Discovering Adana: Food and mosque make trip to city worthwhile

Locals stop by a shop in downtown Adana to pick up sweets for the weekend, or have a snack on the way home.


By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 1, 2013

On a recent trip to Incirlik Air Base, I bumped into several airmen who said they’d never left the base. Instead of heading off post to do a little exploring, they thought of their military assignment in Turkey as a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of deployment: Focus on the task at hand and move on.

At first glance, one could argue they aren’t missing much. Directly across the street from the base there is a smattering of restaurants and a couple of clothing and tourist trinket shops that cater to Americans. All of it was rather unremarkable. Meanwhile, Adana, a gritty city of more than 1 million people just about five miles from the base, is not all that inviting either. The sprawling metropolis, with its confusing public transportation system, could be a bit foreboding.

I will not oversell this city. Adana is not the kind of trip one makes for pleasure. But if you’re in Incirlik and have a little cabin fever, Adana has some sites worth checking out.

During a self-guided walking tour of downtown Adana, my travel companion and I had two main destinations we wanted to check out: the Justinianus bridge, also called the Tasköprü (Stone Bridge), built by the Romans around A.D. 380, and the Sabancı Merkez Mosque, said to be the largest in Turkey.

The nearly 2,000-year-old bridge crosses the Seyhan River and sits under the shadow of the Hilton Hotel, which is probably the tallest building in the city. The bridge also offers a great view of the imposing mosque in the distance. After taking in the view from the bridge, my travel partner and I decided to make our way to the mosque. Aside from getting yelled at by a belligerent homeless man, the walk along the river was pleasant — a nice, tranquil green spot in an otherwise noisy city.

As we neared the mosque, we were approached by a local resident looking to strike up a conversation. According to our new-found friend, the mosque is Turkey’s largest, a fact confirmed by assorted travel sites. Built around 1998, the mosque can pack in thousands of worshipers.

While the view of the mosque from the outside was great, I wasn’t sure whether it was OK to enter. When our friend insisted it was, we took off our shoes and went inside for a look. The place was huge. It seemed like the Muslim version of a Christian mega-church. The grounds around the mosque also were lovely, with lots of walking paths and fountains. All in all, it was quite impressive.

As for the commercial part of town, there isn’t much to say. Plenty of kebab shops, bakeries, banks and lots of honking cars. Not a lot of charm. On the upside, there are plenty of opportunities to sample the local staple: the Adana kebab, which is featured in just about every kebab shop I’ve visited in Germany. It was nice to taste the real thing in the country where it was invented.

What else is there to say about Adana? If you’re in the area, give it a try. The food is delicious and while there isn’t an abundance of attention-grabbing sites, there is enough to make a day of it.


An Adana Kebab, ground lamb grilled on a skewer, as served at the Royal Restaurant outside the main gate of Incirlik Air Base. As the name would suggest, it is a specialty of Adana.

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