Historic Sites Damned; the Turkish Government's Plans to Flood Two Ancient Towns with the Reservoirs Created by Two Dams Are Being Fiercely Resisted-But Time Is Rapidly Running Out

By Sevinclidir, Pinar | History Today, February 2009 | Go to article overview

Historic Sites Damned; the Turkish Government's Plans to Flood Two Ancient Towns with the Reservoirs Created by Two Dams Are Being Fiercely Resisted-But Time Is Rapidly Running Out


Sevinclidir, Pinar, History Today


Hasankeyf and Allianoi are two ancient cities situated in the east and west of Turkey, respectively. Both face the prospect of being submerged under water forever as they stand on the site of the planned reservoirs of two dam constructions. Yortanli dam, completed last November, will engulf Allianoi, a spa town established more than 2,000 years ago around natural hot springs. Hasankeyf, which has been inhabited for some 10,000 years, is to be submerged under the waters of the Ilusu dam.

Allianoi was discovered only ten years ago in Bergama, a province of Izmir in the Aegean region of Turkey. An 1,800-year-old statue of a nymph was found eight metres underground and became the symbol of the thermal city. Only 20 per cent of Allianoi has been excavated after nine years of digging. It is believed to be the best-preserved ancient spa town in the world thanks to the alluvial soils of the region. Archaeological findings indicate that the area was first used as a spa in the Hellenistic period around 323-314 BC. However it was during the reign of Hadrian (AD 117-138) that the town reached the peak of its fame, with people travelling from across the Roman empire to find cures in its pools. The many works of art unearthed indicate that this place was devoted to the Greek god of medicine, Asclepios. Bronze surgical instruments currently on display at Bergama Museum testify to the fact that Allianoi was a prominent health centre as well as a spa. The temperatures of its pools reached 45-50 degrees fahrenheit until recent government construction work disrupted the naturally occurring hot water supply.

The Yortanli dam project was begun in 1993. When finished, it will provide water to 6,000 farming families. Locals are torn between retaining the site as a tourist destination for the 500,000 people who visit the historic site of Allianoi each year, or irrigating their farmlands. Campaigners from all over Turkey have been working for the past ten years to stop the project. The leader of the Allianoi excavation team, Dr Ahmet Yaras, likens the prospect of seeing the site vanish under water to losing a child. He has already devoted nine years of his life to the Allianoi project.

While campaigners fight to save Allianoi in the west, a new battleground has been opened by the government in the east of Turkey. This time Hasankeyf, an ancient city situated on the banks of the river Tigris, is endangered by the Ilusu dam project which began in 2007 after a decade of quarrelling between the government and environmental groups.

The sight of Rizq Mosque, with its tall and elegant minaret, has welcomed visitors to Hasankeyf for the past six centuries.

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Historic Sites Damned; the Turkish Government's Plans to Flood Two Ancient Towns with the Reservoirs Created by Two Dams Are Being Fiercely Resisted-But Time Is Rapidly Running Out
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