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While Rome burns and toytown rises - Kaleiçi
1.       Roswitha
4132 posts
 31 May 2008 Sat 03:11 pm

Is there a sensible way to escape from the damage caused through fake restorations to the integrity of the officially protected conservation area of Kaleiçi, Antalya, an area now beginning to look like an architect’s toytown rather than any conservation area?

Kaleiçi, an ancient walled city within Antalya, has, after more than 2,000 years of continuous habitation and a vital role as the port of İskenderun, lost its reason for being.

Kaleiçi has ceased to function as a major port city, a home for merchants, traders, for depots and warehouses, and for the captains of ships that sailed the silver sea, a decline that was, if not caused by the construction of a railroad route through the Cilician Gates and the rise of the port of Mersin, certainly inevitable after the establishment of a new deep-water harbor in Antalya in the 1970s,

Kaleiçi is an area that only 20 years ago retained numerous examples of traditional architecture, but it has in recent years undergone a process that can perhaps best be described as “cultural genocide,” through the systematic destruction of the cultural and architectural heritage of what was until the 18th century the most important Mediterranean port city on the southern coast of Anatolia.

The story of Kaleiçi goes like this. Traditional buildings in the old city caught fire and burned down, or they were demolished as the start of so-called restorations, or they were left abandoned and pulled down so speculators, developers, so-called restoration architects, concrete pourers and cladding merchants could profit. In this way, fake restorations have mushroomed across the face of the old city.

Kaleiçi is now an area that has, to a considerable extent, lost its architectural integrity, and with that integrity, its unique flavor. Today, with only a few exceptions, Kaleiçi is little more than a mishmash of fake restorations, of ridiculous fake facades lacking all integrity, and of completely new buildings that are, in their form, materials or methods of construction, entirely lacking in even a perfunctory relationship with the architectural heritage of the ancient city. As a result, today the remaining un-restored buildings look oddly out of place, sandwiched amongst a host of recent fake restorations.

Kaleiçi is being destroyed not by enemy action, as in the Balkans in the 1990s, but by something that is far worse. There has been an astonishing lack of respect for, knowledge of, or care for traditional architecture, and a systematic lack of respect for the past, for culture and civilization, and for the historical memory embodied in the infrastructure of the place. It is an ignorance and indifference that is truly incredible in the 21st century.

The officials that have been appointed to protect this heritage seem to be the same ones that have permitted and authorized the large-scale destruction of the architectural heritage of Kaleiçi by allowing for the erection of new modern buildings that completely reject the traditional methods of construction, traditions that stretch back through more than 2,000 years of continuous habitation in Kaleiçi, and who have, thereby, wittingly or unwittingly, aided and abetted in the destruction of the architectural fabric of the historic city, a destruction that continues today.

Toytown is rising up instead of Kaleiçi

Many of the recent so-called restorations carried out in Kaleiçi consist primarily of the application of an exterior stone cladding over a concrete skeletal frame construction. Sometimes these concrete constructions are decorated with wooden slats tacked onto the exterior walls to give the impression of authenticity, but these applied slats lack any genuine structural function as earthquake shock absorbers because they do not pass through the body of the wall to form the necessary shock-absorbing isolation core. Those restored buildings that have retained the original genuine wooden “hatıl” generally lack the protective cover of painted plaster that was traditionally applied over the rubble and timber walls to prevent the wood in the walls, the “hatıl,” from rotting over time.

What is in the minds of these architects, permit providers and building inspectors? The area of Kaleiçi is supposed to be a conservation area, so the question needs to be asked, exactly which buildings have been properly conserved in Kaleiçi? Tap a painted column in Kaleiçi and you will find it is made of painted concrete, not of wood. Tap a wall, and you will realize it is not made of rubble and mortar, brick, or stone, but is instead made of poured, reinforced concrete and tile-brick blocks, sometimes covered with a thin “authentic” cladding. The walls of the upper floors are not of lath and plaster, but are instead walls of concrete breezeblocks and tile-brick blocks. The structural construction is of reinforced concrete, not of authentic rubble walling with wooden columns supporting the roof. The new tile-work on the roofs is quite different from the traditional roof tiles. Where is the conservation in this conservation area?

“Toytown” is rising up instead of Kaleiçi. Toytown in Kaleiçi is an entirely newly fabricated motif, not attached to any long-established building tradition, not originating from the skilled hand, heart and years of experience of trained craftsmen or master builders. If you take the trouble to look, you will find that each authentic structure in Kaleiçi is an individual building, a product of traditions of craftsmanship, quite different from the buildings of modern Toytown.

Toytown is doubtless very profitable to build, which is, of course, why these buildings are built the way they are, but Toytown also tells every single person, Turkish or foreigner, who walks through Kaleiçi, that this is not a conservation area, not a restoration projection, not Kaleiçi. This is Toytown, which is something altogether different.

This area may officially be called a conservation area, but anyone can see clearly that the responsible people have no idea, or perhaps they have no desire, to preserve and practice the conservation of heritage, no wish to preserve an area of great historic importance and character.

The question needs to be raised. Why has an area such as Kaleiçi been officially designated a conservation area, if it is not in fact being conserved? That is, conserved in any reasoned understanding of the meaning of the word. Is the word “conservation” a word that has been entirely emptied of all commonly accepted meaning as it applies to Kaleiçi?

The answer is, sadly, yes. The use of the words conservation and preservation should indicate at least some respect for what was made and constructed in the past, for our human heritage, a heritage to be passed on to our successors intact.

Is the word restoration, like conservation, just an empty slogan to increase the prices being charged, or does the word restoration have its generally accepted meaning, a legally enforceable meaning in many countries, a word meaning to return what is to be restored to the state it was formerly in, that is, using the same forms, materials and methods of construction as those that were formerly employed?

Kaleiçi is an area that has been newly paved, and the new pavement slabs are pale in color and unpleasantly blinding in the bright white summer sunlight. Kaleiçi has been paved, no doubt at great expense, but the streets are already full of freshly cracked and broken slabs, and there appears to be no proper rainwater runoff system. The thick flatbed of reinforced concrete that lies beneath the pavement surface will doubtless over time direct the rainwater into the walls of houses on either side of the lanes and road, as most of the old roadside canals draining the area have now been filled in. This is a place where cars drive through narrow winding streets, pressing pedestrians against walls, or are parked in the narrow streets, forcing pedestrians to thread their way through them, creating a scene like some wild car-parking area or sleazy Toytown tourist trap.

The solution may be for the state to purchase this entire area before it is completely destroyed, and to turn the entire area of Kaleiçi into an archaeological-historical park, retaining those structures that have retained their architectural integrity, and demolishing and properly excavating the areas now covered by Toytown, thus fully exposing the history of the city of Antalya from the past two millennia. The long-term future of cultural tourism in Turkey may require a dramatic initiative such as this, rather than more of the same cheap architectural fakery and wishful thinking, a Nero fiddling while Rome burns and Toytown rises, if Turkey is to retain market share in an increasingly competitive international tourism sector.

The archaeological history of this area, a record stretching back through more than two millennia of continuous habitation of this port city, from the Ottoman centuries, the Beylik period and the Cypriot Lusignan conquest and occupation, to the Seljuk and Byzantine periods and the occupations under the Abbasid Caliph's naval forces, to the Roman and Hellenistic periods, the levels of destruction caused by conquests, fires and earthquakes, has been explored to date in only an extremely fragmentary fashion. Rescue excavations, supervised by the staff of the Antalya Museum, are conducted when ancient remains are found in the course of excavating building foundations and during the course of waste water and other canalization works, including the recent and ongoing Vakıf excavations at the site of the Basilical Church of Eisodia tes Panagias-Hagia Eirene, of the Lusignan 14th century Antalya Catholic Cathedral, and of the later Cuma-Korkut-Kesık Minare Mosque.

If this proposal were implemented, the future of the remaining authentic buildings in Kaleiçi would be secured. Otherwise, if the pattern of destruction of the past 20 years continues, there will soon be almost nothing left above ground of this historic heritage. Kaleiçi could, if properly excavated and displayed in a modern, informative manner, become a magnet for international cultural tourism, an Ephesus or Pompeii in the heart of the modern city of Antalya. It would be a place of wonder, of shared discovery and understanding, that would bring Kaleiçi, with its international connections, its potteries, glass works and metal works, gardens, and layers upon layers of buildings, back to life. The old city would have a reason for being, a function again, and it would be a source of employment and revenue.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

T. Mikail P. Duggan
ANTALYA - Turkish Daily News

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