After the unexpectedly difficult ancient “road”, we were finally at the top of the hill by Corycus ancient churches. As I had already been here before, I knew the churches are worth seeing, even many times.  The point of going through the necropolis was to explore that area and to see it from a different angle. But I had not expected this path to be that difficult. Still, I must say it was worth the experience!

The church ruins in Corycus (Kizkalesi) are easy to miss and very few actually visit the place. In fact, from the land castle these crumbling buildings don’t look like much. Despite this, after I visited the castle for the first time I felt curious enough to have a closer look if I would have the opportunity. Even though large parts of the churches have been reduced to rubble throughout the centuries, they are still surprisingly interesting. Not only are there many fascinating architectural details, but the location itself is ideally placed with a splendid view over the castles below and the Mediterranean spanning the horizon.

Little is known about these churches and the city of Corycus itself. If anything the numerous ancient churches suggest it became a prosperous place during late Roman times (5th century). In total there are ten ancient church ruins, plus two medieval chapels inside the land castle. Four of these churches, or basilicas as this early types of churches are called, are located on the hill outside the walls.

During the Arab invasions in the 89th centuries the region become a no man’s land. After the first crusade it returned to Byzantine control, and later the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia took control of the city. As the heavily fortified castles from these times suggest, it became an important city again. Also thanks to the Silk Road which passed through here.

After the collapse of the Armenian kingdom in the late 14th century, the city was taken over by the kingdom of Cyprus and later by the Karamanids. In the 15th century the city is mentioned by Venetian traveler Giosafat Barbaro, who describes a well constructed large church with marble columns and beautiful statues. At some point thereafter the city seems to have been abandoned (again). Only since the last 60-70 years has it become more populated again. This time as a resort known as Kizkalesi.

The original names of the churches are unknown. In the early 20th century the German archaeologists Herzfeld and Guyer designated the churches according to their interpretations of architectural features.  Such as “Tomb Church”, “Transept Church” and “Monastic Church”. Their bases for these names have not gone without criticism though. For example, Stephen Hill argues the church they’ve designated as the “Armenian church” has the same ancient origin as the others, and not medieval as suggested. The name “Tomb Church” was based on the idea that the church was built around a tower like tomb structure. Even though this idea has been discarded the name still adequately describes the church since it contains and is surrounded by sarcophagi. 

The tower structure has been part of a larger discussion about this regions influence on Byzantine church architecture. Cilicia has been viewed by many researchers as a backwaters area, where the architecture was based on outside archetypes. However, already in 1905 British archaeologist Gertrude Bell argued that the local architecture was independent. This was later backed up by other researchers. It has been suggested that the square tower structure has held a dome. Such as can also be seen on some other regional churches. Hill has grouped these together as “Domed Basilicas”. Following this, the question is if there is a connection between the Domed Basilicas and the later Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.

“Transept Church”. After the “Tomb Church” this is the second largest. Both share many architectural elements, and it has been suggested that the same master architect lies behind both.

“Tomb Church”

Canopy over an entrance

A side apse of the “Armenian Church”. Not so much more remains standing.

“Monastic Church”. A bit smaller and hidden among the trees, but a lot still standing.

A Scary Find

Remember the empty shotgun shells we found around the necropolis? When we were about to leave, we found the explanation just below one of the churches. We noticed something furry, which at a first glance looked like a bear, lying between some rocks. Upon a closer inspection it turned out to be a dead boar. Which makes more sense, since there are no bears in this area.  It might seem like a waste of meat to leave it like this, but eating pig is kind of a taboo here. Besides it might not be a good idea to eat it if you don’t know how to cook it well. Since boar can carry pretty nasty parasites.

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