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MERSIN (İCEL)

Ferry port for Famagusta (Mağusa)                         Population: 940,000

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These days it’s hard to know where Adana ends and Mersin begins although officially they are still two separate towns in two separate provinces.

Mersin has few official tourist attractions although it has a lovely seafront promenade that stretches for miles. Since nearby Silifke has little inviting accommodation Mersin makes a good alternative base for visiting some of the archaeological sites at the eastern end of the Mediterranean.

Don’t leave town without: Trying a glass of şalgam, the ruby-red local turnip juice, and tucking into tantuni, stir-fried lamb or chicken sandwiched with tomato and parsley and a tasty alternative to a döner kebab.

Around town

MersinataMersin has two specific attractions, both of them within spitting distance of each other on the western side of town. The first, the Atatürk Evi, is a fine house in a lovely walled garden where Atatürk and his wife were guests on a number of different occasions. It was originally the German Consulate. 

The ground floor is devoted to a predictable collection of photographs and memorabilia of the great man, rendered almost impossible to appreciate by sensor-activated lighting that switches itself on and off in frenzied fashion.

Upstairs is calmer and gives you a chance to appreciate what most of Mersin’s finer interiors would have looked like in the first half of the 20th century, with a series of bed and living rooms opening off a central sitting/dining area, an arrangement that worked wonderfully in the days before the advent of television.Mersinmuse

The pleasant garden crawls with cats, tortoises and chickens. 

Across a small park the town’s Archaeology Museum (closed Mondays) showcases finds from nearby Viranşehir, and from Elaiussa Sebeste at Ayaş near Kızkalesi. The single most striking statue is a top-heavy 2nd or 3rd-century one of Dionysius with Pan and one of the god’s pet panthers, but there’s also a wonderful horde of 6th-century Byzantine gold found at Küstüllü Köyü, near Erdemli.

You’ll probably have to ask to have the upstairs ethnography gallery unlocked for you, but it’s worth it to see some fine examples of local amulets and a spectacular two-piece outfit in maroon velvet embroidered with gold thread that would have been worn by a local woman (although not, one must hope, in the high humidity of summer).

There’s not much left of old Mersin, although if you wander down 118 Cadde opposite the train station you’ll pass some lovely old stone houses whose wrought-iron balconies and wooden shutters looks so provincial French that you’re hardly surprised to turn a corner and come across a huge Latin Catholic church that’s still in use today.

Here, too, the old Akdeniz Oteli has been restored. Sadly, it no longer serves as a place to stay. 

Mersinhouse

There's an attractive area of meyhanes and cafes around the İcel Sanat Kulübü (İcel Arts Club) in Sanat Sokaği, near the Cadde Park Hotel. 

Mersin is a strangely subtropical place where palm trees give even the tallest concrete buildings a run for their money, and hibiscus plants and banana trees put down roots in the most unlikely places. 

They've done a great deal better with the waterfront which has been completely made-over and is now a wonderful place to while away a few spare hours. 

At one end of town the impressive new conference centre comes accompanied by fountains, while at the other end little wooden kiosks dot Atatürk Parkı. A marvellous collection of marble sculptures has been positioned here, including an outsize bicycle that no young man appears able to resist mounting. Sadly every one of these sculptures is covered in tags. Mersinarch

Eating

In Mersin you can give your tastebuds a cheap treat by dining on tantuni, tiny pieces of lamb or chicken stir-fried with tomato and parsley and then wrapped in paper-thin lavaş bread or sandwiched in half a normal loaf.

Wash it down with the sour local tipple şalgam - - normally turnip juice but sometimes fermented carrot instead.

Afterwards you’ll need a slice of cezerye, a carrot-flavored jelly sweet studded with half walnuts, or a piece of kerebiç, a local biscuit stuffed with walnuts and pistachios, to take the edge off the bitterness. 

Sleeping

Now that the bus station has been moved away from its old central location the hotels opposite it have been cut adrift. It remains to see whether they will be able to stay in business although buses into town from the bus station do pass by. 

Cadde Park Hotel

Hotel Yalçın 

Comfortable and well-run hotel across the road from the old bus station for quick getaways.

Tel: 0324-239 0153

Mersin Oteli 

Nobel Oteli 

www.nobelotel.com Tel: 0324-237 2210, İstiklal Caddesi No.

Transport info

Mersin is served by Adana airport (ADA) which is unusually close to the city centre.

If you're heading on to Adana or Tarsus the quickest and easiest way to travel may be by train since the station is right in the town centre and there are services roughly every half-hour. The trains get very full so you may have trouble landing a seat if you're not quick. 

In 2015 the MESTİ bus station was moved away from its old, convenient situation. It is now a good half hour's bus ride out of town; on my most recent visit there were no facilities for out-of-towners to buy tickets on the bus to the otogar before boarding although a local will probably help out.

Dolmuşes that take cash wait just outside the bus station. Both buses (Nos 101 and 102) and dolmuşes run to the waterfront and drop off near the post office/Mersin Oteli.

Buses leave for Viranşehir from near the Atatürk Evi - - catch the same bus back or risk a tedious journey round the suburbs.

Ferries sail to Mağusa (Famagusta) in Northern Cyprus three times a week. They are operated by Fergün (tel: 0324-238 2881). There are also ferries to Tripoli in Lebanon although at the moment they are mainly used by fleeing Syrian refugees.

Day trip destinations

Adana

Ayaş (Elaiussa Sebeste)

Kanlıdivane

Kumkuyu (Akkale)

Limonlu

Tarsus

 

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