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)

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Seleucia, a shrine among the pine trees

The road to Seleucia is now signposted and paved, no excuse for not going! Local villagers know the site by this very name, although some researchers suggest that its real name was Lyrbe and that Seleucia is to be located further east halfway between Anamur and Mersin under the modern name of Silifke at the mouth of the Göksu River (antique Calycadnus). The name Lyrbe, however, was deciphered on an inscription found on this very hill and may simply be the early name for Seleucia

Anyway, Seleucia has been traced back to Hellenistic times, which by itself is reason enough to set out exploring, although its origins seem to be much older as confirmed by finds from the Classical period and inscriptions carrying the unique language of Side. 

Seleucos Nicator, undoubtedly inspired by Alexander before him, founded many cities, which he named after himself, the best known being Seleucia on the Tigris (later renamed by the Roman as Zeugma). So it is no surprise to find this Seleucia in Turkey, some 15 kilometers north of Manavgat. The old track from the village of Bucakşeyhler is now asphalted and meanders to the one and only access to the hilltop which is otherwise inaccessible because of the sheer rock walls – a natural defense. 

This access road ends at the very city gate, a mere hole in the wall. A couple of wide steps invite the visitor inside where whatever is left of Seleucia presents itself as a shrine amidst tall pine trees in a sacred silence. This makes the approach over the steps of the threshold feel very special. A board gives a nice layout of the Agora, very closely resembling the drawing made by George Bean (Turkey’s Southern Shore)half a century ago – a proof that nothing much has been excavated since.
The centerpiece of the picture is filled by the Agora, the best preserved of Pamphylia I’m told. Some trees have been cleared between the entrance and the agora making the first glance one to never forget! On the left side, a wall shows a combination of different styles and reconstructions, apparently two separate façades one of which built with pilasters where the open space was later on filled with plain square blocks. The basement of this façade has two doors giving access to the two corridors running along the Agora on two separate lower levels.

But the most striking element is to the right of the Agora where the walls of the shops, two levels high,  nicely frame the square. The Granary of Hadrian in Andriake comes to my mind, but the shops behind these walls here are evidently not as big or as deep. Six shop entrances line up framed by a simple lintel resting on sparingly decorated posts, except for two arched thresholds above which run an entablature with triglyphs alternated with a flowered metope. The inside walls carry the square holes meant to support the floor beams for the upper level. One shop is entirely filled by a staircase strangely leading to a window in the back wall and it is obvious that more research is required to figure out where it once was leading to. The same remark applies to the Odeon at the end of the row of shops. This Odeon is accessed through four doors but inside no trace of seating has been found and the theory goes that there may have been wooden benches. The curved back wall consists of some original square blocks mixed with all sorts of rougher stones, apparently used to fill up the gaps that may have appeared after earthquakes in the region. In front of these façades, the well-preserved Doric colonnade at the edge of the Agora is still standing, with at the corner one of those typical heart-shaped columns, a melting together of two columns facing the inside of the space. Along this colonnade runs the gutter, leading me to believe that the passage between the shops and the Agora must have been covered. 

At the far end of the Agora are the remains of an early church which seems to have been modified repeatedly over the centuries. Maybe the vaulted entrance was part of it, or it may well have been an arched passage to exit the Agora, as suggested by George Bean (Turkey’s Southern Shore). More to the right, an entrance gate with a simple lintel is supported by one Ionian column and one plain pilaster, a late reconstruction of some kind, I think.
The meaning of the two corridors on the lower levels on the left is unclear – maybe they served as storage since vaulted niches run along both walls. Anyway, venturing to the right further uphill there are two small temples. The first one seems to be dedicated to Apollo with the intact walls of the cella and arched niches along the inside walls which are possibly where the temple’s treasury was kept as traces of front grilles are present. The other temple is less well preserved, only part of the entrance and the outside walls resting on the otherwise intact crepidoma.

Otherwise, the hillside is dotted with sturdy walls ready to collapse at any time, the purpose of which are anyone’s guess, a basilica, a church, a bath, etc. Two lone arches rise out from the forest soil; they seem to belong to a vaulted building connecting to the water system of Seleucia. Loose square-cut blocks, arches, and lower walls appear like ghosts among the shade of the pine trees. Looking back to the Agora from the road to the necropolis, a mere rubble of stones and slabs of all sizes and shapes, the hill carries the allures of a small acropolis.

The attentive visitor will notice loose pieces of fabric here and there which are the edges of the mosaic covers – a well-known practice to protect these precious floors. However, some mosaics have been moved: one representing the Seven Wise Men of Antiquity and another of Orpheus are now at the Museum of Antalya. Later chance finds have been moved to the Museum of Side. Time to go back to update my mental records!

The half-standing building to the north is clearly Byzantine or, at least, a Byzantine reconstruction of a church. Beyond this last ruin lies the edge of Seleucia offering a grandiose view towards the Manavgat River to the north, now a lake after the constructions of a barrage as so often done all over Turkey, and down to the shimmering sea on the southern horizon. What a strategic place to build a city!

It is important to remember that Seleucia has not been plundered in antiquity when it was customary to re-use stones from abandoned cities and buildings or stripped from their marble to be fed to the Byzantines limekilns. 

[Click here to see all pictures of Seleucia]

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