Among the innumerable places of historical interest, located in the Taurus Mountains in the vicinity of Silifke, Diocesarea seems to be the most significant, and at the same time - the most beautiful one. The remains of an important religious sanctuary stand on the grounds of the humble village of Uzuncaburç. In the ancient times, it was the centre of worship of Zeus Olbios. It attracted pilgrims from afar and remained in the custody of the inhabitants of the nearby town of Olba. The meaning of Diocaesarea sanctuary can be likened to the role the temple in Didyma served in relation to the city of Miletus, or the oracle in Claros - for the residents of the Ionian colonies on the coast of the Aegean Sea.
The history of settlement in the area of Diocaesarea dates back at least to the times of the Hittites. Then, it was the capital city of Pirindu, a small Neo-Hittite state. Later, it was conquered by the Achaemenid Empire.
In the Hellenistic period, the cult of Zeus, the most important deity of the Greek pantheon, arrived in Cilicia. As often happens in the history of religion, the character of Zeus was there identified with the local deity, and as a result, it developed into the cult of Zeus Olbios. The most famous sanctuary of this god was located in Dioceasarea. The great temple of the Corinthian order, erected there during the reign of the Seleucids, was located in the place that, most probably, had been previously occupied by the sanctuary dedicated to the local deity.
Later, during the Roman period, a settlement developed around the sanctuary. It was known as Diocaesarea from 72 CE. The city minted Roman coins in its name. Many buildings were erected then, and their traces have been preserved to our times. Among them, there is a theatre, a ceremonial gate, and, most importantly, the temple of Zeus Olbios.
Many European travellers in this region of Asia Minor, saw the ruins of Diocaesarea. In 1890, J.T. Bent visited the temple of Zeus. He later suggested that it was built in the 2nd century CE. This conclusion was drawn on the basis of the comparison with other similar buildings of Palmyra and Pompeiopolis.
A few years later, Rudolf Heberdey and Adolf Wilhelm reached Diocaesarea. They discovered an inscription with the name of Seleucus I Nicator, one of the commanders of Alexander the Great. Seleucus reigned in the years 312-281 BCE, over the eastern part of the empire created by the Macedonian ruler. This discovery led researchers to re-examine on the date of the temple of Zeus construction. The shape of Corinthian capitals of the columns of the temple was an additional argument for the re-dating and crediting Seleukos I for its.
In the 19th century, the ruins of ancient buildings in Diocaesarea were in much better condition than they are now. In the meantime, many fragments were used in the construction of residential houses in Uzuncaburç. In 1970, the site began to be protected by the state. As a consequence, most of these houses were abandoned by their inhabitants. Some of them have subsequently been demolished, but many are still standing among the ruins of Diocaesarea.
The plans of the ancient city, made in 1908 and 1925, did not cover the whole area. In 2002, new measurements were made and used for the creation of a new plan, covering not only ancient monuments but also modern buildings of the Uzuncaburç village.
The first building that welcomes the travellers coming to Uzuncaburç from the Mediterranean coast, is a Hellenistic mausoleum, built around 300 BCE. 600 years later, it was restored and incorporated in the belt of fortifications surrounding the city.
The main colonnaded street of Dioceasarea was built in the first century CE. It is oriented from the east to the west. The most important ancient structures of the city are situated along this road. If you start from the east, the first building you can see is the Roman theatre. The theatre had a capacity of around 2000 spectators. It was constructed during the reign of the emperors Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus i.e. in the 60-ties of the 2nd century CE. The auditorium is well preserved, but not much is left of the stage.
The ceremonial portal (tr. tören kapısı) is situated 50 meters to the west of the theatre. Originally, the portal had five arches, and the statues stood on its consoles. However, only three arches have been preserved, and there are no statues to be seen. After passing the portal, the main street intersects another colonnaded street that starts from the northern gate of Dioceasarea.
Just after this junction, there are visible foundations and walls of a small temple with a podium (to the south of the road) and a monumental fountain i.e. nymphaeum (to the north). The water was transported to Dioceasarea from Limonlu River, 36 km away with the combination of canals, tunnels, and aqueducts. The fountain is dated to the 2nd century CE.
About 100 meters after the ceremonial portal, on the left (southern) side of the road, there is the most important monument in the village - the remains of the temple of Zeus Olbios. It was the first temple in Asia Minor that was decorated with the columns in the Corinthian order. The temple was an impressive structure, measuring 40 to 21 meters, with a single row of columns along its sides. It is thought that the temple was erected in a location where an earlier shrine, dedicated to the Hittite god od storm - Tarḫunna - had stood. In the early Christianity period, and more precisely - in the 5th century CE, the building was converted into a church with major architectural changes.
The ruins of the temple of Tyche, the goddess of chance, stand on the western end of the colonnaded road. In the Roman pantheon, this deity was known as Fortuna. The temple was built in the Roman period, by Oppius and his wife, Kyria. The inscription on it says: "Oppius, the son of Obrimus, and Kyria, the daughter of Leonidas, constructed this temple and presented it to the city."
If you turn to the right, to the north, before reaching the temple of Tyche, you will get to the Northern Gate of the city. It is a monumental portal, 32 meters wide and 12 meters high, very-well preserved. It bears an inscription stating that it suffered damage during an earthquake and was later repaired by Arcadius and Honorius, the sons of Emperor Theodosius.
Dioceasarea ruins are dominated by a high tower that gave the name to the modern village as Uzuncaburç literally means a "quite tall tower". It is one of the oldest remaining buildings of this site as it was erected in the late 3rd or early 2nd century BCE. It was the palace of the priest-kings of Olba. The tower is 22 meters high, and it was built on a rectangular plan with the sides 16 and 12.50 meters long. Later, it was incorporated into the fortifications of Dioceasarea.
According to official sources, the entrance to the site of Diocaesarea is paid. When we visited the site, nobody expected us to buy a ticket.
When planning a trip to Dioceasarea, remember to visit the ruins of Olba (4 km to the east) and Cambazlı village (9 km to the east from Olba).
With public transport: several buses per day connect Uzuncaburç with Silifke. Check out the time of the last bus back before the trip.
By car: the shortest route from the Mediterranean coast do Dioceasarea is the one from Silifke to the north. The total distance is nearly 30 km, and the altitude difference is 1200 meters.