Very few tour groups have a chance to visit Tarsus and if they do, they typically visit only the excavations in the center of town (see previous post) and the associated “Well of St. Paul“). However, there is a very very massive building that is hard to locate and is situated on the edges of residential and industrial neighborhoods. It is called the “Donuktash” (Turkish for “frozen stones”). The foundation seems to be composed of a hardened conglomerate of medium size pebbles.
View looking north along the eastern wall of the Donuktash. The preserved portion of this foundation reaches to a height of about 15 ft. [4.6 m.]. This foundation wall is 335 ft. [102 m.] long — about the length of a football field! Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.
This mysterious and massive structure is apparently the foundation of a large, second century A.D., Roman Temple. The exterior core of the temple remains, as do some significant interior foundations—for the marble and stone facing have been stripped away during the centuries.
View looking south at the current interior space of the Donuktash. It is longer than a “football field!” Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.
The exterior walls are visible on the right (west) and left (east) sides of the image. In the far center is a massive foundation upon which the central building (cella) of the temple probably stood. Even though this picture was not taken from the extreme north end of the Donuktash, it does give some perspective to its size—335 ft. [102 m.] long. The whole structure awaits excavation.
The Donuktash may have been an Imperial Temple dedicated to the Roman Emperor Commodus (A.D. 177–192).
To view additional images of the Donuktash Click Here.
When we visited the site the gate was locked (it always is) and it seemed impossible to find a way in. I thought to myself that there was no way to keep out the local children, so I asked our guide to ask the neighbor “how to the kids get in?” Well, the answer was, “there is a ladder around the back!” So, we climbed the latter to examine the interior! (remember the walls are 15 ft. high!)
Students checking out the “cella” of the building.
Investigating the walls of the Donuktash.
Exiting the Donuktash.
Tarsus was the birthplace of Paul the apostle(Acts 22:3). It is located at the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea, about 9.5 mi. [15 km.] inland along the Cydnus River. In Paul’s day the city was one of the top five intellectual centers of the Roman world — a center for the Stoics. In Paul’s day possibly 100,000 people lived there.
View looking northwest at the current excavations at ancient Tarsus—at the Cumhuriyet Alani. The 23 ft. [7 m.] wide road dates to the second century B.C. while the colonnade (visible on the right, northeast, side of the road) probably dates to the third or fourth centuries A.D. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.
Not much of ancient Tarsus is visible on the surface. However, in the wake of urban development in downtown Tarsus, an ancient street and associated structures were found. The street itself was in existence in Paul’s day. Tarsus was an important center for east-west transit traffic.
Paul was actually a citizen of this distinguished city (Acts 9:11; 21:39—he was also a Roman Citizen). Since he was sent to Jerusalem at an early age, to be trained there under the famous Rabbi Gamaliel, it probably wasn’t until after his conversion that Paul interacted with the Greco-Roman culture of Tarsus — spending some 12–13 years there before embarking on his first missionary journey.
View of the waterfall (Turkish: “Selale”) on the river that runs through Tarsus. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.
Paul probably passed though Tarsus as he began his second and third missionary journeys.