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Tarsus History, Turkey

At the beginning of its known history, Tarsus, Turkey was ruled by the Hittites.  Before that, the history and origins of the town are steeped in mystery, but modern excavations of the area have shown that it has been inhabited since at least the Neolithic Era.  Extensive excavations have not been possible due to the fact that the modern city was built over the historic sites.  The town was situated on several major trade routes and so it was most likely busy with a booming economy.  It was also a port town.

At some point it came under the control of the Hittites and then passed to the Assyrians followed by the Persian Empire.  In 400 B.C., Tarsus became the capital of a Persian province which means that it must have been an important city.  More than one hundred years later, Tarsus became part of the Seleucid Empire which was a smaller extension of Alexander the Great’s Empire after his death. 

Under the rule of this empire, Tarsus was influenced more and more by Greek culture and was eventually known as a cultural center.  Not only did philosophers, linguists, and poets reside in the city, but Tarsus also had several schools akin to those in Athens.  Before the middle of the 2nd century B.C., the city was known to have a library containing over 200,000 books.

Sometime over the next century, Tarsus became subject to Rome and was made the capital of Cilicia which was a Roman province.  By this time, Tarsus was a booming metropolis and was named Juliopolis in honor of Julius Caesar.  This was the city where Marc Antony and Cleopatra met in 42 B.C.  In 66 B.C., Tarsus was made an official Roman city and over the years was built into quite a grand sight.

Tarsus is also an important city in the history of the growth of Christianity.  It is possible that a small Christian community was functioning in the city from early on, but the most known history is related to Paul the Apostle whose works are portrayed in Acts and many of the Epistles in the Bible.  He was born in Tarsus and since he had been raised under Roman influence he scoffed at Christians.  However, he was met by the resurrected Jesus Christ while travelling and became instantly converted.  The first record of Tarsus as a Bishop’s seat dates back to the 200’s A.D.  Within 300 years, Tarsus was the home to seven Bishop’s seats.  During this time, many sainted martyrs were put to death in Tarsus. 

In 637, Tarsus was annexed away from Rome by the Rashidun Caliphate, an Islamic empire, who managed to hold on to it for almost 300 years.  Over the next few centuries, the city would be forced back and forth between various Christian and Islamic peoples until the Ottoman Empire finally took control of it in 1517.  During the Middle Ages, Tarsus was famous not only for its beauty but also for its fortifications and irrigated fields. 

In 1832, Tarsus was captured and held by an Egyptian Muslim sect for eight years.  During this time, they used the land surrounding the city for the growing of cotton.  A couple of decades after the Ottoman Empire retook the city, they found that the cotton fields were a favor to their economy since the crop was in high demand due to the destruction of the American South during the United States Civil War.  This jolt to the economy brought a wave of growth and progression to Tarsus.  A new major road was built along with many large houses. 

Despite these new economic conditions there were still some problems.  Neglect of the city’s ports for an extended period of time had turned the area into a swampland.  These conditions were fixed in the 1920’s after the Turkish Republic took control of the city from the Ottoman Empire.  Engineers had the swamps drained and a dam built on the nearby River Berdan.  The dam was used to build the first hydroelectric power plant in Turkey.  During the remainder of the century Tarsus underwent more progression and economic stimulation by means of farm and transportation technology and industrialization. 

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  • WazlingAncient Tarsus
    travel tip by Wazling posted more then 30 days ago
    If you are the the modern city of Tarsus, you definitely should visit the ancient city. The oldest parts can be traced back till 4th millenium B.C.
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