit with an earthquake in 525 and was later restored by the Emperor Justinianus and renamed Justiniopolis. In 561 it experienced a second earthquake disaster and in the 6th century was hit with a major plague epidemic.

During the chaotic centuries which followed the rise of the Islam, Anazarbus remained as a buffer zone between the Arabs and the Byzantines and frequently changed hands between the two sides. In 796 Harun el Reşid re-built the city and the Caliph Mutacvakil (846-861) rebuilt the Sis castle and carried out active work at Anazarbus. His name is mentioned in an inscription piece in Kufi language found at the ruins of tower located outside the west gate. In the 10th century when Aynı Zarba was once more on the brink of ruin, Hamdanid al-Dawla turned it into a fortified settlement by spending the tremendous sum of three million dirham. 

Stairs without a guardrail. 
The city then became the focus of interest of the Byzantines again and during the 964 campaign which ended in victory, Nicephorus Phocas took over Anazarbus along with several important fortifications including Tarsus and Mopsuhestia. In the 11th century, the Armenians whose capital was conquered by Alpaslan were driven towards southwest under the pressure of the Seljuk Turks and establish a kingdom in the Taurus region. Later on, they slowly progressed towards the Cilician plain and there chose Anazarbus as their capital until the year 1100. Except a gap of 7 years, when the Byzantines again gained control under the rule of John Commeneus between 1137-1144 the city remained as a capital for almost for a whole century. In 1184 Tarsus and later Sis became the capital. Despite the fact that Anazarbus remained as an important fortification, the city which was built lower down, on the flat plan eventually started to be destroyed. It was finally totally ruined when the Memlüks destroyed the Little Armenian Kingdom in 1375 and this ancient settlement has never been used again since.


“The ruins in Anavarza consist of a 1500 metre long city wall with 20 bastions, four entrances, a colonnaded street, and ruins of a bath house and a church. Important works also include the theatre and the stadium outside the city walls, aqueducts, rock tombs, the necropolises in the western side of the city, the antique road which was constructed by splitting the rock mass and the pooled mosaics the sea goddess Thetas from the 3rd century AD.  The victory arc with three entrances, which is the only example of its kind in the Adana region and the castle from the middle ages on the hill which rises like an island in the centre of the plain.

Anavarza has witnessed numerous earthquakes, including the severe earthquake of 1945, but the Victory Arch managed to remain standing. It is a three-arched passage with six Corinthian column capitals from black granite on its south façade. There are statue niches on both sides of the main arch on the northern façade.

The castle can be defined in three sections. The barracks section including the first wall and a church; a three storey tower built on the flat rock between the two walls; the second wall and an adjacent complex of rooms it, storage areas and water tanks it encloses.”


  1. Cool, thanks for doing the research on Anavarza's history and posting!

  2. I visited there several times in 1979. It was a great place to visit. We even found openings big enough to crawl through that descended down into almost dungeon like areas. Had to get there on ropes. Found a couple old roman coins, a knife and an oil lamp missing it's handle. This was a great place to visit.