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Rumkale

The last stop on our route is the natural wonder of Rumkale: a peninsula jutting out into a lake, its steep cliffs rising from the brilliant green water. Its spectacular magnificence has dazzled civilizations throughout the ages, and it was the site of one of the most important Christian centres in history. 

Water rose to surround Rumkale on three sides when the Birecik Dam became operational. Apart from Rumkale’s incredible cultural riches, it also charms with its natural beauty, and visitors can enjoy hiking and boat trips here.

Access to Rumkale is via the village of Kasaba, 25 kilometres from Yavuzeli. It can also be reached by boat from Sıtma Pınarı (Sıtma Spring) exactly opposite the castle.  You can also hire a speed boat, row boat or pedalo to get to Rumkale, or to cruise the waters of the Euphrates River. There is a picnic area, and the river offers great opportunities for fishing as it contains 12-13 species of fish. The most famous of these is the şabut or shabut barb (Barbus grypus). Other varieties include the common carp – known here as pullu, and other carp species; bass (levrek); catfish (yayın); and others locally called kersit, ağ balığı, tahtacı, köpükcü and mezmençil. If you are not into catching your own, you can still enjoy delicious local fish at one of the restaurants at Sıtma Pınarı.

Rumkale and the surrounding area host many international sporting events. Various legs of the World Offshore Championships (powerboat) are held in Rumkale.

Rumkale is a spectacular sight whether viewed from a boat on the Euphrates or from the hilltop opposite. If you want to take a closer look at the castle itself, there are boats to take you to its east entrance. You step off the boat onto a floating dock at the foot of the steps up to the castle. Just beyond a wooden gate at the top of the stairs, lie the remains of a watchtower.  Following the walkways added during restoration work, after 80 metres you reach a 75-metre-deep well. The brave can follow the path all the way to the bottom of the spiralling well. After the well, the path leads on to the Barşavma Monastery and the Church of St. Nerses. Along the way, you will see the main walls and towers, and other various remains. Your journey ends at the west entrance, where the boat will come to take you back.

You should take care where you step, especially in summer, since the castle is home to snakes, scorpions and other animals that may present a danger. In particular, local villagers warn of the prevalence of a species they call the kör yılan or “blind snake”.

The fortress of Rumkale is situated on the steep rocky hill at the junction of the River Euphrates and the Merzimen Stream. 

The fortress has borne many different names throughout history, such as Fitamrat, Kal-a Rhomayta, Hromklay, Ranculat, Kal-at el Rum, Kal-at el Müslimin and Kale-i Zerrin (Gold Castle), and remains of the building are characteristic of the Late Roman and Middle Ages.   

The castle had strong defenses and a strategic location commanding a stretch of the Euphrates, and it was occupied in turn by the Hittites, Assyrians, Medes, Persians, Romans and Arabs.

Rumkale has two main entrances, one on the east and one on the west side. The eastern entrance is on the River Euphrates, and the western is on the Merzimen Stream. The ramparts are 230 m long, enclosing an area that is 120 m wide. There are seven rectangular towers along the north and east walls, and there are many embrasures on the north side.  The ramparts lie mainly in ruins as a result of war and earthquakes. The gates exhibit extremely fine stone carving.

Structures that can be seen at the fortress today include the Aziz Nerses Church, the Barshavma Monastery, many building remains, water cisterns, a well and trench. 

Rumkale played an important role in the history of Christianity, as John the disciple of Jesus settled here in Roman times and spread the Christian religion in the area. It is said that John hid a Bible manuscript in a cave at Rumkale, and later took copies from here to Beirut.

THE BARSHAVMA MONASTERY

The Jacobite Saint Barshavma himself had this monastery built in the 13th century. It consists of two adjacent buildings, only one portion of which has survived to the present. The monastery is in the north part of the castle, inside the ramparts. It is positioned on a northeast-southwest axis, with a rock face forming its north wall. The structure was probably square; divided into square-shaped sections by three free-standing square piers and pointed arches extending to the walls; and having a cross-vaulted roof. 

There is a relieving arch over the door.  The room divisions are undiscernable due to the soil and rubble filling the building. However, there are some rough-shaped rooms hollowed out of the rock on the north side, and a deep niche with pointed archway on the east wall.  Three types of cut stone were used in its construction: massive blocks in the walls; the type of smooth-cut ashlar widely used in the area for the piers and west door; and stones cut to resemble brick in the arches and roof. 

THE CHURCH OF ST. NERSES

This church is thought to have been built by – or in memory of – the Patriarch Aziz Nerses who died in Rumkale in 1173, and is therefore estimated to date from the 12th century.

The church is in the south part of the castle, within its ramparts. It is rectangular, situated on an east-west axis, and has three naves and three apses, with the narthex on the west side. Only a part of the east wall of the apse is built on soil. Under the Armenians, the church was the seat of the katholikos from 1113 to 1292. It was turned into a mosque by the Mamluks.

Today, the structure lies in ruins apart from the portion of the east wall against the hillside. The east wall still stands up to the level of the apse window. 

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The contents of this publication, which has been prepared by the 2013 Economic Development Financial Support Programme of the Silk Road Development Agency does not represent the views of the Silk Road Development Agency and/or the Ministry of Development. Sole responsibility for the content lies with Neva Bilgi Teknolojileri Medya ve Danışmanlık Hizmetleri San. Tic. Ltd. Şti.

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Rumkale Tour and Alternative

  • Şenlikçe Sarcophagus

    If you pass by the village of Şenlikçe to the east of Yavuzeli, don’t miss the house with Roman remains in the garden. The 1.5 ton limestone sarcophagus is just lying in the garden of a village house. It was discovered during digging for sewage works, and dates from the Roman period.

  • Yarımca Quarry

    Travelling southwest from Balıklıgöl and turning right onto an asphalt road after one km, the Yarımca Quarry is about 500 m along, on the barren hillside to the left.  The stones quarried here were used in the nearby Roman road and bridge. On the vertical cut face of the quarry is carved a relief depicting a god, and an eagle on the left. 

  • Sultan Murad Bridge

    Going southwest from Balıklıgöl for one km and following the path to the left, you will reach the Sultan Murad Bridge via a route running parallel to the Merzimen Stream. The road is rough, but still passable by car. The bridge, which dates from 200 AD, is surrounded by mountains.

  • Balıklıgöl

    Balıklıgöl is in the village of Yarımca, about 10 km east of Yavuzeli. Proceed past the fields surrounded by pistachio trees, and over the Ibrahim Alan bridge.

    Nobody eats the fish in this 250 m2 pool as they are considered sacred. Local people explain that the fish arise spontaneously in the natural underground spring which wells up here. The wishing trees around the pool are festooned with rags symbolizing the many wishes they have perhaps helped come true. 

  • Dolmen Tomb

    To see the Late Bronze Age Dolmen Tombs, go northwards on the Yavuzeli to Araban road. Called gavrikul (stones with holes) by locals, the tombs are 2 km north of the hamlet of Akkuyu near Küçükkarakuyu Village. 

    A dolmen is a megalithic, single-chambered tomb, consisting of a giant, flat stone block laid on top of three upright ones. The fallen stones of another ruined tomb can be seen next to the intact dolmen.  Further stones in this 850 m2 area in the limestone foothills of Karadağ, are evidence that there were once numerous dolmens here.

  • Cingife Castle

    The 30-metre-high tumulus you will see when you come to the town of Yavuzeli is known as Cingife Castle, Cingife being the former name of the town.  According to hearsay, the name derives from a Genoese settlement that existed here at an uncertain date in the past.

    Fortress walls and stones from ramparts appear in various places on the sides of the mound. Closer examination reveals traces of Early Bronze Age buildings. Yavuzeli grew up around the tumulus and the town’s first houses, made of mudbrick, can be seen today on the east, south, and west sides of the tumulus.  At the top of the mound is a concrete building and transmitting antenna. 

  • Akdeğirmen Bridge

    The Akdeğirmen Bridge is on the Merzimen Stream, 4 km south of Ballık Village and 28 km along the old Gaziantep to Yavuzeli road travelling northwest.

    The bridge is built of ashlar and is well-preserved. It spans the Merzimen Stream from north to south; and is 60 metres long, 5 metres wide and 4 metres high. It has a total of six arches, one main pointed arch flanked by smaller ones.

  • Roman Watchtower

    The ruins of the Saraymağara Watchtower are about 25 km northeast of Dülük Village, by the side of the road linking the villages of Saraymağara and Büyükkarakuyu.

    The tower was on the ancient road connecting Doliche and Samosata in Roman times, and traces of the road can still be seen.  Seven rows of the northeast wall of the watchtower are still standing at the entrance to a vineyard house, but the other walls are largely destroyed. Nowadays, rather than an ancient ruin, it seems more like a recently demolished part of the house next door.