One of the most important focal point of many civilizations and an important stop for traders, Tarsus in Mersin city is an important place with its history going back over 6,000 years. Besides its stunning history, it is also famous for being the meeting point of Mark Antony and Cleopatra and the birthplace of Paul the Apostle.
St. Paul’s birthplace of Tarsus is one of the oldest settlements in Cilicia. Excavators, working on the mound rising in the northwest quarter of the city have uncovered evidence of settlements here in the Chalcolithic (fourth millennium BC), Early Bronze, Hittite, Hellenistic and Roman periods.
Alexander the Great marched through southern Anatolia in 334 BC on the route to his lightning conquest of the East. He stopped long enough in the area to catch what was almost his death of cold swimming in the Cydnus River. When his empire was divided, the southern portion fell to his general Seleukos Nikator. In 66 BC, the government of the province of Cilicia - and of the place as the capital - passed from Seleucid administration to that of Rome. Mark Antony made it a city free of some taxations, perhaps because he had been captivated by one of the age’s more popular flirts, Cleopatra, who sailed into the city port to meet him with all her flags flying.
According to Plutarch, Cleopatra arrived "... sailing up the river Cyndus in a barge with a gilded stern, outspread sails of purple, and silver oars moving in time to the sound of flutes, pipes, and harps. Dressed like Aphrodite, the goddess of love Cleopatra lay beneath an awning bespangled with gold, while the boys like painted cupids stood at each side fanning her."
The Emperor Julian the Apostate was buried in this city after his defeat in his battles with the Persians in 364. The place of that grave is no longer known. Emperor Trajan also died here, and his heir, Hadrian who was with him, assumed the power.
The most famous person associated with the city in religious history is Paul the Apostle. Paul was born a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin in this place about AD 10 and spent his early years here. His father was a Roman citizen; Paul inherited that citizenship and its rights.
It originally was a seaport on a lagoon at the mouth of the Cydnus River. But, during the reign of Justinian in the 5 century, the course of the river was altered in a vain attempt to save the city from periodic flooding and to stave off the demise of Tarsus as a port.
The most striking evidence of the Hellenistic and Roman wall of the city is the west city gate called popularly either Cleopatra’s Gate or St. Paul’s Gate.
Some traditions are associated with an old structure known as Saint Paul’s Well. Numerous people believe that the water from the well has healing properties.