Ancient gymnasium to become open-air museum in Turkey’s İzmir
İdris Emen – İZMİR
The remains of the historical artifacts were discovered in 2016 when a firm demolished a 120-year-old business center in the Konak district in a bid to replace it with a newer center. Following the discovery, the construction was immediately stopped.
The İzmir Directorate of Museums under the Culture and Tourism Ministry then performed a salvage excavation on the site. During the excavation works, an ancient harbor bath, an imperial salon, shops and storage spaces from the second century were unearthed.
Upon the completion of excavations, the works of the teams were put into a report, which was then conveyed to the İzmir Board of Cultural Protection with the proposition of classifying the archeological site as first degree.
On Oct. 3, 2018, the board ruled that the artifacts have a complex structure, display a period’s socio-cultural life and thus must be regarded as a “strict preservation zone.” The board stressed that the site’s status will be reassessed after the groundwater is discharged.
Yet, with time, the groundwater coupled with the rainwater flooded the “strict preservation zone,” with the lack of protection measures to secure the archeological site raising eyebrows and archeologists calling for immediate action.
Since the ruins were prone to physical, chemical and biological degradation, demands on transforming the archeological site into an open-air museum emerged.
Following the demands, the İzmir Board of Cultural Protection prepared the museum’s project. Upon assessment from the Konak Municipality, the project was later approved by the cultural heritage conservation board.
“We won the tender to demolish the old building and build a new one. We had prepared a project for a new five-story building. When the ancient ruins came to light, we halted the construction and revised our project,” said Yaman Atatuş, the chairman of the firm in charge of the museum’s construction.
“We acted with devotion to protect these artifacts,” he said.
The construction is planned to be completed in August.
In order to prevent any floods in the archeological site, a drainage system will be set up and after the restoration and conservation works are finalized, the museum’s establishment will commence.
Meanwhile, the mosaics at the archeological site will be covered with glasses, to prevent any damage from weather conditions.
The museum will also include information panels, observation decks and walking trails along with cafés, restaurants and an education area.
According to archeologist Nezih Başgelen, the harbor bath and gymnasium, dating back to the Roman era, is exclusive to Anatolia. Başgelen said that the ruins were built after İzmir was destructed by a major earthquake after 177 A.D.
“Aristides describes his beloved Smyrna [present-day İzmir] and the city’s dazzling gymnasiums, marketplaces, theaters, temple areas, harbors, natural and man-made beauties which compete with each other,” he said.
The archeologist also said, citing Aristides, that there are so many ancient baths in the area that “one does not know where to lave.”
“The plan of the remains shows that we are faced with a part of a monumental bath-gymnasium complex,” he added.