Tarsus, best known as the home of the Apostle Paul, was the principal city of the eastern Cilician plain. A city renowned in antiquity as a center of culture and learning, Tarsus was visited by such figures as Julius Caesar, Mark Antony, and Cleopatra. Recent excavations have uncovered more remains of the city from Hellenistic and Roman times, including a paved, colonnaded street. Tarsus, the capital of the ancient province of Cilicia, is located near the eastern Mediterranean coast of Turkey. Situated today 10 miles inland from the sea, Tarsus served as a port city because the Cydnus River (today the Tarsus Çayï) passed through Tarsus on its way to the sea. The river was navigable by ships from the Mediterranean coast to Tarsus. Lake Rhegma, a lagoon near the Mediterranean coast into which the river flowed, served as the harbor for Tarsus. During the 6th century C.E., Emperor Justinian moved the course of the Cydnus River to the east of Tarsus, while leaving several minor branches of the river to flow through the city. The city of Tarsus belonged to the region of Asia Minor known as Cilicia. Ancient Cilicia was composed of two parts, Cilicia Pedias (“flat” or “smooth” Cilicia) and Cilicia Trachaei (“rough” Cilicia). Cilicia Pedias was a fertile plain in the eastern part of the region, whereas Cilicia Trachaei was a rugged, heavily forested mountainous region in the western part, dominated by the Taurus Mountains. Tarsus, the major city of Cilicia Pedias, was located just south of the Cilician Gates, the main pass through the Taurus Mountains. Through this pass ran the major road connecting Syria to Asia Minor, thus providing Tarsus access to trade and travel over land as well as over the Mediterranean. The earliest settlement at Tarsus was likely at Gözlü Kule, a tumulus on the southeast side of modern Tarsus. Excavations under the direction of Hetty Goldman of Princeton University before and immediately after World War II at the tumulus discovered evidence that the site was occupied from Neolithic to Islamic times. At least as early as the 3rd millennium B.C.E., a fortified town existed at the site of Tarsus.
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