Turkish Authorities Halt Austrian Archaeological Work at Ancient Site of Ephesus

The abrupt decision follows a diplomatic spat between the two nations.

The Library of Celsus at Ephesus. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
The Library of Celsus at Ephesus. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

An Austrian run archaeological dig at the ancient site of Ephesus has been halted ahead of schedule by the Turkish authorities after a build-up of bad relations between the two nations and amid growing unrest in Turkey.

The project, run by the Austrian Archaeological Institute (AAI), involved 200 researchers. The site has been excavated by Austrian archaeologists for over 120 years, starting in 1895, but recently relations between Turkey and Austria have soured.

In August of this year, Austrian chancellor Christian Kern caused upset by calling Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union “diplomatic fiction,” stating that they were unfit to join. Turkey’s foreign minister then hit back calling Austria the “capital of radical racism,” according to the Art Newspaper. Turkish authorities then withdrew their ambassador from Vienna on August 22.

The Odeon at Ephesus. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The Odeon at Ephesus. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

This followed the failed military coup against Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan this past July, which saw hundreds killed and thousands arrested. Since the coup was attempted there have been many arrests of journalists and artists and many publications in the country have been closed by the authorities.

No reason has been given for the closing of the excavation and restoration work at the UNESCO World Heritage Site and tourist attraction. The project was ended so abruptly that it had to be shut down in just three days.

Section of mosaic from Ephesus. Photo wikimedia commons

Section of mosaic from Ephesus. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The site at Ephesus, which dates back to 6000 BC, is cited in the Book of Revelations and it is thought that the Gospel of John was written there. It also contains the complete façade of a Roman library: the Library of Celsus, built in 135 AD.

Ephesus was a major Greek city on the Ionian Coast and then fell to the Romans in 129 BC. It went have a population of 33,600 to 56,000 in Roman times, making the third largest Roman city in Roman Asia Minor.

“This is a major shock,” said Sabine Ladstätter, head of the AAI, to Science Magazine. “We are concerned about the potential for damage.”


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