Canal project threatens ancient Ephesus in western Turkey

Canal project threatens ancient Ephesus in western Turkey

Özgen Acar
Canal project threatens ancient Ephesus in western Turkey

The ancient city of Ephesus, one of the pearls of Turkey in the Aegean province of İzmir’s Selçuk district, is currently at risk from a projected new "canal" project.

The construction of a so-called “antique canal,” a 6,130-meter long canal that will link the ancient site to the sea, has raised eyebrows among historians and experts.

Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) İzmir deputy Mahmut Atilla Kaya has announced that the “geotechnical drilling works" - the first phase of the project - have been completed. On Oct. 19 they reached the contract tendering process “with a value of approximately 30 million Turkish Liras,” Kaya said.


Canal project threatens ancient Ephesus in western Turkey


“Ephesus owed its importance as a trade center to being a harbor city. But alluvial deposits carried by the Marnas Streamlet and the Cayster River [Küçük Menderes] have cut the harbor’s connection to the sea,” said Kaya, stating that the ‘Ephesus Antique Canal Project’ plans to revive the port.

“In order to provide yachts with a sea entrance, a 600-meter-long entrance channel, pier structure, short-term yacht anchor area and vehicle and pedestrian bridges will be built in the coast of Pamucak,” he also said. 

Canal project threatens ancient Ephesus in western Turkey


“The entrance channel will be constructed on a concrete foundation and a wall will be built from square-cut blocks of local stone. The geotechnical drilling work has been completed. The mud will be cleaned up to four meters deep by amphibious vehicles. This way, tourism in Ephesus will increase,” said Kaya.

Ephesus, being a harbor city on the shores of the Aegean Sea, has moved nine kilometers away from the sea by alluvium carried by streams over the last 2,500 years. 

Canal project threatens ancient Ephesus in western Turkey


The second regional director of State Hydraulic Works (DSİ), Ali Fuat Eker, also said they have received a positive report from the Directorate General of Environmental Impact Assessment (ÇED) by the Environment and Urban Planning Ministry and that “the first phase of the 30-meter-wide entrance channel would cost 30 million Turkish Liras.”

“Construction will start in either February or March. The first phase of the project will be completed in March 2019. The project will be carried out with great care in order not to damage any historical artefacts. At the entrance of the canal, a 250-meter-long yacht port will be built for boats to have short-term anchors and a pier will be built at its entrance,” said Eker.

The idea of a port was first suggested in 1993 by the CHP’s Selçuk municipality. But there has not been any progress. When it came again to the agenda in later years, the Culture Ministry General Directorate of Monuments and Museums supported the proposal with some restrictions by noting “attention must be drawn to an important missing part of this project.”

“This is an important ancient city on the world heritage list. Since every kind of excavation in the region will be made by the Austria Ephesus Excavation Committee Presidency, the project can only be put into practice upon completion of the excavations,” they said.

The Austrians had started their archeological research in the region. In fact, even the scuba divers they had brought had almost drowned in the mud.

This area also hosts various submerged boats just like in Istanbul’s Yenikapı area, as well as Ephesus’s “necropolis [antique graveyard].”

Besides, Pamucak is a naturally protected site formed by alluvium. Digging deep in Pamucak for the port and channel would harm the nature in the area. Even today in Ephesus, apart from Liman Street, water levels increase in front of the gym named “Vedius Gymnasium” in the spring months.

The second danger is that the construction of the 1,740-meter-long airport for “small airplanes” in the “necropolis” area in Ephesus, which had been halted, has come back on the agenda regardless of various reactions. 

Canal project threatens ancient Ephesus in western Turkey


It was observed that restored ancient remains had been falling during quakes created by the noise from airplanes taking off and landing in the airport. In 2013, the İzmir Second Cultural Heritage Preservation Board stopped its construction on the grounds that “the airport and especially the ancient city of Ephesus were within a first degree site.

The Turkish Air Force (THK), who had been building the airport, applied to the Preservation Board who had given the injunction to stop, with a notice they had taken from the Air Force Command that said it was “under the protection of the National Airspace.”

The committee agreed that “the aborted apron, taxiway and wire fence work were to be done only under the inspection of the relevant museum and excavation directorate” and the work started again.

Furthermore, THK had also completed a one-kilometer-long and 20-meter-wide new taxiway, two 40-meter-long and 13-meter-wide connection roads and a runway that connected to the taxiway. 

Canal project threatens ancient Ephesus in western Turkey


It is said the yacht port will attract the boats of foreign tourists to Ephesus! Although almost four million tourists visited Ephesus in 2011, this figure has decreased to one million in recent years because of poorly conceived foreign and tourism policies. Now, instead of mass tourism in Ephesus, people hope for the help of the limited amount of tourists that come from yachts and small airplanes.

What kind of negative effects will the groundwork for customs and passport buildings and facilities built for fuel delivery to yachts have on the yacht port in the ancient city?

Have they thought about fuel and waste pollution?

The Austria Archeological Institute has been carrying out archeological excavations for more than 120 years in Ephesus, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Foreign Ministry stopped the Austrian archeologists’ excavations on Aug. 31, 2016, just two months before the end of excavation season.

The Foreign Ministry had taken this decision in response to the reactions of the Austrian government against the AKP government in Turkey. In other words, the Foreign Ministry was very angry and they overreacted!

In fact, there are so many more places to be protected, repaired and brought to light through renovations and historical remains to be excavated in Ephesus.

In the absence of inspections that had come with banning the Austrians, some took advantage, even marriage ceremonies were allowed in Ephesus and construction on the port and airport picked up speed!

As one of the “Seven wonders of the world” and on the UNESCO Cultural Heritage List, Ephesus’s Temple of Artemis turned into a swamp due to squalidness and neglect. (Image 6) Until recently, rain water filled the temple area locals called “English Hole,” which had been visited by millions of tourists each year.

Alright, but when we cannot even protect this “wonder,” and the Austrians are no longer permitted to make scientific excavations and bring to light various remains, is it really of prime importance to build a port, airport and taxiway in Ephesus? I believe there is a Culture and Tourism Ministry in this country!

Canal project threatens ancient Ephesus in western Turkey