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.