The Turkish government has rescinded Austria’s excavation licence for the ancient city of Ephesus. The seemingly politically-motivated decision has caused outrage in the archaeological community. EURACTIV Germany reports.
In ancient times, the city of Ephesus was one of the largest and most important settlements in Asia Minor and counted one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World among its monumental buildings. When it was founded, the city was directly on the coast, but due to climatic change and seismic activity, the sea gradually retreated several kilometres to the west.
Today, Ephesus is one of the most visited archaeological sites in the world and in 2015 was elevated to World Heritage Site status by UNESCO. Since 1895, more than 120 years ago, Austrian archaeologists and scientists have worked day-in day-out to excavate some of the best preserved Roman ruins in the world.
But now their licence to carry out their work has been cancelled by Turkish authorities, just before they were due to recommence their painstaking excavations. Sabine Ladstätter, director of the Austrian Archaeology Institute, received a letter from Turkey’s Ministry of Culture informing her team that permission had been revoked two months ahead of schedule and asking them to leave the site.
The decision not only affects the 12 Austrian archaeologists working at the site, the team is composed of 200 researchers from 20 different countries, as well as using the services of 55 Turkish support staff.
It appears that the industrious and highly-skilled individuals working at Ephesus are being punished by a Turkish government looking to respond to criticisms made by Austrian politicians and calls made by the alpine republic’s chancellor, Christian Kern, for the EU to cancel accession negotiations.
The fact that political disagreements have spilled over into the world of culture and science has led many to shake their head in disbelief.
Austria’s former Minister of Science, Karlheinz Töchterle, said “Science and research have always been a uniting force that can bridge gaps during difficult times.”
Turkey could well live to rue their decision to expel the archaeologists, given the incredible work successive generations have done at the site, unearthing ancient wonders like the Temple of Artemis, the Great Theatre, the Temple of Hadrian and the Library of Celsus.
As a result, Ephesus is arguably the most impressive European historical site outside of Rome and can boast massive revenues from entrance fees. In 2013, nearly two million people strolled down the ancient streets of the city, bringing over €3 million with them.
Austria has already indicated that its representatives will try and meet with their Turkish counterparts in an effort to try and re-normalise relations and hopefully regain access to the site.