12 February 2012

Snake Castle

Snake Castle aka “Yilankale”
Difficulty Getting There - EASY
Physical Difficulty - MEDIUM  Moderately steep inclines and loose rocky footing.

Snake Castle, “Yilankale” was an Armenian stronghold and Crusader castle of the 12th century. It has 8 towers and strategic beautiful views of the Ceyhan plain below.  Drive about a 40 minutes east from Adana on highway E5 to Iskenderun to get there.  You can go on your own, or on a tour with Outdoor Recreation.  Outdoor Recreation has free maps and can rent you GPS if you need one, or let us do the driving for you.

Photo by Joseph So
History of the Name
There are several legends about how Snake Castle got its name.  According to Wikipedia, “Its medieval name is unknown - the “Castle of the Snakes” name is due to a Turkish legend in which it belongs to the king of the snakes (Youngs 1965).”

Planetware.com says, “According to legend it was the residence of Sheikh Meran, half man, half snake, who was killed in the baths at Tarsus while seeking to carry off the king's daughter.”  The book Castles, Çay and Caravanserai written by the Incirlik Spouses Club in the 80's and 90's says the half man, half snake ruler, also “used snakes to enforce his will.”

Other legends explain the name comes from the shape of the castle, the former inhabitants and even a pesky insect that resides there now. 

One explanation is it’s named “Snake Castle” because it’s long and skinny like a snake.  It's also said the name comes from a time when there was a snake infestation so bad the castle had to be abandoned.

Maybe the name comes from the coat of arms of the royalty that once lived in the castle, which prominently featured snakes on it. 

Still another story says that the Turkish word for flies (which are in abundance in the summer) is “sinek” – which sounds a bit like “snake” - hence the name “Snake Castle.”  This probably isn't true because the Turkish word “Yilankale” literally means “Snake Castle.”

Photo by Joseph So

“Although the precise history of the castle is unknown, a study of the architecture suggests that it was built by the Armenian Crown Prince Leo III (1270-1289) not long before his capture by the Arabs in 1266.  The castle gatehouse is flanked by two towers, with a thrid facing the entrance.  A carving of a lion is on the third tower, and the fact it bears no crown lends more plausibility to the theory that this was a fortress of a prince instead of a king. The castle contains a cistern, sotrerooms, chapel remains, and many other rooms as well as several interior gates.  There are many openings in the walls which allowed the inhabitants excellent views of any activity below.” (from The book Castles, Çay and Caravanserai written by the Incirlik Spouses Club in the 80's and 90's.)

Restaurant at Base of Snake Castle
Careful walking along the paths and climbing on the walls and rocks. There are no guardrails. The path is made up of loose gravel and primitive rock steps.  The view of the farms below overlooking the east bank of the Ceyhan river is stunning on a clear day.

When you’re finished with your hike enjoy a cup of Turkish tea (çay - sounds like “chai”) at the restaurant near the parking area. They also serve toast and homemade cheese bread if you’d like a snack. 

Çay costs about 1 TL.  Whenever you're out and about in Turkey it's good manners to bring some 1 TL coins with you so you don't have to break a 20 TL just for a cup of çay.

1 comment:

  1. My wife and I lived in Incirlik in the late '80's and visited "Snake" castle several times. I thought it was a great introduction to the many other castles accessible to us. As time has passed I have forgotten the names of the other castles, much to my regret. Black castle and Anavarza linger in the fringes of my memory. Turkey was and remains a wonderful treasure of time capsules.