The world's oldest known ancient thermal city is scheduled to be flooded on August 15. Located in the very center of the lake, the city will be submerged under water. Yet fighting against the odds, volunteers and archeologists are trying to save the city or at least unearth it before all artifacts are lost under the soil and water.
The struggle between the sacrifice of a 2,000-year-old city for a 50 to 60-year-old water project seems to be tipping in favor of the latter. State Water Affairs (DSİ) second zone Director Ayhan Sarıyıldız says that the decision in the following days will probably go in favor of Yortanlı dam.
Volunteers trying to save the city, worked under the leadership of Scientific Excavation Committee president from Trakya University's Faculty of Science and Letters Archaeology Department Professor Ahmet Yaraş.
"Even if it is to be flooded on August 15, we want the permission to dig the area up to the last minute," said Yaraş. "We do not know what we are losing. International institutions want answers but the authorities gain time. They did not give us the excavation permission this year. They are trying to prevent a scientific research," Yaraş told the Turkish Daily News.
Locals also support the Yortanlı dam project. Villagers in the area, many of whom earn their living from agriculture, have mixed feelings as the dam will provide water needed for irrigation. The Bergama Chamber of Agriculture backs the Yortanlı Dam farmer's committee. The Chairman of the farmer's committee Bedri Çakmaklıoğulları stated that they did not oppose the ancient city. He underlined that the dam was of vital importance for the 60,000 locals. The farmers claim that the dam will contribute a lot to the district's economy with an annual net income increase of YTL 22 billion.
Yaraş believes that political leaders in the area promised excavations in order to secure votes before the elections, and are now turning a blind eye to the archaeological research. "The parties used the issue to collect votes before the elections. Yet, they should not ignore that trials are still ongoing. They have to wait for the excavations," said Yaraş. "They have to get permission for the scientific studies." Yaraş said a European Union delegation contributed 3 million euros for the preservation of the archaeological site. The European Parliament also contacted the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs in order to save the ancient city. "Yet this year they did not give permission to excavate. The ministry of culture is responsible for this. How ironic! They ruin the thing they are bound to protect," said Yaraş.
The local people complain about unemployment and say farming is how they make a living. Allianoi Initiative Members claim that the temporary local economic concerns will cost, in the end, an arm and a leg. On the other hand, excavation committee members hope that the government will not let Allianoi be destroyed.
Article number 63 of the Culture and Natural Heritage Conservation Law requires that the ancient city is not flooded, according to Allianoi Initiative Group Spokesman Arif Ali Cangı. "You cannot ruin a historical protected area. Someone is trying to make politics over the waterless farmers," he said. In 2005 the opening ceremony of the dam was on Prime Minister Erdoğan's agenda, but after the public outcry, it was brought to a halt, explained Cangı. "According to a decision taken on Nov. 13, 2005 by the Protection Committee, finding a solution to protect the ancient city was of priority. What changed now? Nothing!" exclaimed Cangı. "Letting the city be submerged is a totally illegal action. The project should have been modified at least not to harm Allianoi."
The floodwaters have not arrived yet but the decision is expected to be in favor of the dam. A team of diggers is waiting at the excavation site as the excavation clearance has not been given.
Home of Asklepion
Allianoi is located to the northeast of Bergama (ancient Pergamon) in İzmir. It is right in the middle of the Yortanlı dam reservoir area, where the Paşa Ilıcası (Pasha's Baths) is located. Throughout history, the city was known as the "native land of the god of health Asklepion". Established in the Hellenistic age, for over 15 centuries, it enjoyed the reputation of being an excellent healing center, with spring waters in the therapeutic 45 to 55 centigrade range. Up until the 11th century, it was regarded as one of the world's most important health centers. The complex has been adjudged a Class A archaeological site.
Many specialists, like archaeologists, art historians, architects, anthropologists, photographers and students of archaeology, art history, restoration and architecture departments of different universities are taking part in the Allıanoı excavations. The Pan-European Federation for Heritage " a non-profit umbrella group " joined the European Council and UNESCO and wrote a letter to Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül to save Allianoi. Since 1994, numerous sculptures, ceramic pieces, metallic findings and glass artifacts have been recovered, spanning from the Roman to Byzantine periods.