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  • Writer's pictureAdrian J. Boas

On a Black Castle and a Blue Stone

Toprak Kale

We called it bluestone in my recollection. Much of old Melbourne was built of it, mainly those bits I liked searching out, old buildings constructed in the goldrush era and the late nineteenth century, that had somehow survived through the city's modern expansion. It is very obviously black, of an intensity that gives it its discernible puissance but there is indeed a blueness about it that is esoteric, in the shadows perhaps.

After visiting Yilan (I am going back to that romp through southern Anatolia that my wife and I made in 2002) we headed east, aiming for Toprak, a fortress located about ten kilometres west of the sleepy town of Osmaniye near to where the Amanus range begins its ascent in the south-east corner of the Cilician Plain. From a distance we could see the black castle on its low, pine-forested eminence, but as so often was the case on this excursion, a site that could be seen no very great distance away seemed disconcertingly inaccessible, and neither map nor signpost came to our aid. Seeing a turn-off and some houses, I left the highway to ask directions, and we entered a village of several houses lining one side of the narrow road with a broad canal on the other. At a crossroads, a small child was bathing in the canal and beyond her a farmer was backing some machinery out onto the road, watched by an old man. I asked the farmer directions to the castle and after some confusion he appeared to comprehend and pointed to the old man. He would show us the way. I opened the back door of our car for him and he climbed in, accompanied by a smell so powerful that it was almost physical, like a thick blanket. He was a man of few words, making his directions known to us by pointing and grunting. Holding my breath and hoping that we would arrive quickly at our destination I followed his directions. We approached the castle on our left, driving along an unpaved road and over a low hill between fields of golden stubble, towards some more scattered houses. Here, after several more grunts and gesturing with his hand, the old man left us, leaving behind as a parting gift his robust odour that would travel with us over the following days.

Toprak is an enclosure castle of fairly simple design. Robert Edward's plan shows it to be roughly oval-shaped with vaulted chambers along its northern and western sides and parallel defences on the south and east, the outer curtain wall on those sides densely lined with archery embrasures.* The main defences are interspersed with semi-circular and round towers and an additional defence with both round and hexagonal towers surrounded the lower bailey and perhaps the medieval settlement on the west.

There are several interesting features, including a gatehouse flanked by two towers, the long vaulted passages along the north and western sides, and large shattered round tower in the north-west corner of the upper bailey, but what gives the greatest impact to this fortress is the stone itself, mostly the heavy blue-black basalt stone that has been used almost exclusively throughout, with only minor features such as the arches of arrow slits constructed in brick tiles and the occasional and limited use of a very fine white limestone for decorative effects, that contrasts so boldly with the basalt.

Like most other largely basalt fortresses, Belvoir and Margat come to mind, much of the stonework is of rough-shaped fieldstones rather than well-cut ashlars, the volcanic basalt being so hard to work. Finely cut stones were reserved for door and window frames and for the corners of towers, and, as is the case in much Frankish building, rather than being entirely worked these are often given stepped margins with the bosset left rough.

*Robert W. Edwards, The Fortifications of Armenian Cilicia, Washington, 1987, pp. 246-47.

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