Karakabaklı was an agricultural settlement that developed in the Taurus mountains, in the region of Cilicia. It flourished in the late-Roman and early Byzantine periods. The most impressive buildings that can be seen during a visit to Karakabaklı are: a two-storey villa, two basilicas, two monumental gates, and a well-preserved fragment of a Roman road.
Settlements in rural areas of Cilicia and Isauria, located at a distance from the coast, started to appear in the first century CE. Their development continued into the mid-eighth century. It was favoured by the mild Mediterranean climate and the development of communication network in the Roman period. The development of the settlement network in Cilicia reached its peak in the 5th and the 6th centuries. At that time, the villages, farms, and inhabited caves formed a densely interconnected network. Today, numerous archaeological sites testify to its existence. Isaurian builders boasted to be especially proficient in the construction of buildings with limestone blocks, and their fame exceeded the borders of the province.
Despite the difficult, rocky terrain, farmers were able to develop the cultivation of many plants, including grapes and olives. Grain was harvested in fertile valleys. Villages, farms, and workshops were built along the main roads of the region, connecting the remote settlements with major cities located on the coast.
Initially, Karakabaklı was a farmstead. Over time, a settlement of rural character developed around it. In the 3rd century, the Roman Empire underwent an economic crisis, which was also reflected in rural settlements in Cilicia and Isauria. In the 4th century, Karakabaklı was rebuilt and surrounded by a defensive wall with monumental gates and towers. It began to look more like a village and not a single farmstead. The road to the coast and many tombs are also dated to this period.
Later, in the early Byzantine period i.e. the 5th and the 6th centuries, the buildings erected in Karakabaklı give evidence of the beginnings of the urbanisation of this settlement. Two basilicas and many houses were constructed in that time. However, Karakabaklı never became a town, nor did it have a predetermined plan for the expansion. There were no streets inside the village, only the main road. The end of Karakabaklı prosperity came with the Arab invasions in the 8th century.
The first comprehensive inventory project of the Byzantine monuments in Silifke region was conducted in the 70s of the 20th century. It was managed, on behalf of Istanbul University, by Semavi Eyice, an art historian and archaeologist, the pioneer of Byzantine studies in Turkey.
In 1998-2000 and 2003, further surveys of early-Byzantine residential houses in the area of Turkey were conducted by Ina Eichner. Her work was financed within the framework of the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) or the German Academic Exchange Service. Ina Eichner also reached Karakabaklı where she performed the re-measurements of houses. New plans for these buildings were created as the result of her work.
Günder Varinlioğlu, a Turkish byzantinist from Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, also conducted the research of Karakabaklı in 2003. The main area of his research interests were the realities of rural settlements in Cilicia and Isauria.
Ümit Aydinoglu and Ümit Çakmak were also the researchers who took up the subject of settlements in rural areas of these regions. In 2011, they published the paper with the comparison of Karakabaklı not only to other settlements in the areas of Cilicia and Isauria, but also other regions of Asia Minor and Syria.
Buildings in Karakabaklı occupy an area of about three hectares, and its exploration is hampered by lush vegetation and stony ground. No attempts have been made to facilitate the visit to this site as there are no signboards, sightseeing routes or paths between the buildings.
On the north-eastern side Karakabaklı, there are the buildings that once belonged to a large farmstead. You can find a two-story house with a walled courtyard and a tower on a pentagonal plan, standing in the corner of the courtyard. The house covers an area measuring about 13 to 9 meters. The different techniques of masonry used in its construction indicate that there were at least two phases of its construction. The ground floor of the house consists of large rooms that probably served as storage areas. On the first floor, there were living rooms as indicated by the presence of windows. In addition, the consoles that once supported the balcony are visible. The wall surrounding the courtyard and tower in its corner were used for defensive purposes.
To the west of the main house, there are three buildings, which were used for agricultural production and storage. Building A underwent the evolution and was later transformed into a residence. On its grounds, there are two cisterns, a hole carved in the bedrock that played a role of a pithos i.e. a huge container for storing food, and a collection vat. Building B was also initially a warehouse, and then it was utilised for multiple purposes. Building C served as a work room and a warehouse.
All of these buildings were erected using the same technique, suggesting that they were constructed at the same time. The farmstead in Karakabaklı is a typical example of a farm from Isauria and Cilicia regions. Archaeological research has shown that this region of Asia Minor experiences the period of economic boom at the beginning of the 4th century AD, and the extension of the farm in Karakabaklı is one of its effects.
There are numerous burial places in the area of Karakabaklı. Among them, one can find three aedicula tombs that look like small buildings. Inside these tombs, there are sarcophagi and tombs known as chamosoria. A chamosorium is a rectangular hole are carved into the bedrock and covered with a lid. This type of burial was used for the less affluent deceased whose families could not afford a sarcophagus. The tombs of Karakabaklı were made of local limestone, and they have no inscriptions. The tombs of this kind began appearing in southern Asia Minor in the 2nd century CE.
In addition, it is possible to see many sarcophagi in Karakabaklı. They were also made of local limestone. Most of them have decorations on one side. Bunches of grapes, altars, rosettes, and Christian symbols - crosses and fish, appear among the decorative motifs.
In the ancient period, a paved road connected the settlement in Karakabaklı with the Mediterranean coast. Most likely, it was one of the main transport routes in the region. Large rectangular slabs cut from limestone were used for the construction of this road. Two monumental gates led into Karakabaklı from this road. Both of these structures can be described as a tetrapylon i.e. a gateway supported on four pillars, on a plan close to a square. The gate on the north side of the settlement is much better preserved. It still boasts a full arch supported by pillars with column capitals. The arches of the second monumental gate, standing on the south side of the ancient road, have been destroyed. Because of the alterations made in the structure of this gate, it can be concluded that it was transformed into the main entrance to the adjoining basilica. Both of the gates were most probably erected at the turn of the 4th and the 5th century CE.
Two basilicas stand next to the paved road in Karakabaklı. The first one, mentioned above, is located at the southern gate. It was built of limestone blocks. There are three different types of column capitals in the naos of this building. The basilica was a two-storey building. Its construction dates back to the end of the 5th century CE. The second basilica, adjacent to the first one, is smaller and has less ornamentation. The capitals of the columns have decorations in the form of floral motifs. There are six peacocks carved over the entrance gate. The architectural style of the basilica suggests that it was built in the 6th century CE. Both buildings are three-aisled basilicas with side rooms.
In Karakabaklı, you can also find the remains of many residential houses. They were added in the early Byzantine period. These houses were built of hewn stone blocks, but their location demonstrates a lack of overall spatial planning in the settlement. Most of these houses had two floors, and arched doors decorated with early Byzantine columns. There were small living rooms on the first floor, and large utility rooms on the ground floor.
In the area of the archaeological site, there are also traces of some farm buildings, including olive oil and wine production workshops. They were equipped with lever and screw presses, crushing stones, and collection tanks.
Karakabaklı area is not fenced off, and there is no entrance fee. The ruins are clearly visible from the road, but there are no signposts. Wear sturdy hiking boots and long trousers for the exploration of the area, because the site not prepared for visitors.
By car: the ruins of Karakabaklı stand in the vicinity of the village Karadedeli, which is officially the district of Atakent. To reach Karakabaklı, turn off north from D400 - the main road along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. The road that should be taken connects the coast with İmamlı village, located in the Taurus mountains. The distance from the junction on the D400 route to the ruins Karakabaklı is 6.2 km. The distance from Silifke, located to the south-west is 19 km, and from Mersin in the east - 82 km.