The early-Byzantine bridge over the Cydnus River is one of the best-preserved and spectacular tourist attractions in Tarsus. At the same time, it is easy to miss it because the bridge is located outside the city centre and only a few signposts show the way to this monument.
The history of the bridge over the Cydnus River, now known as Berdan Çayı, dates back to the Byzantine Emperor Justinian, who is known as the person who commissioned the erection of the Basilica of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. In the ancient times, the Cydnus River emptied into the Mediterranean Sea to the west of Tarsus, which was a port city. As it can be easily established, now the river flows to the east side of Tarsus. This change was due to the process of riverbed siltation by alluvial deposits. Therefore, the coastline was continuously moving to the south.
In the first half of the sixth century, under the reign of Emperor Justinian, the coastline was already far away from Tarsus. Near the city, a small lagoon known as Rhegma was formed, obstructing the river flow and causing floods in the rainy seasons. Justinian ordered to fix this situation by changing the course of the river. It was achieved through the construction of a canal to the east of the city to facilitate the flow of water. This channel is still the riverbed of the Berdan River. A bridge was built over the new river bed, and it is now known as Justinian Bridge. The structure of the bridge was supported on three arches, and the construction was about 60 meters long.
After the conquest of Asia Minor by the Turkish tribes, the bridge was called Baç Köprüsü, meaning the Customs Bridge. The origin of this name is easy to explain: the caravans crossing the bridge were required to pay a customs fee. It is unclear when the charge was discontinued. According to a booklet published by the Mersin Provincial Culture and Tourism Board, the fee was charged during the Ottoman period. By contrast, historian Şahin Özkan claims that the tax imposed in the pre-Ossian period, and abolished in the Ottoman times.
Justinian Bridge served travellers until the mid-twentieth century as it was a part of the main route linking Mersin through Tarsus to Adana. It was not until the 1960s that the southern Tarsus ring road was built and the bridge was put out of use. It was restored in 1978 and incorporated as a tourist attraction into the Kuvai Milliye Park.
The Berdan River, i.e. ancient Cydnus, has its sources in the Taurus Mountains. Its two main tributaries are called Kadıncık and Pamukluk. The river waters flowing straight from the mountains are very cold, especially in contrast to the hot atmosphere of the Çukurova plain. Two famous cases of unfortunate bathing in the glacial waters of the river have been recorded by historians. An ancient Greek historian of Greek origin, Flavius Arrianus, in the "The Anabasis of Alexander" mentions that the Macedonian leader fell seriously ill after bathing in Cydnus, although he later recovered. Caliph Al-Mamun was less fortunate, as he died after swimming in the river. In his case, however, the matter is not entirely clear, because perhaps the caliph's death was the result of poisoning.
Justinian Bridge is located on the Adana Boulevard, on the east side of Tarsus, about 2 km from the city centre. You can also visit the waterfall on the Berdan River, a popular picnic spot for Tarsus residents, situated 2.5 km to the north-west of the bridge.