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Today's Zaman

Council of Europe takes notice of ancient sites in Turkey

23 June 2010, Wednesday /ABDULLAH BOZKURT
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has urged the Turkish government to preserve critical archeological sites located in two cities, İzmir and İstanbul, saying cultural heritage should not be sacrificed for large-scale economic development projects.
In a report released by PACE during their summer session, the Council of Europe cited dam construction projects in Allianoi, near Bergama in İzmir province, that would risk flooding what it called “the outstandingly well-preserved 2nd-century Roman thermal baths and Asklepion [medical treatment center]” which was discovered in the 1990s during routine surveys carried out in preparation for the construction of the Yortanlı Dam.

The site was due to be flooded following the finalization of the dam construction in summer 2007 but was postponed after a local and international outcry including from Europa Nostra and the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), which intervened in favor of conservation of the site. Farmers in the area, however, put pressure on the government to go ahead with the planned activation of the dam, especially after a recent drought.

The case was later brought before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in February 2008 after a group called the Allianoi Initiative filed suit, citing the urgency of the matter and the lengthy domestic remedies. The case was defended on the basis of the need to preserve cultural heritage and was accepted by the court in July 2008. This was the first application to the court on that basis.

The Council of Europe also took notice of the Byzantine port of Theodosius, discovered in 2004 during construction work on a much-needed new subway tunnel beneath the Bosporus Strait linking İstanbul’s Asian and European shores. The port was built at the end of the fourth century by Emperor Theodosius I, when İstanbul was the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. Excavations in the Yenikapı district of İstanbul have uncovered more than 30 Byzantine ships dating from the seventh to 11th centuries, as well as the timbers of thousand-year-old jetties and docks and the remnants of a prehistoric human settlement.

The finds are the first examples of shipbuilding using the beginnings of the “skeleton approach” to constructing a vessel’s hull, marking revolutionary progress in technique that allowed for the speedy communication of new shipbuilding ideas transmitted on paper. The change is heralded as the beginning of engineering and thus of major importance for our knowledge and understanding of world history.

Despite huge pressure to complete the tunnel and alleviate İstanbul’s acute traffic problems, PACE applauded Turkish authorities for deciding to put archaeology ahead of the urgently needed transit project, thus delaying the development plans by up to four years at considerable cost to the government.

Initially the area was to be part of the planned train and metro station, but when the ancient remains were found, they were declared off-limits, and plans for the station were changed so as to leave the historic monuments intact. Turkish archaeologists are consulting with ship museums in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Holland, Spain and the United Kingdom about the creation of a new local museum.

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