Çukurova, alternatively known as Cilicia, is a geo-cultural region in south-central Turkey, covering the provinces of Mersin, Adana, Osmaniye and Hatay. Çukurova in Turkish means roughly “Low Plain”, çukur for “hollow, depression”, ova for “plains”.
Extending inland from the southeastern coast of modern Turkey, Cilicia is due north and northeast of the island of Cyprus and corresponds to the modern region of Çukurova in Turkey.
The region starts from Anamur at the west, extending east along the Mediterranean Sea, stretching as far north as Tufanbeyli, wrapping around the Gulf of İskenderun, turning south at Erzin and finally terminating at Yayladağı on the border of Syria.
The core area is Çukurova plain (formerly Cilicia Pedias), covering the area of Mersin on the west, Kozan on the north, Osmaniye on the east and the Mediterranean on the south. Adana-Mersin Metropolitan Area is the business and cultural center of Çukurova.
Most of the Çukurova region is a large stretch of flat, fertile land which is among the most agriculturally productive areas of the world. Throughout history, Çukurova was a gateway from Europe to the Middle East.
It is the shortest access point to the Mediterranean from the northern Middle East and Central Asia. It is a transportation hub, with its two major seaports and oil terminal.
With a population of almost 6 million, it is one of the largest population concentrations in Turkey, as well as the most agriculturally productive area, owing to its large stretch of flat, fertile land.
Adana is a major city in southern Turkey. The city is situated on the Seyhan river, 35 km (22 mi) inland from the Mediterranean, in south-central Anatolia. It is the administrative seat of the Adana Province and has a population of 1.75 million, making it the 5th most populated city in Turkey.
The Adana-Mersin polycentric metropolitan area, with a population of 3 million, stretches over 70 km (43 mi) east-west and 25 km (16 mi) north-south; encompassing the cities of Mersin, Tarsus and Adana.
Cilicia was settled from the Neolithic period onwards. In antiquity, Cilicia was the south coastal region of Asia Minor and existed as a political entity from the Hittite era until the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, during the late Byzantine Empire.
Dating of the ancient settlements of the region from Neolithic to Bronze Age is as follows: Aceramic/Neolithic: 8th and 7th millennia BC; Early Chalcolithic: 5800 BC; Middle Chalcolithic (correlated with Halaf and Ubaid developments in the east): c. 5400–4500 BC; Late Chalcolithic: 4500–c. 3400 BC; and Early Bronze Age IA: 3400–3000 BC; EBA IB: 3000–2700 BC; EBA II: 2700–2400 BC; EBA III A-B: 2400–2000 BC.
The area had been known as Kizzuwatna in the earlier Hittite era (2nd millennium BC). The region was divided into two parts, Uru Adaniya (flat Cilicia), a well-watered plain, and “rough” Cilicia (Tarza), in the mountainous west.
The Cilicians appear as Hilikku in Assyrian inscriptions, and in the early part of the first millennium BC were one of the four chief powers of Western Asia.
Homer mentions the plain as the “Aleian plain” in which Bellerophon wandered, but he transferred the Cilicians far to the west and north and made them allies of Troy.
The Cilician cities unknown to Homer already bore their pre-Greek names: Tarzu (Tarsus), Ingira (Anchiale), Danuna-Adana, which retains its ancient name, Pahri (perhaps Mopsuestia), Kundu (Kyinda, then Anazarbus) and Azatiwataya (today’s Karatepe).
There exists evidence that circa 1650 BC both Hittite kings Hattusili I and Mursili I enjoyed freedom of movement along the Pyramus River (now the Ceyhan River in southern Turkey), proving they exerted strong control over Cilicia in their battles with Syria.
After the death of Murshili around 1595 BC, Hurrians wrested control from the Hitties, and Cilicia was free for two centuries. The first king of free Cilicia, Išputahšu, son of Pariyawatri, was recorded as a “great king” in both cuneiform and Hittite hieroglyphs.
In the next century, Cilician king Pilliya finalized treaties with both King Zidanta II of the Hittites and Idrimi of Alalakh, in which Idrimi mentions that he had assaulted several military targets throughout Eastern Cilicia.
Niqmepa, who succeeded Idrimi as king of Alalakh, went so far as to ask for help from a Hurrian rival, Shaushtatar of Mitanni, to try and reduce Cilicia’s power in the region.
It was soon apparent, however, that increased Hittite power would soon prove Niqmepa’s efforts to be futile, as the city of Kizzuwatna soon fell to the Hittites, threatening all of Cilicia. Soon after, King Sunassura II was forced to accept vassalization under the Hittites, becoming the last king of ancient Cilicia.
In the 13th century BC a major population shift occurred as the Sea Peoples overran Cilicia. The Hurrians that resided there deserted the area and moved northeast towards the Taurus Mountains, where they settled in the area of Cappadocia.
In the 8th century BC, the region was unified under the rule of the dynasty of Mukšuš, whom the Greeks rendered Mopsos and credited as the founder of Mopsuestia, though the capital was Adana.
Mopsuestia’s multicultural character is reflected in the bilingual inscriptions of the ninth and eighth centuries, written both in Indo-European hieroglyphic Luwian and West Semitic Phoenician.
In the ninth century BC it became part of Assyria and remained so until the late seventh century BC.
Under the Persian empire Cilicia (in Old Persian: Karka) was apparently governed by tributary native kings who bore a Hellenized name or the title of “Syennesis”, but it was officially included in the fourth satrapy by Darius.
Alexander forded the Halys River in the summer of 333 BC, ending up on the border of southeastern Phrygia and Cilicia. He knew well the writings of Xenophon, and how the Cilician Gates had been “impassable if obstructed by the enemy”.
Cilicia Trachea became the haunt of pirates, who were subdued by Pompey in 67 BC following a Battle of Korakesion (modern Alanya), and Tarsus was made the capital of the Roman province of Cilicia.
Cilicia Pedias became Roman territory in 103 BC first conquered by Marcus Antonius Orator in his campaign against pirates, with Sulla acting as its first governor, foiling an invasion of Mithridates, and the whole was organized by Pompey, 64 BC, into a province which, for a short time, extended to and included part of Phrygia.
Armenian presence in Cilicia dates back to the first century BC, when under Tigranes the Great, the Kingdom of Armenia expanded and conquered a vast region in the Levant. In 83 BC, the Greek aristocracy of Seleucid Syria, weakened by a bloody civil war, offered their allegiance to the ambitious Armenian king.
After the division of the Roman Empire, Cilicia became part of the eastern Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire.
During the Roman and early Byzantine Empires, the capital of Cilicia province was the important seaport of Tarsus, where Mark Antony met Cleopatra, and birthplace of Paul the Apostle and Theodore of Tarsus, among other important missionaries.
The region became an early battleground between Muslim and Christian forces, and was conquered in the 8th century and remained part of the Abbasid Caliphate until reconquered by Byzantine forces in 962. Shortly after, in 1080, Ruben founded the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia.