Prof. Dr. Nevzat Çevik
Where are the Lycian Mountains,
And the Xanthos River;
Why is the Mediterranean Blue out of sight?
Plundering of antiquities has happened frequently in all historical periods. Taking possession of the readily “aged” aesthetically unique assets that nobody owns, has always been the greatest desire of the rich and powerful.
With the travels made to the East in the 17th century, which were funded by collectors, artifacts of the ancient world were moved to West. Europeans’ admiration for the classical art was reflected both on the shaping of the contemporary art and on the transfer of the original works from other geographic regions. With the enlightenment, Europeans discovered the aesthetical values of the ancient age and in the second half of the 18th century, they explored Greece, which they defined as the “land of arts”. As Greece dissociated itself from the Ottoman State and gained self-governance in 1830, it took immediate action against the smuggling of artifacts.
In his speech at the Imperial Museum, Munif Pasha said: “Every place in the Ottoman land is full of ancient artifacts of the previous civilizations that used to live here. If they had been well-preserved, the best museum of the world would be in Istanbul”. The Ottoman Empire covered an expansive and rich geography where the earliest and brightest civilizations were founded, and it possessed the richest archeological heritage of the world. But unfortunately, it was living its weakest age in the 19th century when Europe started artifact hunting. The Old Artifacts Act, dated 1874, was perhaps well-intentioned or better than the previous one, yet, it legitimized the moving of ancient artifacts outside the empire.” “Günahkar (The Sinner)” Osman Hamdi properly modified the Old Artifacts Act dated 1874, which was displeasing for the Europeans as it would inhibit them from easily moving the ancient artifacts out of the empire.
Despite this protective policy which created such an anxiety in Europe, Osman Hamdi was not sufficiently supported by the Imperial people of the Ottoman State. The Imperial Museum was lack of the “imperial”, indeed. Eventually, everything was gone, and an age came to an end with the Treaty of Sevres. It was even determined how to distribute the cultural artifacts available on the Ottoman land. The Treaty of Lausanne to be executed years later, would reverse the conditions. It was time for disappointment for the Europeans. Those which had been already moved from this precious inherited land, were gone by now. It was time to protect those remaining.
The number of researches that were mainly in form of science-oriented explorative researches performed following the light of Renaissance, increased in the 19th century particularly as a result of the efforts to find artifacts and the desire to access the ancient resources, which were driven by the will to reach at the original roots. What’s more, there was an interest towards the East driven by the orientalism movement which had become popular in that century. People were mainly coming to collect artifacts, not for science or culture. They came, explored, documented, published upon return and took along what they could carry among the most precious ones. Towards the mid-19th century i.e. the exploration era of the European-based travelers, which was dominated by historicism, European consular officers, travelers, rich people interested in ancient artifacts, engineers who had come to build highways and railways, were all excavating the Ottoman lands and taking the artifacts to their own countries. Particularly the British, German, French and Austrian people were fighting against each other to smuggle the artifacts: The Near East under the ruling of the Ottoman State was being plundered. The West was expanding its ‘original’ classical heritage by bringing new heritage from other lands. But there was one thing they had underestimated; the artifacts taken from their homeland were turning into objects that had lost half or even the whole of their identities.
The mysterious Lycia, which had remained untouched until those times, was one of the favorite regions of the plundering period. Today, several popular artifacts belonging to the bright Lycian era are displayed among the master pieces of the museums in Europe. The “Xanthian Marbles” were the most significant collection representing the plundering of artifacts in the 19th century. Unique monuments of the Classical Era adorned the acropolis of the capital town in a way not observed in any Lycian town. Unfortunately, they were discovered by Sir Charles’ Fellows at a date as early as 1838. In the notes he wrote in 1938, he mentioned of his “discovery of a great amount of precious reliefs in Xanthos” in an excited manner and noted that they “had to be moved to the British Museum”. The journey to Lycia started as soon as his script was received. In 1842-3, he loaded the “Lycian Marbles” involving the Nereid Monument, the Tomb of Payava, the Harpy Tomb, Tombs of Merehi and Aslanlı into a war ship in 78 big containers as a whole or by cutting out their bodies and carried them to the British Museum in London. This was unbelievable: The monuments were all broken to pieces. Their essence of being was taken away. Payava and all the others were just meaningless pieces of rocks now. On the other hand, the British Museum became a unique one among the other European museums as it was adorned with brilliant artifacts. Architect Robert Smirke designed a hall as an annex to the museum building for the “Xanthian Marbles” which caused a great sensation in the academic and elitist social world and rendered Fellows immortal in Great Britain. The western wing started to accommodate all Lycian artifacts as the “Lycian Hall”. The sirens, nereids, lions, horses, rulers and heroes of the Lycia Region of the Classical Age were now in an unfamiliar place, looking at each other in astonishment: Where are the Lycian Mountains, And the Xanthos River; Why is the Mediterranean Blue out of sight? How did we come to this hall?
Years from 1880 to 1884 are cursed for Trysa. Trysa in Demre-Gölbaşı, is mainly remembered by the sad story of the moving of the famous Heroon Tomb entirely to Vienna. J. A. Schönborn discovers Trysa Monument in 1841 for the first time and tries to move it. In his letter, he remarks that “Fellows team has started to remove Xanthian Monuments and take those to the UK and that, Trysa Monument will be moved to the UK if they don’t take action as soon as possible”. In the response to this letter, he is instructed to “move at least essential pieces of the monument immediately”. Fortunately, the Ottoman Sultan of the time doesn’t permit this, and the monument stays in homeland for 40 more years.
However, determined to deprive Lycia of all magnificent monuments, the Europeans won’t give up their efforts to take possession of the Trysa Monument. In 1881, Otto Benndorf comes to Trysa with his team to explore the area with the support of the Count Carl von Lanckoronski and rediscovers the famous Heroon. Benndorf gives every effort to make the renowned Heroon a part of the ancient artifacts collection of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor. He has the wonderful 211-meter-long reliefs removed out and carries them to the coast in 168 chests using the mountain path he has had built in 1882 for this purpose. Today, the Heroon Reliefs are held captive in the display areas and warehouses of the Vienna Museum. But what Benndorf takes from Anatolia is not limited to these artifacts: He dies in Vienna in 1907 from the fatal disease he caught in Anatolia in 1905.
Myra’s Orphan is one of the works that were taken away from their homeland. A young boy among the family members carved into one of the most beautiful Lycian reliefs available in Eastern Rock Cemetery, was cut out by a Greek man from Adalya and was taken to Athens in 1886. Currently it is exhibited in the National Museum of Athens, i.e. in an “orphanage”, with Inventory No 1825. It shared the same early destiny of its fellow, St. Nicholas. The body of St. Nicholas, which was taken out of its cemetery in Myra and moved to Bari in 1087, came out to be a sacred value that was smuggled at the earliest while it was not even an “artifact”, yet. It was as if the Saint didn’t say “Bury me to Myra” but said “Bury me to Bari”. The family of the rock cemetery of the Classical Age is still waiting for their child and the martyrium in the Byzantine church is still waiting for its Saint.
All the “archeologists” of the 19th century was trying to take all artifacts to European museums to the best of their ability. No European ever thought of preserving the artifacts on-site. Monuments are world heritage, indeed. They belong to everybody. Yet, they are under the charge and possession of those lands on behalf of everybody. Indeed, that same Europe adopted the principle of preserving the artifacts on their original site by executing the Venetian Charter and Malta Convention. While this was a sort of confession, we understand that the sins of the 19th century will not be committed at least from now on.
Exploration of Anatolia had a great role in the development of the European ancient sciences. Thus, a great exploration not less important than the artifacts stolen and the delivery of wisdom and prestige were forgotten, indeed. Similar to the significance of CERN for the physicists today, Anatolia is like a laboratory for ancient scientists. While we appreciate the early European researchers for their contribution to us in learning about the history of these lands and realizing the significance of ancient sciences, we cannot forgive their plundering and smuggling of our artifacts and we persistently wait for those artifacts to return to their homeland.
Project by Antalya Promotion Foundation
Sponsored by Fraport TAV Antalya Airport