The Fortresses of Cilicia – The Features of Their Layouts

The Fortresses of Cilicia The Anazarb fortress that occupied the summit of a steep mountain at an altitude of 200 m above the city of Sis was divided, in accordance with the terrain, into upper and lower parts, each fenced with a double row of high walls.

The lower section, pentagonal in its layout, had 56 square towers with a side of about 11.5 meters. The distance between the towers was 34 meters.

In the upper part of the fortress, the towers were semicircular. In front of the western gate rose a triumphal arch.

The fortress of the city of Sis built by Cilician King Levon II was considered the most powerful and impregnable fortress in the region. Almost all Armenian kings of Cilicia were engaged in the improvement and strengthening of that fortress since the 1170s until the fall of the state. This is evidenced by the inscriptions stamped on their coins.

On the gold coin of King Constantine IV (reigned in 1345–1363) were the inscription “Sis – The King of Fortresses” and an image of a three-tower structure featuring the main characteristics of the fortress.

In accordance with the terrain on the mountain, the fortress of Sis has an elongated shape and is divided into three isolated parts connected to each other with underground passages.

Thick fortress walls and semicircular towers have different heights and widths depending on their location and purpose. The southern part – where the royal dwelling with a secret passage and the staircase into the underground reservoir were placed – was fortified the most.

The fortress church, the dwellings of the courtiers, and one of the fortress’ water reservoirs were located in the northern section. In all three sections of the fortress, there were various rooms partially carved out from the rock massif.

Urban and especially commercial settlements of lowland Cilicia also had a developed system of fortifications. The territory of the city of Sis, in particular, was fenced with walls with numerous towers and loopholes. From the outside of its fortress was a deep ditch filled with water. In front of the city gates across the moat were built elevating bridges.

According to the description of Ibn Haukal, the city of Tarsus, in which the Kings of Armenian Cilicia were traditionally crowned, had a double row of stone walls. According to Yakhut, these walls had six gates and were surrounded by a deep moat.

The “Iron Gate” in the southeastern part of the city restored, according to the building inscription, along with the walls in 1228-1229 by Hethum I is a large pylon with a high ogival opening framed by a profiled archivolt. The coins of Constantine IV also contain useful information about the construction of Tarsus.

Aside from walls and towers, the seaside ports of Ayas and Korikos had two fortresses: one was located on the coast and the other on the nearby island that was connected to the coast by a pier protecting the spacious harbor from the waves.

The coastal fortress of Korikos, large in size, is partly erected on a rock and is in some places hewn in accordance with the shape of the outer perimeter of the double fortress walls. In front of the walls is a ditch filled with water flowing down from mountain slopes, the level of which was regulated by sluices.

The sea fortress has the shape of an irregular polygon. It is fenced along the perimeter by thick walls with round towers on the northern side and square ones on the southern side. The main square residential tower with the inscriptions of the Armenian kings Levon II and Hethum I adjoined the sharp corner of the fortress that jutted out into the open sea.

An arched gallery (only its fragments are preserved in the western section of the fortress) went along the perimeter of the walls. The roof of the gallery was used by the defenders of the fortress to reflect the attacks of their enemies.

To enhance the defense capability of the fortress around the island, large stones were scattered in the water, preventing the approach of enemy ships and the landing of troops. At the same time, the castles and fortresses provided maximum comfort for their inhabitants.

In addition to residential and business premises, all large fortresses also featured ceremonial rooms decorated with inlays, ornaments, and gilding for ceremonial receptions (Sis, Anazarb, Lambron, Levonkla). Chapels in the fortresses were usually built in the style of a vaulted hall.

In Lambron Fortress, the chapel occupies the lower floor of an octagonal tower covered in vaults. A fortress located near Lambron had its chapel on the top floor. In Sis and Anazarb, the chapels are made as independent structures.

In many fortresses, including the famous Levonkla, churches were carved out right in the rocky massif. The interiors of the churches were no less rich than the front rooms of the fortress. Particular preference was given to mural paintings, the remains of which were still preserved in the last century in the churches surveyed by V. Langlois.

Among the facilities of the fortresses, a bathhouse was a must. The walls and floor of the bathing hall were often lined with mosaic tiles and heated with hot smoke. These tiles are well preserved in the bathhouse of the fortress of Anamur.

Special attention was paid to the water supply. The reservoirs were carved out in the thick rocks (Guglak, Sis, Levonkla) or constructed of stone (Aintab, Sis) and were usually rectangular in shape with a vaulted ceiling. Many fortresses had two reservoirs (Aintab, Guglak, Sis) at varying levels and in different places.

One of the reservoirs collected drinking water either from nearby rivers (Kapan, Aintab) or from distant mountain springs (Paperon, Sis) via hidden pipelines. The second reservoir contained rainwater for domestic needs.

The water supply of lowland fortresses and urban settlements was carried out from nearby rivers. If necessary, water was supplied from afar. To do this, new multi-arch aqueducts of Roman times (Adana, Anazarba) were built. Alternatively,  old ones were used.

the ARMENIAN PEARL of the MEDITERRANEAN – Bayas Fortress

the ARMENIAN PEARL of the MEDITERRANEAN – Levonaberd Fortress




the ARMENIAN PEARL of the MEDITERRANEAN – Anarzaba Castle

Fortress Anamur
Fortress Sis. The image on the coin of Constantine IV (1345-1363)
Fortress Payas
Fortress and port of Korikos
Sis. Fortress, XII — XIV centuries. General form
Fortress and Port Ayas

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