Karatepe-Aslantaş Open-Air Museum

Top choice in Eastern Mediterranean

Archaeology buffs should make a beeline for the Karatepe-Aslantaş Open-Air Museum, within the national park of the same name. The ruins date from the 8th century BC, when this was an important town for the late-Hittite kings of Cilicia, the greatest of whom was named Azitawata. Today the remains on display consist of statuary, stone reliefs and inscribed tablets – some of which have played a critical role in helping archaeologists decipher the hieroglyphic Hittite language.

The first group of Karatepe's statuary is displayed at the Southern (or Palace) Gate, with views across the forested hilltop overlooking Lake Ceyhan (Ceyhan Gölü), an artificial lake used for hydroelectric power and recreation. From here, traces of the 1km-long walls that defended the town are still evident. Under the protective shelter are carved representations of lions and sphinxes and rows of fine stone reliefs, including one showing a relaxed feast at Azitawata's court, complete with sacrificial bull, musicians, monkeys and performing bears.

A kilometre-long circular path leads to the Northern (or Lower) Gate with Karatepe's best stone carvings, including reliefs of a galley with oarsmen, warriors doing battle with lions, a woman suckling a child under a tree and the Hittite sun god. The sphinx statues guarding the reliefs are extremely well preserved.

Karatepe's small but excellent three-room museum beside the main gate displays items unearthed by excavations here and has plenty of information panels explaining the site's significance. There is also a scale model of the site, which helps put everything into perspective.

Karatepe is a tricky site spot to reach without your own transport. If you're driving from Kozan follow route 817 south for 18m to Çukurköprü and then head east for another 18km to Kadirli, from where a secondary road leads for 22km to the site. It's easier to reach Karatepe along route 80-76 from Osmaniye, 26km to the southeast, which is served by dolmuş from Adana (₺20, 1½ hours, 95km) and İskenderun (₺25, 1½ hours, 105km). If carless, your best bet is to organise a taxi from Osmaniye, where you'll find a taxi rank beside the otogar. A return trip to Karatepe (two hours) with an hour's stop at the ruined Hellenistic city of Hierapolis-Castabala will cost about ₺150.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Eastern Mediterranean attractions

1. Kozan Castle

26.31 MILES

Towering above the surrounding plains, stunning Kozan Castle stretches some 900m along a narrow ridge. It was built by Armenian King Leo I in the late…