The ruins of ancient Castabala, located on the Cilician Plain, can make some visitors dizzy - not only because of their picturesque location but also because of the multitude of names by which this place is known. Below we will use the name Castabala because it is a hallmark of the city. However, in the past, it was described with many other words. In the Hellenistic period, it was known as Hierapolis, just like the famous Roman spa located at Pamukkale. Since the city lies in the valley of the Ceyhan River, in ancient times known as Pyramus, it was frequently called Hierapolis ad Pyramum. What's more, the fortress towering over the city is referred to as Bodrum Kalesi, reminiscent of the well-known holiday resort on the coast of the Aegean Sea.
The origins of the settlement known as Castabala are lost in the mists of history. Castabala was most probably founded in the Late Hittite period, and its name was of Luwian origin. The town appeared on the pages of history in 333 BCE, when it was visited by Alexander the Great, just before the Battle of Issus. The city minted its coins from 200 BCE. Under the rule of Antiochus IV, it was renamed as Hierapolis. Antiochus granted the settlement this name, meaning "Holy City," because of the temple dedicated to the goddess called Artemis Perasia, that for a long time was the most important deity of the region.
In the first century BCE, Hierapolis was the capital city of a small state created by the famous Cilician pirate named Tarkondimotos. This adventurer became involved in the civil wars that shook Rome in the final years of its republican period. Initially, he allied with Pompey and then supported Julius Caesar. After his death, he joined Gaius Cassius Longinus, a leading instigator of the plot to kill Julius Caesar. Finally, he was among the supporters of Mark Antony and died in the naval battle of Actium. The famous statesman and orator - Cicero - called Hierapolis and its rulers the most loyal ally from the Taurus Mountains, and the best friend of the Roman people.
In 431 AD, Castabala reappears on the pages of history, because its representatives took part in the Council of Ephesus. Between 524 and 561, the city was hit by a series of earthquakes and was seriously damaged as a consequence.
In the Middle Ages, a fortress was built above the city, and it dominates the surroundings even today. Unfortunately, the identity of its creators remains unknown. Possibly they were Armenians, who wanted to create a line of defenses around the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia. Other scholars claim that the construction of the fortress was executed by the Knights of St John. Their goal was to protect the routes leading the Crusaders to the Holy Land. Whoever the architects of the fortress were, they did a solid job, erecting it on a high and steep rock.
Castabala was gradually losing its importance. In the 14th century, after it was conquered by the Turkish tribes, it completely disappeared from history.
The main communication axis of the city is a colonnaded street, 200 meters long and 11 meters wide, running from east to west. Many columns have been preserved to our times. Moreover, some of them are still decorated with capitals of Corinthian order.
To the south of this street, there are the ruins of a church and a Byzantine bathhouse, and to the east, it is possible to discern the traces of the Temple of Artemis Perasia. On the eastern side, you can also find a theater, with 15 rows of seats remaining.
A steep hill, 35 meters high, rises above the city. In ancient times it was most probably functioning as the Acropolis of Castabala. Today, its peak is covered by the ruins of a medieval castle. On the northern side of the hill, there are ruins of more churches and some tombs carved into the rock.
Admission to the ruins of Castabala is free of charge. At the entrance, there is an information board in Turkish and English. The ruins are open to visitors daily from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Castabala lies on the road to the National Park of Karatepe-Aslantaş (25 km further to the north), so it is worth to use the opportunity and visit both of these places during one trip.
By car: Castabala is located in Osmaniye Province, very close E90 motorway that connects Adana (105 km to the west) with the region of South-Eastern Anatolia. Exit the motorway 92 km east of Adana to get to Osmaniye ring road, and then follow the northern road. After 12 km you will reach Castabala. Please note that Castabala turn-off in the center of Osmaniye is very poorly signposted.
Without your means of transport, reaching the ruins of Castabala is only possible by taxi. The nearest city, where you can hire a taxi, is Osmaniye, 16 km to the south of the ruins.