Culture and Tourism Minister Atilla Koç said on Friday that efforts to save the threatened ancient city of Allianoi were continuing, noting that excavations started in 1994 would be kept up next year.
In response to a parliamentary question filed by Motherland Party (ANAVATAN) deputy Zübeyir Amber, Koç said that efforts to save the ancient site in I.zmir's Bergama district had begun at the same time as completion of the planning stages of Yortanl? Dam.
He said the relevant ministries had approved plans to save what they could of the city, with the dam's owner, the State Waterworks Authority (DSI.), allocating YTL 1.18 million to help the process.
Allianoi's rescue excavations will stop when the site is flooded by the waters of Yortanl? Dam. According to customary practice, the DSI. would by now have released water and flooded the ancient city. However, the I.zmir Board of Monuments overruled the decision and designated the area a cultural and historical heritage site of the first degree -- informing the Energy and Natural Resources Ministry of their decision -- and asked the DSI. to postpone the flooding and find a way to protect the cultural heritage of Allianoi before operating the dam.
Koç said: "Most of the nongovernmental organizations that are interested in the matter want the dam construction to be canceled. Such requests are forwarded to the Energy Ministry and DSI. headquarters."
The Culture and Tourism Ministry had decided to postpone flooding the dam until ways to protect the city were decided on, Koç said, noting that his ministry had set up a board of experts and the report they had drafted was sent to the I.zmir Protection of Culture and Nature Council.
NGOs up in arms:
Both volunteers and environmentalists have taken action against the likelihood of the 1,800-year-old ancient city of Allianoi being flooded by Yortanl" Dam, the construction of which is proceeding. Environmentalists warn that the city will be flooded next November if no measures are taken.
Villagers from the surrounding areas and people earning their living from agriculture dependent on the city are in a dilemma. On the one hand, residents are happy about the water they will be supplied with thanks to the dam, but on the other, they are upset that the historic town will be flooded.
Everyone in the region has extended their support to the campaign "Don't Let Allianoi Be Flooded," launched by environmentalist members of the Allianoi Initiative Group. Indeed, the group is still seeking both national and international support to save the ancient city.
Lawyer Arif Ali Cang", spokesman for the Allianoi Initiative Group, said the ancient city was declared a first grade archaeological site in 2001 by the Izmir Board to Protect Cultural and Natural Sites.
Stating that the ancient city cannot be ruined in any way, Cang" said this is not true in practice. "We heard the Culture and Tourism Ministry recommended that the DSI. coat the area [with clay] to protect it and that the DSI. agreed to this. [However] such a coating can inflict further damage," he explained.
"Under these circumstances, we'll file a complaint with the public prosecutor's office against the parties responsible for damaging the city.
"A 2,000-year history is being sacrificed for a 50 to 60-year-old project. We don't say that the dam should not be constructed, but the project should be modified in a way that will prevent Allianoi from being ruined.
"We had previously applied to the DSI. for a change in location of the dam. We haven't received a reply. Now we'll wait until May 7. If we don't receive a response before that date, then the process of filing a lawsuit will begin. I hope we'll obtain good results, but if we can't, we'll resort to international courts. The city is the people's inheritance and needs protection. The Turkish Republic must protect the city in accordance with the Constitution. Turkey has signed many agreements on this issue (Allianoi). Also, those responsible will face penalties under the law in the event of changes that are detrimental," said Cang".
Archaeologist Ergün Karaca, from the group overseeing excavations in the ancient city, gave more information on Allianoi's history. "It had been used until flooding in 1997. We've been excavating since 1998 and found a number of sculptures, old coins and ceramic objects. More importantly, we haven't come across any other architectural structure like the one here. It's a contradiction that a very well-protected health spa healing people throughout history is now to be ruined by human beings."
However, DSI. officials made it clear that the dam is to irrigate 18,304 hectares of the Bak"rçay River basin, considered Turkey's most productive agricultural land.
History of the city:
Historically Allianoi was known as the "native land of the health god Asklepion." It was established in the Hellenistic era and reached its most brilliant period in the second century under Roman Emperor Hadrian's rule. It had a reputation for being an excellent healing center for over 15 centuries.
According to historical findings, the ancient writer Aristides went there to in the hope of curing some unknown illness. Allianoi has spring waters in the therapeutic 45 to 55 degrees Centigrade range and it was the best-known center for thermal curative treatments during Hadrian's rule (A.D. 117 to 138). Recent excavations have revealed two ornate gates, streets with amazingly clean marble stones, shops, houses with perfectly protected mosaics, large squares, public fountains and insulas (places for resting after a bath). Surprisingly, the latest findings were some of the most perfectly preserved ever seen at an archaeological site; this was because they had been previously covered by alluvial soil.
Allianoi has yielded many artifacts and discoveries spanning the Roman to Byzantine periods. Since 1994 numerous parts of sculptures, ceramic pieces, metallic findings and glass artifacts have been recovered. Allianoi's treasures were exhibited to the public in 2000.
In September Europa Nostra together with the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the European Association of Archaeologists sent a letter to Ali Babacan, the Turkish minister of state for EU relations, and to other members of the Turkish government on this matter but to date has not yet received a reply explaining the position of the Turkish government. At the same time Europa Nostra launched an on-line campaign (www.europanostra.org/save_allianoi.html) seeking wider citizen support for the Allianoi appeal. This campaign continues to gain momentum, with supporting signatures received from 25 countries.