This text is a fragment of a guidebook to Mount Nemrut National Park: "The Secrets of Mount Nemrut".
Yeni Kale, meaning New Castle, is one of the several additional attractions that await the visitors who arrive at this region of Turkey to see famous Mount Nemrut. Of course, in a land of such rich and long history as Anatolia, the term "new" does not necessarily mean that the building was built a few years ago. Actually, the fortress is referred to as "new", because it was erected in the 13th century, which distinguishes it from the Old Fortress (Eski Kale) - the ruins of ancient Arsameia dating back to the 3rd century BCE.
On the steep hill where the New Castle stands today, there was once the palace of the rulers of the ancient Kingdom of Commagene. The inscription discovered by Arsameia by the German archaeologist Friedrich Karl Dörner revealed the existence of these structures. However, no trace has been found of this palace, and in their place, a sombre fortress was erected, clearly visible from the Acropolis of Arsameia.
The fortress owes its present shape to the Mamluks who built it at the end of the 13th century. There are inscriptions in Arabic language referring to the construction and renovation of the castle during the reign of three Mamluk sultans bearing the names of Sayf ad-Din Qalawun (1279-90), Salah ad-Din Khalil (1290-93), and Nasir ad-Din Muhammad (1293- 1341).
At this point someone might ask who were those Mameluks, to rule in Anatolia instead of the Turks? During the stormy period of history discussed here, that is the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries, Asia Minor was split into numerous political entities. This division resulted from the battle at Köse Dağ, fought between the Sultanate of Rum ruled by the Seljuk dynasty and the Mongol Empire in 1243. The defeat of the Turks resulted in a period of turmoil in Anatolia and led directly to the decline and disintegration of the Seljuk state.
Around 1300, the map of Asia Minor was a mosaic, consisting of petty kingdoms of local rulers from various Turkish families (the so-called Anatolian beyliks), and the areas controlled by the Byzantine Empire and the Empire of Trebizond. The eastern part of Anatolia was occupied by the Ilkhanate, ruled by the Mongol House of Hulagu. In the south, from the direction of Egypt and Syria, the territory of present south-east Turkey was gradually occupied by the Mamluks, who were the main opponents of the Ilkhanate.
Who were those Mamluks and where did they come from? The Arabic word mamlūk literally means property and was used to describe a slave. However, the Mamluks were more than just the slaves, for they were the elite military caste of Egypt, that evolved from soldiers recruited from the foreigners. People familiar with the history of Ottoman Empire may recall the Janissaries formation, which was formed in a very similar way, from Christian boys taken from the Balkans. The Mamluks were created as the military support of the Egyptian dynasty of the Ayyubids that ruled from the end of the 12th century and the first half of the 13th century, founded by legendary warrior Saladin. The Mamluks serving in Egypt were recruited mainly from the Kipchaks - a Turkic people settled at that time in present-day Kazakhstan and southern Russia. By joining the Ayyubids service, they converted to Islam and learned the Arabic language.
Over time, the Mamluks forces grew so strong that in 1250 they overthrew the Ayyubids and gained power over Egypt. Their state, nowadays referred to as the "Mamluk Sultanate", survived until 1517, when Sultan Selim I of the Osman dynasty formally ended its existence. However, the Ottoman Empire did not deprive the Mamluks of all power over Egypt, as it allowed them to remain a ruling class in this area, albeit formally as the subjects of the Ottomans.
At the beginning of the 14th century, at the height of its power, the Mamluk Sultanate controlled not only the territories of Egypt, Palestine, and Syria but also a large part of Asia Minor. In the north, it reached Malatya, and in the middle of the 14th century the Eretnid Beylik (tr. Eretnaoğulları), with the capital of Sivas, became the vassal state of the Mamluks. The area of Adıyaman, which is most interesting to us because of Yeni Kale Fortress, was under the control of the Mamluks from 1298 to 1516, although the Turks of Dulkadir Beylik (tr. Dulkadiroğulları) were controlling it on their behalf.
Yeni Kale fortress was used by the Mamluks during a long-running conflict with the Ilkhanate. At the top of the fort, there is a room called "Pigeon Castle", containing 32 niches for these birds. They were used as a means of communication, for instance while tracing the movements of the enemy before the Battle of Homs in 1281. In this battle, the Mamluks led by the Sultan Sayf ad-Din Qalawun won a decisive victory over the Ilkhanate army under the command of Möngke Temur. Interestingly, during this battle, the Christian troops of Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, Kingdom of Georgia and Knights Hospitaller supported the Mongols. After the defeat, the Mongols withdrew to the east of the Euphrates, which from that moment marked the border between the Sultanate of the Mamluks and the Ilkhanate.
Yeni Kale fortress was erected in a highly thought-out way, to maximise its defence. It is located on a steep hill, in a place that gives an excellent view of the immense area. The castle was surrounded by high walls, and only one gate led to its interior. There were residential houses, shops, a bazaar, a mosque, and a prison within the fort. Water to the castle was brought from a nearby stream, now known as Kahta Cayi, and stored in a cistern in case of a siege.
Renovation works have been carried out on the grounds of the fortress since. Apparently, they have been prolonged because of the death of the manager of the works who fell from the walls of the castle. In 2017, the fortress was still officially closed to the public, but if you are lucky enough, you will meet the guard, who has the keys and some spare time on his hands. In return for a voluntary tip, he will open the gate of the castle and guide the visitors to the area. You just have to mind your step - remembering the unlucky manager. Unfortunately, the guard only speaks Turkish.
There is a café near the castle, offering "Kurdish coffee", a hot brew of roasted and ground turmeric pistachios. It is worth to try this local speciality, but we have heard that it is better to determine the price before the consumption.
Yeni Kale rises over the village of Eski Kahta, also known as Kocahisar. To reach it, select the left branch of the road (37.944113, 38.648136) while travelling from Cendere Bridge to the ruins of Arsameia.