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Ancient city does not actually exist, says Turkish minister

ISTANBUL - Daily News with wires | 9/1/2010 12:00:00 AM |

Controversy over plans for an ancient city was overshadowed Wednesday by revelations from Turkey’s environment minister that the site did not, in fact, exist.

Controversy over plans to bury an ancient city in western Turkey with sand ahead of a new dam project was overshadowed Wednesday by revelations from Turkey’s environment minister that the site did not, in fact, exist.

“There is no such place as Allianoi. It is just a hot spring that was recently restored called ‘Paşa Ilıcası,’” said Minister Veysel Eroğlu in response to a reporter’s question about the controversial plans to bury the ancient city, which is located near Bergama in the Aegean province of İzmir.

Eroğlu’s belief in the site’s non-existence, however, has been challenged by archaeologists and the Culture and Tourism Ministry, which describes Allianoi on its website as an ancient site that was noted for its health center.

“Veysel Eroğlu is not an archaeologist. What he said is really ridiculous,” Assistant Professor Ahmet Yaraş, head of the excavations, said Wednesday.

“Allianoi is the most protected hot spring in the world. Some 11,000 coins, around 400 metal artifacts, 400 bone artifacts, 800 ceramic artifacts and around 400 glass artifacts have been found during excavations,” said Yaraş, adding that only 20 percent of the city had been successfully excavated so far.

“We have found a sculpture of Asklepios, who was known as the god of health. Alliaoni has 400 surgical instruments, the highest number ever found, proving that the place was a hospital at the time,” he said.

Allianoi is just a fictional name, the minister said, adding that it had been restored by a former governor and constituted no more than an ordinary hot spring little different from other hot springs that can be observed throughout the country.

A total of $7 million has been spent on restoring the site since excavations began, Eroğlu said, adding that the work was conducted under the supervision of the Culture and Tourism Ministry.

“The ministry is aware of the importance of the historical artifacts and we made all the precautions in order to protect them,” said the environment minister.

Despite care from the Environment Ministry to preserve artifacts from the site – including moving sculptures from the hot spring area to the Bergama Museum and by filling the site with sand before the area is submerged by a reservoir – numerous groups have been lodging complaints about the authorities’ work, Eroğlu said.

“Despite winning 16 courts against the operations, the ancient city of Allianoi will be covered with sand before the waters of the Yortanlı Dam flood the region,” said Yaraş, adding that it was meaningless to debate what material will be used to cover the site since it will disappear forever once the area is flooded.

“Turkey has lost its reputation with the latest development,” said Yaraş.

Meanwhile, Professor Murat Güvenç, head of the History Foundation, also objected to the Eroğlu’s remarks, saying the ministry was preparing to bury the location without evaluating alternative options.

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Çağla Pınar Tuncel of the Daily News contributed to this report

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