Workers oversee sandfilling at ancient spa complex in Allianoi, Turkey. The entire complex is now buried in sand to make way for a new dam. Photo: Europa Nostra/Flickr
The ancient city of Allianoi, Turkey, along with its sophisticated spa complex whose remains date back to the Roman Empire (2nd century AD), has been completely covered with sand in advance of a new dam being built in the area. Government officials, who ordered the burial, have said that covering the site with sand is the only way to protect the ruins once the new dam is flooded, but activists and archaeologists have loudly protested, insisting that the method is obsolete and will only serve to destroy, rather than protect, the ancient site.
Since the decision was made earlier this year by a local natural and cultural assets preservation board to bury Allianoi, an organization called the Allianoi Initiative Group (AGG) has been trying hard to reverse the decision. Specifically, the AGG believes that submerging the site in sand is a poor and archaic preservation method, particularly given the physical, geological and geographical conditions of the region. They argue that water does not penetrate only from above, and that once it seeps in from the surrounding soil beside and underneath, it could have a devastating effect.
“Water in this region has temperatures over 40 degrees, which will cause chemical reactions and destroy the walls, mosaics [and other parts] of the ancient site,” İlker Ertuğrul, a member of the Istanbul Chamber of Architects, told the Hürriyet Daily News and Economic Review earlier this week. He added that the site was not made only of stone, and that other materials, such as metals, could be oxidized and destroyed by water that penetrates through the sand to the ancient site.
Unlike most modern Turkish dams, which are built in order to generate energy, the new Yortanlı dam is being constructed to supply water to agricultural settlements in the region. But the AGG has highlighted academic studies and research that indicate other methods of providing water for these settlements, and they will discuss these alternatives at a panel on December 25th, before the new dam is flooded.
The AGG, in association with Istanbul’s Architect’s Chamber, has also launched an exhibition with the theme “Allianoi Under Water,” to support their struggle to save Allianoi. And though they recognize it may be too late to save Allianoi, the organization hopes its efforts will help to preserve future sites.