The restoration works of the ancient city of Rhodiapolis was assigned to Kumluca Municipality and it is now in the headlines with a bad outcome.. Yusuf Yavuz researched this restoration failure and spoke to the authorities. Here are the explanations.

There is a restoration scandal in the ancient city of Rhodiapolis in Kumluca-Antalya. Restoration works initiated in 2015 on the theater and the monument of the Lycian philanthropist Opramoas were stopped after it was realized that they were faulty. Today there is talk about dismantling the newly restored monument of Opramoas, however the construction company that carried out the restoration and the Directorate of Surveying and Monuments of Antalya argued that the “there was nothing wrong with the restoration”.


The works in the ancient city was officially passed on to the AKP run Municipality of Kumluca from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. There were suspicions about Syrian workmen illegally working at the site, however Hüsamettin Çetinkaya, the mayor of Kumluca said that he didn’t know about this issue and that he would look into it. Archaeologist-guide Ümit Işin has been trying to shed light on the issue of restorations and said that he thought it was wrong to rebuild structures in ancient cities like Rhodiapolis, Andriake and Patara. “First of all it is a waste of money. This money could be spent on remote ancient cities that are being vandalized and are not being looked after because ‘tourists don’t go there’”.


According to a protocol signed between the Ministry of Culture and AKP Municipality of Kumluca, the management of ancient city of Rhodiapolis, which was discovered in 1892 and started to be excavated in 2006, was assigned to the municipality and the income from the entrance fees were to be used on the restoration works and landscaping. Rhodiapolis is located on a hilltop, some 2.5 km north of Kumluca and is known as one of the most important cities of Lykia. A beautiful monument dedicated to the Lycian philanthropist Opramoas in the 2nd century BC, was unearthed in the city by archaeologists from Akdeniz University.


However, during the time of Ertuğrul Günay, who was the minister of Culture and Tourism, Rhodiapolis was chosen as the marketing feature of Kumluca and thus the above mentioned protocol was signed. The Kumluca Municipality immediately started a landscaping project including a welcoming center and initiated the restorations. In April 2014 a construction company from Bitlis-Tatvan, named ‘Er-Bil İnşaat A.Ş.’ won the bidding and started the restorations at a fee of 1 million 445 thousand Turkish Liras in Mart 2015.


However, as the restoration works developed, it was noticed that the restoration of the theater and Opramoas Monument were problematic and the works were stopped. A committee formed of academic researchers investigated the site and saw the mistakes that had been made. Towards the end of the year 2016 the committee prepared and submitted a report putting forth the decision to dismantle the restored monument.


After this restoration scandal was revealed, we visited the site on March 31st 2017 only to find that the restorations were still continuing on the theater although they had been formally stopped. We noticed that the Monument of Opramoas looked like a brand new building and saw that the workmen working on the theater immediately left their jobs and got out of sight, which of course made us suspicious.  There was no academic consultant or responsible personnel on site. We wanted to know more about the illegal Syrian workmen on site.


The person in charge of the restorations was Bilal Tunç from Erbil İnşaat A.Ş., his statement was: “We do not have any Syrian workmen on this site. There are two companies here at the moment, one is my company, which is doing the restorations, and the other is one doing the landscaping and welcome center. As a principal we do not have any Syrian workmen in our company.”


Mr. Tunç also replied to our questions regarding the stopped restoration project. He said: “There are no problematic issues with the restorations. The only problem is about the location of the inscribed blocks. We made our productions in compliance with the project. They stopped the works. A scientific committee apparently made the decision. So we are waiting for a response from the Directorate of Monuments. Other than that there are no problems with our restoration techniques. Both the scientific committee and the Directorate of Surveying and Monuments know this.”


Even though I am the owner of the company I am not responsible for making a statement.” said Tunç. “After all, this is a government work. There are institutions that make decisions about what we do and they control it: Directorate of Surveying and Monuments of Antalya, Municipality of Kumluca and Ministry of Culture. They are the ones that should be giving journalists the explanations.”


We asked Tunç if their firm had participated in any other restoration projects. Tunç replied “We built some bridges in various part of Turkey. One of them is the historic bridge in Aspendos. We also did the restoration of the Mostar Bridge in Sarajevo.”


An authority from Directorate of Surveying and Monuments of Antalya said “This area is not under our responsibility. It has been assigned to the Municipality of Kumluca.” Then he argued that there were no problems with the restoration. He reminded us that as a country we were in a state of emergency and that the Governorate of Antalya was following up on the issues. He said that the restoration works which have already been funded were continuing, and added “The project will be revised. Four blocks will change place. There is no such thing as tearing it down and restoring it again. Our works on the Opramoas Monument are continuing, and there are no problems. Our system is being used since the 1980’s. We have planned to repair certain parts of the monument. The existing project has been revised. It will be finished in the near future. There are no problems now. These are problems that we faced years ago.”


The authority from Directorate of Surveying and Monuments of Antalya also replied to our questions about when these restoration works would be introduced to the general public. He said “This will take a long time. There are works that have been carried out on the monument in the past. They have now all been gathered together. The inscribed blocks have also been revised. We are continuing as such. These pieces of news damage our historical monuments. When these monuments are publicized it becomes difficult to make any alterations to them. Everybody talks and the project stops. Restoration is a very developed art. The climate of Rhodiapolis is very difficult. Years of wind has created bad effects on the stones. Now we will plan a new restoration for it to be carried out and completed in 2018-2019.”


Hüsamettin Çetinkaya, the mayor of Kumluca said that there were certain issues in the works that came about after a certain stage and they will all be reevaluated. He said that new reports were being prepared for the restorations and that is was discussed on April 11th by the Cultural and Natural Heritage Conservation Board. He added “When it was noticed that there were mistakes, it was decided to be completed this way and opened to the public. The contractor did what he was told to do.”


Çetinkaya also said that any kind of work in an ancient city must follow projects approved by the cultural heritage conservation board. He added that there were problems concerning the welcome center and the landscape. He also said: “The contractor is delayed. We are trying to finish the works. 90% of the funding comes from the governorate, 10 % is funded by us. The works should have been completed in 2016 but the contractor couldn’t manage that, the work has been prolonged too much. I have been doing this kind of work for years, it’s the first time I’ve met such a contractor. If it were a job for the private sector we could’ve analyzed it in a different way. But this is a government job, so there are certain criteria that need to be fulfilled. If the documents are complete, they get the job.” Mr. Çetinkaya also answered our questions about illegal Syrian workmen on the site. He said that he didn’t know about this issue and that he would look into it.  


Archaeologist-guide Umit Işın has been reacting to the restorations carried out one after another in several ancient sites in recent years with an excuse to ‘open the sites to tourism’. Mr. Işın added that these sites were already open to tourism. He said “I think that restoring ancient cities like Rhodiapolis, Andriake and Patara is very wrong. First of all it is a waste of money. This money could be spent on remote ancient cities that are being vandalized and are not being looked after because ‘tourists don’t go there’”. For example, Idebessos is no less important than Rhodiapolis. The money spent on the restoration of Rhodiapolis, could easily have been spent on preserving Idebessos.   


He added that he believed that restoring ancient buildings was still wrong anyway, even if there was enough money to converse and preserve every single site. Umit Işın, a professional archaeology and nature guide for 30 years said: “I think that an ancient building should only be rebuilt to preserve it. For example, not a single one of my clients have said that they were impressed by the restoration of the Granarium (granary) in Andriake and the bouleuterion (parliament building also used as a concert hall) in Patara. Some asked if the new buildings were hotels and some asked who would build a new building in an ancient site. If these restorations are being done for tourism, well, the comments of tourists are not positive.”


Archaeologist-guide Umit Işın reminded us that the Monument of Opramoas was a very important monument for the history of Lycia. “This monument could have been cleaned and investigated properly to see if there was any danger of it falling apart. If there is a danger, there are precautions that can be taken. Complete rebuilding has no academic contribution to archaeology or history. Researchers can do a graphic of it on paper and a model of it to be exhibited on site if needed. Here we can see a total rebuilding of this structure, and the tourist does not like to see this. I mean, none of the tourists I’ve been with have said that they like the work. For whatever reason, our bureaucrats, politicians and some archaeologists seem to have the wrong idea. Maybe also the municipality made a special request too. My personal humble advise would be to spend the money on preserving the ancient city as it is, instead of restoring it. The money saved can be spent on going to tourism fairs all around the world and introducing Kumluca and Rhodiapolis. By doing this they will definitely bring many more high-quality tourists.”


Mr. Işın pointed out that the tourists he had been with until today have always said how impressed they were with the natural settings of the ancient sites. He noted that it is now being discussed whether to bring down the Celsus library in Ephesus, which was restored in the 1970’s – a job that will cost millions of Turkish Liras. “The reason for this discussion is that ancient stone blocks and modern ones have different natures and when they are put together in the same building they clash and damage the building. We also all know that the restoration works are not being carried out by professional firms specialized in restoration. Generally the bidding is won by relatives and acquaintances of the leaders. There are no specialist responsible for the works on site. They do not have engineers, architects or restorators on site. Nobody can say that there are.”


Umit Işin added: “I think that our archaeologist friends should convince the municipalities and bureaucrats no to do these works. These works are not being done for tourism. If somebody is making an income from this then the archaeologists should really make an issue. I personally know that the archaeologists do not gain any private income from these constructions but their names are in the job. They sometimes have to be investigated for no reason. An archaeologist’s job is not to excavate a theater and restore it. It is to do science. It is to preserve the buildings in danger for future generations. Uncovered buildings that are perfectly safe underground should not be excavated and be put in danger.”


April 18th 2017 Tuesday – YUSUF YAVUZ – Antalya