Turkey moves to protect ancient sites from mass tourism
ISTANBUL - Anadolu Agency
Fresh off of gaining two new entries to the UNESCO World Heritage List, Turkey is more eager than ever to exercise greater caution regarding access to ancient sites, in an effort to avoid the fate that has befallen other ancient sites damaged by 21st-century tourism.
“A balance must be achieved between attracting tourists keen to visit Turkey’s classical heritage and protecting ancient sites from being harmed,” Professor Neslihan Dostoğlu, head of Istanbul Kültür University’s Architecture Department, said in the wake of the northwestern city of Bursa and its historical Cumalıkızık district being added to the UNESCO World Heritage List last month in Doha.
Having presided over the UNESCO project for Bursa and Cumalıkızık, Dostoğlu said a more controlled and conscious protection of the areas would take place under the United Nations body.
The professor said a balance must be struck, as about 2.5 million overnight stays took place in Bursa in 2013 alone, excluding the number of tourists visiting the city in daytrips according to data from the Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry.
Turkey has been keen to preserve its heritage amid recent examples of mass tourism damaging unique sites.
In 2012, an ancient Mayan stone temple at Tikal, Guatemala, was damaged by tourists flocking to the site for an “end of the world” party.
Tourist hordes have also been warned off by local people on the remote Pacific Ocean destination of Easter Island – home to hundreds of mysterious carved stone heads.
According to news reports, pressure is also growing on Italian authorities to take drastic action against the daily influx of visitors to Venice who crowd the city’s narrow streets and Renaissance squares.
Noting that they had to submit a report every five years to the UNESCO committee over the condition of their sites, Dostoğlu said the new designation will make the city more careful about its heritage,
preventing building or construction work which might harm the silhouette of the historical view.
“One has to offer a management plan to UNESCO while applying. So, when we presented the Bursa field management plan to the committee, we specified the regions with a core field, which is the actual region under UNESCO’s protection and a protection field to make sure that the core field will be protected,” Dostoğlu said.
Amid the worldwide fears over damage to heritage sites, Turkey’s Permanent Representative to UNESCO, Ambassador Huseyin Avni Botsalı, said Turkey should be regarded as a super-state in the world with its civilization and cultural heritage and not as a developing-world country anymore.”
Turkey is now among the top 15 countries in terms of entries on the UNESCO list with 13 sites.
Problems in Pergamon
The ancient site of Pergamon – modern-day Bergama – and what experts describe as its “multi-layered cultural landscape” is expected to increase the international popularity of the historic site, according to archaeologist Bülent Türkmen from the UNESCO department of the local municipality.
The site receives about 450,000 to 500,000 tourists a year, but the homeland of parchment paper faces the problem of being known only for some of its sites, Türkmen said.
“While applying to UNESCO, we wanted to emphasize the multi-layered cultural landscape of the region, including remains from the Ottoman period and the historic city center, where people still live and keep shops,” Türkmen said.
Some other internationally known historic sites on the UNESCO list are the world’s first psychiatric hospital in Asklepion and the Acropolis hill, hosting great temples and a dramatic theater dating back to 7 B.C.
Türkmen said local sights like the Red Basilica, 18th-century Greek houses around the castle, the arasta bazaar from the Ottoman period, caravanserais and historic Turkish baths right in the middle of the city center had also entered the list.
He noted that tourists were coming to the city on daytrips and did not spend much time exploring, adding that he expected the UNESCO designation to change this.
Shopkeepers in the city center also welcomed the UNESCO move by celebrating the addition in one of the central squares last month.
Pergamon’s entry onto the UNESCO list will spur a market revival and contribute financially to the shopkeepers of the region, Türkmen said.
According to Botsalı, the ancient city of Ephesus near İzmir and the black basalt walls of Diyarbakir in Turkey’s southeast could be added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2015.
To be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of 10 selection criteria of which the first is to represent a “masterpiece of human creative genius.”