Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Drangiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum OR Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria on the Indus - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Selge welcomed Alexander

Selge is one of those hidden treasures just a stone’s throw north of Antalya that only few people visit.

The road leads through an inhospitable land with barren hills, rough rocks and recently burnt down trees and bushes, to the banks of the Eurymedon River, today’s Köprülü River that flows past Aspendos further downstream. This river lightens up the entire landscape, tracing a pale turquoise ribbon through the young green grasses and the dark pine trees. The repeated rapids in this fast flowing water make it very suitable for rafting, a booming business, it seems. Nature unfolds in all its splendour and once again I wonder if Alexander had an eye for this kind of beauty. The higher the road climbs, the denser the thick pine trees, creating a dramatic setting against the snow-topped Taurus Mountains reaching to 2,000-2,500 meters. The steel blue sky makes every turn of the road a picture-perfect postcard.

Inside the National Park of Köprülü, named after the Roman bridge that still spans both steep canyon walls of the river by the same name, I have to drive my car over this centuries-old bridge – quite an exciting experience! From this point onward the road takes one hairpin after the other, but the view is breathtaking! The Eurymedon River gets ever smaller and the view ever wider. Shapeless grey rocks of conglomerate curiously dot the soft spring grass with its profusion of flowers. The scene has something dramatic, unreal, but at the same time timeless - a primeval force. Then the first terraces appear, neatly trimmed parcels of cultivated land promising a good harvest. Above them the first houses arise, low constructions providing shelter from the cold and wind, built in the same grey rocks I saw earlier and brightened up with red tiles. This is the village of Altinkaya, actually built among the ruins of antique Selge.

Selge itself is spread over three hills, all three being located on top of the same hilltop. Nobody in his right mind would even think about attacking or besieging such a city! An earthen road winds between somber houses, a desolate place softened up by a few scanty blossoming pear trees. In antiquity, grapes were cultivated in these parts and even olive trees managed to survive the harsh conditions of Selge. Old sources also mention the presence of a small tree which produced a resin similar to that of incense; an occasional rare specimen may have survived. The grapes disappeared with the arrival of the Islam and today their living conditions look even more precarious than before.

Strabo tells us that Selge was founded in the aftermath of the Trojan War, during the second millennium BC. After that the Spartans moved in, followed later on by emigrants from Rhodes, but that the true history of the city starts with the arrival of Alexander the Great in 333 BC.

Selge was constantly at odds with its neighbours and that included Termessos which Alexander would besiege afterwards. So the people of Selge thought it wise to welcome the Macedonian King from the start. Later on, the city would do the same with the Romans although they remained independent until the fall of the Roman Empire. In the fourth century, the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius decided to settle the Goths in Phrygia (i.e. the northern region) who, warlike as they were, attacked and destroyed many cities in Anatolia. In 339 AD they also stood before Selge but couldn’t take the city.

Nothing has been excavated here and everything is left the way Selge was abandoned eons ago. Most remains are like elsewhere in Turkey from Roman times, roughly 2nd century AD. As always, the theatre is the eye catcher. Built in three-quarters of a circle, its plan is typically Greek; the 30 tiers below the diazoma out of the total 40 are still preserved because they rest on a rocky bottom while the upper 15 rows were supported by masonry that collapsed over the years. Close to nothing is left of the Roman scene that was added later on. Just before entering the theatre, I luckily notice the blank panel that never received its inscription. The theatre seated 9,000 people, meaning that Selge must have counted 20 to 25,000 inhabitants. It is a mighty sight, to say the least and the view from the top towards the snow-capped Taurus Mountains is absolutely breathtaking. I could spend all day just sitting here on the top row…

Through a gate holding the chickens I enter the Stadium. The owner of this parcel, an elderly man, kindly opens and closes his rudimentary gate in the fence made of all sorts of planks and branches wired together. I glance at his house if I may call this a house, four grey stone walls recuperated from antiquity no doubt but properly covered by a modern tile roof. Three months of the year Selge is covered under the snow, so this roof is definitely no luxury. The inside is a black hole with barren stone walls and an earthen floor, one room for everyone and everything. How can they possibly heat such a place? It takes some effort to discern the outlines of the Stadium, half broken down, half overgrown or disappearing inside some shack. According to George Bean (Turkeys’ Southern Shore) it never reached the full length of 185 meters, which was also the case with the Stadium of Arykanda and several others but I never seem to have paid much attention to the measurements.

The place is totally littered with loose stones, broken columns and pottery, and plenty of antique rubble through and over which one has to find a way to other paths, passing through more wooden gates and climbing over low walls. Yet I reach the Basilica on the second hill and suddenly I'm standing in the middle of the fully paved Agora, measuring approximately 50 x 50 meters. Remains of the Stoa that framed the Agora on three sides await craftsmen to put the columns back in place. I find a stone with a Greek inscription between Corinthian capitals and column drums, and behind that a row of loose square pillars line up along what might have been a street. Gee, if only archaeologists would come down here and excavate Selge like they did in Arykanda, it looks so promising!

I scramble around for about three hours, yet visiting only two of the three hills. I take a good look at the third hill from the top of the second one to define the impressive city wall, once three kilometers long. I’m truly baffled for I had no idea that Selge was so large and so imposing. No wonder that Alexander left Selge for what it was! In the middle of no man's land, at a height of 2,000 meters, what was the point? Yet this is a majestic landscape.

Returning along other tracks, I pass a spring of clear water in the shelter of a rock wall, in fact, this is the antique spring that is still being used by the villagers who fill their plastic jerry cans here every day as there is no running tap water.  

I leave Selge that looks still as poor as it was in the second half of last century when George Bean visited it, and I cross the same Roman bridge again. This time, I take the time to stop for a closer look into the deep canyon. You have to admire the engineers from antiquity to dare “hang” this bridge so high above the water and in such a way that it still is being used today. The wild waters of the Köprü River are squeezed through the narrows from which two waterfalls add to the spectacle. In fact, these waterfalls are fed by underground springs whose water is pressed through the cracks in the rock formation. I don’t think the rafting companies I passed earlier today will dare venture in this part of the river! A little further down there is a second bridge, the Bügrüm Bridge from Ottoman times that spans the Kocadere River, a tributary to the Köprü (old Eurymedon) River. There is a path leading over that thin arch but that is too daring for me. I also come across the typical red and white marks of the Lycian Way that follows an ancient road that once connected Side to Konya.

Yes, there is enough left for a second visit to Selge, some day soon I hope.
[Click here to see all the pictures of Selge]

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