Tarsus is a city with a very long history, and numerous famous individuals have strolled down its streets. The first meeting of Mark Antony and Cleopatra is undoubtedly one of the most colourful episodes in the history of Tarsus. It is often said that it took place at one of the massive gates of the city. This particular gate is now called the Cleopatra's Gate at the memory of that event.
Ancient Tarsus, the capital of the Roman province of Cilicia, was surrounded by two lines of fortifications. Most likely, three gates led into the city. Unfortunately, the detailed information about them was provided much later. They were described by the famous Ottoman traveller, Evliya Çelebi, who arrived at Tarsus in 1671. In his work, Seyahatnâme, he mentioned the Mountain Gate, facing the Taurus Mountains, the Adana Gate - on the way to the east, towards the city of that name, and the Port Gate - facing the Mediterranean coast. The latter structure is frequently identified with the gate that the Egyptian queen Cleopatra VII used to enter the city. However, the currently visible structure was most probably built later, in the second century CE, and then rebuilt in the Middle Ages.
Cleopatra came to Tarsus in 41 BCE, answering the call of the Roman statesman, Mark Antony. His intention was to turn her into a valuable ally in the planned military invasion of the Parthian Empire. Cleopatra initially responded to the invitation in a reluctant manner, delaying the trip to Tarsus. Her strategy was to show that the queen does not come at the beck and call. Eventually, she came to Tarsus, turning her arrival into a gigantic spectacle. She sailed from the coast upstream Cydnus, now known as the Berdan Çayı. Her barge covered with gold plates, it was equipped with silver oars and purple sails. The ship was filled with flowers and liberally sprinkled with exotic perfumes. Cleopatra herself was dressed as the Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite. Mark Antony could not resist the charms of the queen. Therefore, in addition to gaining a powerful ally in the war that soon erupted between him and Octavian, he also became her lover.
By analysing the stones and the cement used in the construction of the Cleopatra's Gate, it is assumed that the original gate was rebuilt during the Middle Ages. It is not clear whether the reconstruction was ordered by the emperors of Byzantium or the rulers of the Abbasid dynasty. Tarsus city walls were demolished in 1835, on the orders of Ibrahim Pasha, the governor of Egypt. As a result of the First Ottoman-Egyptian War, waged in the years 1831-1833, the areas of Syria and Adana, including Tarsus, came under Egyptian control. The Port Gate is one of the few parts of the ramparts of Tarsus, which has been preserved to our times.
In the Ottoman period, the Port Gate was called the Feminine Gate (tr. Kancik Kapı). The name Cleopatra's Gate (tr. Cleopatra Kapısı) has been used since the beginning of the 20th century to commemorate the visit of the Egyptian queen in Tarsus. Currently, the gate is 8.5 meters high, its inner height is 6.2 meters, and its 6.5 meters long. Back in the 70s of the 20th century, the car traffic passed under the gate that stood over the street.
The current appearance of the building is the result of reconstruction works carried out in the 80s of the 20th century. Unfortunately, as a result, the Cleopatra's Gate lost its ancient charm, and now it looks like a brand new structure. Only a small part of the façade, which was not covered with a new layer of shiny stone blocks, gives an idea of its appearance before the renovation.
Next to the gate, there is a fascinating inscription from Roman times. It dates back to the reign of Emperor Alexander Severus, that is to the years 222-235. Interestingly, the inscription was discovered in the area of the New Bathhouse (tr. Yeni Hamam), erected in the Turkish period. In 1982, it was cut out of the bath's wall and placed at the Cleopatra's Gate. Originally, this inscribed block of stone, 1.45 meter high and 0.5 meter wide, was the basis of a statue. The inscription describes the city of Tarsus as the greatest and most beautiful capital of the Roman provinces.
The gate is not fenced off and no payment is required to visit it.
The Cleopatra's Gate stands between two lanes of Ismet Pasha Boulevard (tr. İsmet Paşa Bulvarı), in the centre of Tarsus. The local archaeological museum is just 500 meters away.