With the change of weblogs, I somehow have lost track of Allianoi till I was looking for it the other day and couldn’t find it. Luckily I still had the original texts in my tablets and although the news is “passé” by now, I feel that it is never too late to draw attention to what has happened there and is still happening elsewhere in Turkey’s frenzy to build ever more dams.
It was in October 2010 when I first read that the gorgeous site of Allianoi would be flooded in spite of all the pleas and contacts with "authorities" over the past three years or so. I couldn't believe my eyes for this is no way to treat our heritage. It is like throwing away the bones of our ancestors. How dare we?
For those who hear the name of Allianoi for the first time, I owe some further explanation. Allianoi is located to the northeast of ancient Pergamon, in the vicinity of Izmir and right in the middle of the Yortanlı Dam Reservoir Area.
Because of its hot springs, the place was known already in antiquity but the big boom occurred under Roman rule. In the 2nd century AD, Allianoi was one of the largest thermal baths in that part of the Empire that attracted crowds from the nearby Asclepion in Pergamon as well as from more distant areas. In Byzantine times most of Allianoi was taken down and the materials were reused elsewhere in the city, but the thermal Baths and the Nymphaeum, i.e. the most important buildings continued to be used as they were. The Ottomans renamed the settlement Paşa Ilıcası (The Thermal Baths of the Pasha), but after that Allianoi slumbered into oblivion, although the use of the hot spring continued. The nearby Roman bridge was also still used until recently as a connection on the road from Bergama and İvrindi.
The Romans were master builders, as we know. They built the Bath Complex on both sides of the Ilya Creek and in order to control its flow they diverted the water to run through a vaulted tunnel. The hot spring has a nearly ideal temperature of about 45-50˚C. The Roman baths like all other buildings on the site date from the 2nd century. The brave archeologists have discovered and uncovered many of them, to be unfortunately buried again. Allianoi counted at least four insulae, a beautiful Nympheum much like the one dedicated to Herodus Atticus in Olympia, Greece, a Propylon, an unknown Cult Building and a so-called Connection Building along with several streets and the bridge over the creek I mentioned above. Also, remains of a Byzantine Basilica from the 9th century measuring no less than 19 x 21 meters have been located. And yet, all these jewels will disappear forever!
It is quite frustrating to find out that everything on this planet has to make way for politics and money. The average lifespan of any dam is 80 years, I learned, and this one is calculated to last only for 50 years. Is it really worth being built? What will we do fifty years from now? Dismantle the barrage and excavate Allianoi again, at huge costs once more? Haven’t we learned anything from our past dam building? The irrigated lands remain fertile for a short time only, seven to ten years maximum. After that, the soil is highly alkaline and crops are hardly worth the effort of planting. As always, when it comes to politics, nobody listens to the environmentalists and nobody takes their analysis seriously. In this case, nobody listens to the archeologists either.
But that is only one aspect of building a dam. Here at Allianoi we are voluntarily burrying our heritage. Old stones have to make way for new concrete, yet we forget that our concrete will not survive 2,500 years like this old city did. One would expect that enough damage has been done already to other locations, for instance at Zeugma, Turkey, a unique site at the frontier of the Roman Empire on the banks of the Euphrates River. Archeologists were able to save a handful of gorgeous mosaics and some wall frescos that have found shelter at the Museum of Gaziantep, but they are taken out of their context and the proud city no longer awaits our embrace.
What will it take to stop this madness of building dams that in the end only scar and deplete the land? Water is vital to our life, I agree, but barrages are not the one and only solution and their lifespan is not eternal as governments all over the world want us to believe. What will happen in 50 or 100 years from now when this barrage and so many others give way? No water then, no crops, no dam, nobody to take responsibility, and sadly no cities like Allianoi to be revived from underneath the sediments.
Meanwhile, the site of Allianoi has been filled up with sand in an impossible dream that this will safeguard the precious remains of this two thousand years old wealthy spa resort. The theory is that at the death of the dam Allianoi can still be re-excavated, but what about the heavy layers of silt deposited meanwhile on top of these remains? What damage will they have done?
A sad day for Allianoi. My heart is bleeding indeed…
Hopes may have been high still but by March 2011, the dies were cast. A painful picture of a man sitting on the edge of the 2nd-century Roman bridge in the middle of a nearly flooded city publicized in the Christian Science Monitor says it all. In spite of the pleas and protests formulated by UNESCO, ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) and Europa Nostra (the pan-European Federation for Cultural Heritage), it didn’t take long before the entire site disappeared to the bottom of the new reservoir at the foot of the irrigation dam, covered beneath nearly 100 feet of water and silt. The Yortanli Dam is part of another huge hydro engineering program aiming to keep up with the country's rapid economic development – that is at least what the officials say.
The positive news is that archeologists have been able to salvage some 11,000 artifacts after uncovering only about 20 percent of the site that is now lost forever – a rather poor consolation if any. The beautiful mosaic floors of this ancient health center believed to be one of the largest and best preserved in the world have disappeared once again. The Turkish government doesn’t seem to care or not to care enough, the race to double their power output by 2020 prevails over the preservation of the country’s and the world’s history.
The site has first been filled up with sand in an attempt to protect the ruins although archaeologists disagree. In the last days of 2010, the flooding was set in motion. The water, according to the latest news of early 2011, has risen approximately 6 feet but will eventually reach 100 feet. I am not aware of a more recent update on the site if any. I only could trace this picture of the flooded area taken in June 2012 (from Alberti's Window). Regretfully, we’ll never know the full meaning and extent of Allianoi. Sadly, this is only one example among so many others. How many more will follow?
Click here for the complete article Dams power Turkey’s future, but drown its rich history by Alexander Christie-Miller, that also maps other natural and cultural threatened areas all over Turkey. National Geographic offers some meaningful pictures on this link.