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Midway between Silifke and Mersin, KIZKALESİ (“Maiden’s Castle”) is the longest-established resort along the Eastern Mediterranean coastline, with its lively beaches burrowed between a pair of looming Byzantine castles. While Turkish families have been descending en masse for years, international tourists are still a relatively new phenomenon, and the genuine, unobtrusive hospitality of the locals makes a welcome relief from the tourist-packed haunts further up the coast. Fine sandy beaches, shallow waters and seaside camel rides make the resort an excellent choice for children, and there’s everything from jet skiing to paragliding on hand to keep the rest of the family entertained.

With its improved transport links and tour possibilities, Kızkalesi also makes a great base for exploring the surrounding area, like the popular Cennet ve Cehennem (caves of heaven and hell), the dramatic chasm of Kanlidıvane, or the mosaic-floored Bath of Poimenius in Narlıkuyu. If you have a special interest in exploring off-the-beaten-track ruins, buy Celal Taşkiran’s Silifke and Environs, an exhaustive guide to all the sites between Anamur and Mersin, available for €10 from Rain Tour & Travel Agency.

Kızkalesi’s most compelling feature, the twelfth-century sea castle known as the Kızkalesi or Maiden’s Castle, makes an imposing sight floating on the horizon out to sea. According to a story also found elsewhere in Turkey, a medieval Armenian king had a beautiful daughter. After it was prophesied that she would die from a snak ebite, the king had the castle built and moved the girl out to it for safety there. One day, however, an adviser sent a basket of fruit out to the island for the girl, out of which slid a snake that killed her. Locals say the snake still lives there, so the only people who venture out to the island are tourists, for whose benefit boat services operate; you can also hire a pedalo and go it alone. The unadorned walls and sturdy towers still stand, but apart from masonry fragments and weeds there’s currently little to see within. Plans are currently under way, however, to develop the attraction into a museum (presumably with an entrance fee) and restaurant.

Brief history

Known as Corycus in ancient times, Kızkalesi changed hands frequently until the arrival of the Romans in 72 BC. It then prospered to become one of the most important ports along the coast. Roman-era relics still survive in the area, notably a series of mysterious rock reliefs north of town and the carvings at the chasm at Kanlıdivane to the east. Kızkalesi continued to thrive during the Byzantine era despite occasional Arab attacks – against which its defences were strengthened by the construction of two castles during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries – before falling to the Ottomans in 1482.

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