If you drive about an hour northeast from Adana to Dilekkaya village on the border of Adana province, you will discover the ancient ruins of Anavarza, also known as Anazarbus. Anavarza city sits on a rolling plain while the citadel stands above it on an imposing ridgeline.
While the city’s deep history is still murky, scholars have confirmed its existence as an Assyrian settlement sometime before 100 B.C. Anavarza became an important city after the second century A.D. due to the money and favor granted by Roman Emperor Septimius Severus. The Romans made Anavarza the capital of Cilicia during the 5th century and it served as an important border fortification for both the Romans and the Abbasids during the religious wars of the 9th and 10th centuries. In 1100, it became the capital of Armenian Cilicia and remained an important Armenian castle until it was destroyed by an Egyptian Mamluk invasion in 1375.
The city’s diverse heritage can still be explored despite the ravages of time, war, and intermediate earthquakes. Visitors will see the 1,500 meters of walls and turrets built by each of the city’s rulers and walk along Roman roads first laid 2000 years ago. East Roman mosaics depicting their pagan myths still shine in drained pools around the site. One could trace how religion changed during the medieval period by visiting the 6th century Rock Church or the later Church of the Apostles. Arabic inscriptions commissioned by the Abbasid Caliphate can be found on some of the ruined gateways.
While many large early Roman structures like the aqueducts were destroyed by earthquakes, visitors can still see the 1st century B.C. Triumph Arch standing in its full glory. Other Roman structures like the sports stadium, gymnasium, and theatre are also still relatively intact considering their age. Visitors can cap off their tour with a trip to the mountain citadel, last rebuilt by the Armenian kingdom. It commands an impressive view of the surrounding plains and the Taurus Mountains.