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Turkish officials bury ancient city of Allianoi under sand

ISTANBUL - Daily News with wires | 12/13/2010 12:00:00 AM |

The ancient city of Allianoi, near Turkey’s Aegean coast, has been completely covered with sand in preparation for building a dam in the area, despite protests from activists and archaeologists.

The ancient city of Allianoi, near Turkey’s Aegean coast, has been completely covered with sand in preparation for building a dam in the area, despite protests from activists and archaeologists.

Though officials say covering the Roman-era spa settlement with sand is the only way to protect the ruins while they are submerged under the waters of the new dam, experts disagree with that assessment.

“The method is obsolete and it will destroy, rather than protect, the ancient site,” İlker Ertuğrul, a member of the Istanbul Chamber of Architects, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Monday.

The decision to bury Allianoi was made in August by a local natural and cultural assets preservation board in the Aegean province of İzmir’s Bergama district; it is still pending the outcome of a court challenge by the Allianoi Initiative Group, or AGG.

“Not only is this approach wrong, but it has also been applied in an unlawful way,” Ertuğrul said, adding that officials should have waited for the court’s decision before covering the site with sand.

“[Authorities] could have at least sped up the court proceedings for this decision, which greatly concerns the public,” Necmi Karul, the chair of the Istanbul branch of the Archaeologists’ Association, told the Daily News on Monday.

The Allianoi site will be submerged underwater after the Yortanlı dam is built. Unlike many other dams in Turkey, which are constructed in order to generate energy, the Yortanlı dam will supply water to agricultural settlements in the region.

“The [archaeological] excavations were stopped after it was first announced the site would be covered by sand, while construction work on the dam continued,” Karul said. He added that this indicates authorities did not believe covering the ancient city with sand would protect it from the water.

“Ten thousand square meters [of a historical site] have been covered with sand,” Karul said, adding that such a bad approach had not been used anywhere else in the world.

Civil society organizations, led by the AGG, have long argued that covering the ancient site with sand before submerging it is not a viable method of protection. According to Ertuğrul, the physical, geological and geographical conditions of the region make the approach particularly unsuitable to Allianoi.

“Water in this region has temperatures over 40 degrees, which will cause chemical reactions and destroy the walls, mosaics [and other parts] of the ancient site,” he said, adding that the site was not made only of stone, and that other materials, such as metals, could be oxidized and destroyed by water that penetrates through the sand to the ancient site.

“Water does not penetrate only from above, it can get in from the surrounding soil underneath or beside the ancient site,” Karul said.

Some villages in the Anatolian province of Elazığ that were similarly covered by water with the construction of the Keban dam in 1965-75 became intermingled with each other as the water caused the soil to shift, Karul added.

Ertuğrul said academic studies and research have indicated alternative methods of providing water for agricultural use in the region; experts will discuss them Dec. 25 at a panel.

“Allianoi is waiting silently out there, but we will not wait. Our [struggle] will continue with the same speed,” said İffet Diler, a spokesperson for the AGG, adding that the group will continue organizing awareness-raising activities and protests. The organization expects a court in İzmir to rule on whether or not the method used to protect the site was lawful.

Though it may be too late for Allianoi, a court ruling against the method used there could help battles in other regions, Karul said. “Many responsibilities fall to both people and public authorities, especially the Culture Ministry,” he said, adding that all protected areas have to be registered to keep infrastructure plans from being developed in such regions. “The ministry has already started doing this, but projects are moving with higher speed,” he said.

Some 300 members of environmental associations and professional chambers marched Sunday on Istanbul’s İstiklal Avenue to protest the construction of dams in protected areas. An exhibition with the theme “Allianoi Under Water,” was also launched Sunday by the AGG in cooperation with Istanbul’s Architects’ Chamber, to support the struggle to save Allianoi. The exhibition will be open until Jan. 13.

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