Phaselis: another paradise lost?

How is it possible for a hotel developer to be allowed to ride roughshod over the Mediterranean’s most idyllic classical site

By The Cornucopia Blog | February 13, 2014

The Lycian city of Phaselis, west of Antalya on Turkey’s southern coast, is one of the most idyllic classical sites in the world. Served in ancient times by several picturesque natural harbours, it was here that Alexander the Great spent the winter of 334/333BC and the ancient Romans sourced their attar of roses (still produced inland in Isparta). The ruins stand in marvellous pine woods that climb the rocky escarpments of the Taurus Mountains, and have been jealously guarded by Turkish law since the birth of the Republic. Without a breezeblock in sight, the setting is completely haunting, as if conjured up by the 17th-century French landscape painter Claude Lorrain. Thousands of visitors come to taste ‘the pleasure of ruins’ in this as yet untrammeled corner of the Mediterranean. As the cultural tour operator Peter Sommer puts it on his website, ‘This ancient city is now a specially protected archaeological site swathed in pine trees.’ In her book The Lycian Shore, Freya Stark wondered: ‘Who can weave, to repeat it, the spell of Phaselis in her solitude at dawn?

The spell is to be broken. This legendary beauty spot is to be yet another victim of the seemingly insatiable developer’s greed consuming Turkey’s heritage. Permission has been passed down from on high, despite the objections of archaeologists and environmentalists, for a giant hotel complex to be built over a chunk of the ancient city. The people of Antalya are up in arms. A senior archaeologist we spoke to summed it up perfectly: ‘a terrible thing for a really untouched and beautiful place'. The perpetrators appear to be acting for the ‘well-connected’ Rixos Hotel chain, though when asked, the chain’s public relations department hotly deny it.

It beggars belief, really. How the proposed 180,009-square-metre project could have been contemplated, let alone permitted, is beyond us. Not only will it stand within the borders of the Beydağları–Olympos National Park, surely sacrosanct, but it will occupy almost 20,000 square metres of the ancient city itself, an area roughly the size of three football pitches.

Phaselis is designated a ‘First Degree Archeological and Historical Preservation Area’ – in other words it is on a par with the Topkapı Palace itself. Any traces of what may lie below the ground will be destroyed, along with the entire timeless beauty of the place... 

Anyone who cares about antiquities or Turkey's Mediterranean coastline should lend their voice to the campaign to halt this project. An online campaign in English, Turkish and German has been mounted.

Ironically the name of the project is the imperative ‘Dream of Phaselis’.

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