Roman spa in Turkey submerged under dam waters

2000-year-old Roman bridge almost submergedThe 1,800-year-old Roman spa complex of Allianoi in Izmir Province, Turkey is already halfway submerged under the dammed waters of the Ilya River. Flooding began on December 31st, 2010. By the end of February, Allianoi was already under an estimated 61 million cubic meters of water. You can see a desperately sad slideshow of the rising waters here.

Despite the best efforts of historical preservation activists, the government refused to budge from its plan to make a reservoir out of one of the best preserved ancient spas — still a functional hot spring — in the world. According to the Bergama Chamber of Agriculture, the dam will double the agricultural value of the area, irrigating 44,000 acres of hard farmland and helping 6,000 local families.

The Turkish government also claims the sand they covered the Roman structures in will preserve the site so they can just dig it back up again once the dam reaches the end of its lifespan (30-50 years), but according to Ahmet Yaras, the head archaeologist of the Allianoi dig, even if the immense pressure from the weight of the water and silt don’t damage the site, and even if the dam isn’t just rebuilt, the notion that anyone will just happily dig down through the 50 feet of silt that will be left behind after the water drains is no more than a fantasy.

Meanwhile, the hemorrhage of young people leaving the area for greener pastures isn’t likely to be staunched by the new reservoir.

“Irrigation is crucial for the agriculture of the region,” said Gorenc. “Eventually the salaries of the villagers will rise and migration to the big cities will decrease.”

But some in the village of Pasakoy, which lies nearest to the dam, believe it will not halt the current migration pattern, which has already turned many Anatolian villages into virtual ghost towns. “There aren’t people who want to farm the land,” said Pasakoy Mayor Adnan Celik, who has lost most of his own fields to the reservoir.

“The young people emigrate from the village and their parents and grandparents are too old to farm. The tourism from ruins would have kept them here,” Celik contended.

Colonnaded atrium with mosaic floor as the water encroachesThe economic potential of the ruins has never been fully explored. The ruins were only discovered in 1998 when archaeologists excavated the area in preparation for the construction of the dam. They found the complex in exceptional condition, complete with thermal baths, streets, insulae, covered passages, courtyards, colonnades and huge swaths of undamaged mosaics. They also found a hospital that was very likely used by famed 2nd century doctor Galen, the father of pharmacy and author of medical books that were held as the gold standard of medicine in Europe and the near East until Andreas Vesalius in the 16th century.