Tarsus: where Paul was born

Birth Place of St. Paul, Tarsus

Paul’s birthplace of Tarsus is one of the oldest settlements in Cilicia. Excavators working on the mound rising in the north-west quarter in the city have uncovered evidence of settlements here in the Chalcolithic, Early Bronze, Hittite, Hellenistic and Roman periods. Among the famous people of Tarsus is the name of Sit Aleyhisselam, known as Adam’s son Seth; he is reputedly buried in a mausoleum on the eastern side of Ulu Mosque.

A somewhat later, and likewise legendary, burial is that at Donuk Tas of Sardanapalus, the Assyrian king who is sometimes credited with founding Tarsus in about 820 BC. The Emperor Julian the Apostate was buried in Tarsus after his defeat in his battles with the Persians in 364. The Emperor also died here, and his heir, Hadrian, who was with him, assumed the power.

Alexander the Great marched through southern Anatolia in 334 BC enroute to his lightning conquest of the East. He stopped long enough in Tarsus to catch what was almost his death of cold swimming in the Cydnus River, The city has changed hands many times. The most famous person associated with Tarsus in religious history is Paul the Apostle. Paul was born a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin in Tarsus about AD 10 and spent his early years here. While still a youth he was sent to Jerusalem to study with Gamaliel, a leading Jewish theologian. In Jerusalem he persecuted members of the new Christian community and was present when Stephen was stoned. Continuing his intent to stop the new group from spreading, Paul went to Damascus. Shortly before he arrived, he was struck blind with the vision of Jesus who called him to witness to the Gospel. From then on his life was devoted to that mission. Paul was back living in Tarsus when Barnabas recruited him to work with the church in Antioch-on-the-Orontes. Paul made two subsequent missionary journeys through western Anatolia and into Greece. Tarsus originally was a seaport on a lagoon at the mouth of the Cydnus River and into the 10th century it was a hideout for Arab pirates. Since then the coast has gradually moved farther and farther out into the Mediterranean Sea.

Other Roman remains have been found in Tarsus. For example, the foundations of the Tarsus American Lycee are on top of vaults that probably were part of a Roman or Hellenistic hippodrome.