This article has been previously published as a part of book Antalya, Side and Alanya: TAN Travel Guide by Izabela Miszczak
In the heart of Köprülü Canyon National Park (tr. Köprülü Kanyon Milli Parkı) the ruins of ancient Selge stand among the modern buildings of a small village known as Altınkaya. Not many tourists get there as the majority of them are more interested in rafting on the Köprüçay river than visiting the ancient settlements. However, in the last few years Altınkaya has been attracting more and more attention of the foreigners who are walking along the Saint Paul Trail - a long-distance trekking route from Perge to Yalvaç (the ancient Antioch of Pisidia).
The beginnings of human settlement in Selge area, like in many other cases of settlements in Asia Minor, still remain a mystery. Even the most famous ancient geographer - Strabo - gives two versions of the story of the founding of Selge. According to the first one, the city was founded by the Spartans, and according to the second one - the founder of this settlement was called Calchas, a companion of Mopsos, the semi-legendary founder of Aspendos. If one accepts the second version, Selge history dates back to the Trojan War i.e. the 13th century BC.
Selge location, deep in the Taurus mountains, near the Eurymedon river, meant that the settlement was well protected from the attacks of enemies because of difficult access to the hill located in its center. Reaching Selge from the Mediterranean coast was an extremely difficult task that required crossing many rivers and negotiating steep mountain paths. In the Roman period the bridge was constructed over the Eurymedon River (tr. Oluk Köprü), enabling easier access to Selge. The ingenuity of Roman engineers has been proven over the centuries as this bridge is still standing and you actually have to drive over it to get to the ruins of the ancient city and further into the Taurus mountains.
Thanks to the proximity of the river, flowing towards the coast of the Mediterranean, the inhabitants of Selge benefited from trade. The city's main export was timber, obtained from the forests surrounding the settlement, which was transported by the river to Aspendos. Wood from Selge was then exported further, even to Egypt, where it was used for shipbuilding.
The aqueduct was built in order to bring water to Selge, and the system of terraces supported the collection of water and irrigation of crops, including wheat. In addition, Selge inhabitants collected irises, which were used in the production of the massage oil, and the resin of Liquidambar orientalis, popularly known as oriental sweetgum, used for medical and cosmetic purposes. The city also produced olive oil and wine, and the surrounding countryside served as summer pastures for the famous horses of Aspendos.
In time, Selge became a significant city, minting its own coins, with wrestlers and slingers. The name of the city that appears on the coins is Stlegiys, a word derived from the Pisidian language, which was used to determine the settlement before the Persian conquest. Selge coins strongly resembled silver staters minted in Aspendos.
When Alexander the Great arrived in Pisidia in 333 BC, the inhabitants of Selge sent an embassy to the Macedonian leader and received major privileges for their city as well as Alexander's friendship. At the end of the 3rd century BC Selge was the most powerful city in the region of Pisidia. According to ancient historians the city could then put to fight twenty thousand soldiers.
During the Roman period Selge retained a partial autonomy, which allowed it to mint its own coins until the 3rd century AD. At the end of the 4th century AD a strong earthquake struck the area, and, as the result, the aqueducts that supplied water to the city collapsed. They have never been repaired, and from that moment began a period of the city's decline. In 399 AD Selge successfully repulsed the attack of the Goths. It is also known that in the 5th and the 6th centuries AD the residents of Aspendos found in Selge a refuge from pirate raids and the plague.
In the Byzantine period Selge retained some importance, as evidenced by the remains of five churches. For some time it was probably even a bishopric. After the conquest of this area of Asia Minor by the Seljuks this great city was reduced to a small and insignificant village.
Although it may seem surprising, the ruins of Selge have not attracted a team of archaeologists that would conduct a systematic research of this place. In the 19th century Selge was visited and described by European explorers. In 1886, Karol Lanckoroński - a Polish historian and traveler - paid a visit here and prepared a plan of the ancient city.
The greatest ancient building of Selge still preserved in its beauty is the theater that was constructed in the 2nd century AD. Although the skene building collapsed some time ago, its auditorium, based on the slope of the hill, is virtually intact. It consists of 30 rows of seats under the diazoma and 15 rows above it. The top rows offer a spectacular view of the Köprülü Canyon National Park.
Right next to the theater there was a stadium. Currently, its area is overbuild by modern residential buildings, and one of its sides is visible in the form of a wall extending along a road. If you look carefully, you can see a few rows of seats, but most of the auditorium of the stadium was dismantled and used for the construction of houses in the village.
On the south-wester side of the stadium there are completely ruined baths. From them you can take a path leading to the top of the hill where the remains of two temples can be found. The larger one dates back to the 3rd century BC and was, most probably, dedicated to Zeus, and the smaller one - to Artemis.
On the other side of the hill was the acropolis, with a paved road leading up to it. There one can trace the remains of the agora and the odeon. On the same hill there are also ancient cisterns that collected water provided by the aqueduct. Below the hill stand the scanty ruins of a nymphaeum.
The entrance to the ruins of Selge is free of charge and the ruins are not guarded or fenced off, so it is possible to visit them at any time of the day.
As Selge ruins stand in the center of Altınkaya village, many of the modern buildings were erected with the material obtained from ancient structures. The village itself is small and, despite its relative closeness to the touristic hub of Turkish Riviera, appears to be very poor. Its inhabitants work as goat shepherds and each visit of tourists is seen as an opportunity for some additional income. You can buy from them local handicrafts - scarves, napkins and tablecloths at favorable prices, much lower than on the coast, and, at the same time help their modest budget.
In the village there are several small grocery stores and a coffee shop that opens occasionally, but the best idea is to bring your own lunch for this trip, because these facilities may be closed.
By car: Selge ruins are located in the Taurus mountains, at an altitude of about 1000 meters (3280 feet) above sea level. From the Mediterranean coast a road of pretty good quality leads up to Selge. As there are numerous roads from the coast into the mountains, to find this particular one, you need to identify the crossroads on the D400 route marked by the bronze 'Selge' signpost. It is located between the cities of Manavgat - 25 km (15 miles) to the east and Serik - 14 km (9 miles) to the west.
From this intersection the road takes you in the northern direction, to the Köprülü Canyon National Park. During the journey you can enjoy the views of the Köprüçay river, the famous canyon and the Roman bridge over it.
When crossing the Köprüçay river it is necessary to pay special attention and drive carefully as the Roman brigde, despite its solid construction, is very narrow. Further on, the road passes by some interesting rock formations called Adam Kayalar, slightly reminiscent of the fairy chimneys in Cappadocia.
After driving about 54 km (34 miles) from the intersection with the D400 route you reach Altınkaya village and the ancient theater is clearly visible from afar.