Tourism push threatens Turkey’s ancient sites

The age-old battle pitting historical preservation against tourism infrastructure development is coming to a fever pitch in Turkey. In an effort to increase tourism, which is set to earn Turkey $21 billion in 2011, the Turkish government recently transferred some archeological excavation permits from non-Turkish to Turkish universities. This unprecedented move, according to The Art Newspaper, is “a cracking of the whip over foreign scholars regarded as not working fast enough to transform the country’s extensive array of antiquities into tourist attractions.”

Turkey lays claim to an impressive catalog of antiquities, ranging from Greek and Roman ruins to the remains of ancient Hittite settlements to Byzantine and medieval Arab treasures. Its most famous archeological attraction is Ephesus, an ancient Greek and Roman city and the home of the Library of Celsus, one of the most iconic ruins of ancient Rome. Ephesus attracts more than two million visitors each year making it the perfect example for both sides of the preservation vs. tourism debate.

Infrastructure development to handle both the influx of tourists and the increased urbanization of Turkey’s populacealso threatens Turkey’s cultural heritage. For example, seven years ago, workers building a new station for the Istanbul metro system uncovered a Byzantine harbor which included the ruins of 32 buried ships. While a work stoppage was ordered to preserve these artifacts, Turkish officials, particularly Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who complained that “bits of old potsherds” were getting in the way of development, have grown weary with the slow progress of infrastructure projects. Other antiquities, such as the ancient Roman spa town of Allianoi, have already become victims to Turkey’s efforts to modernize. Allianoi now lies buried beneath the Ilya River as part of the Yortanlı Dam project.

In recent years, Turkey has emerged as one of the world’s fastest growing economies as well as an increasingly popular destination for tourists. It shall be interesting to see how Turkey’s antiquities fare as these two factors force the country towards more development.

Photo © Melanie Renzulli

The ultimate road trip: 12,500 miles across Africa on a motorcycle

Thomas Tomczyk is serious about motorcycles. He’s done three motorcycle trips across India, from the steamy southern tip all the way up to the frozen highlands of Ladakh. Now he’s starting his childhood dream–an epic trip 12,500 miles (20,000 km) across Africa.

His zigzag tour will take in 22 African nations including South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, the Central African Republic, Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, the Saharawi Republic, and Morocco. . .

. . .before he ends up skinny, exhausted, and happy at my house in Spain, where my wife will fatten him up with her excellent paella.

Full disclosure: Thomas is a friend of mine. We covered the massive Hindu pilgrimage of Kumbh Mela together in 2001 and barely managed not to get trampled to death by hordes of naked holy men. But even if I didn’t know him, this trip is so thoroughly cool I would have reported on it anyway.

Thomas isn’t just going on vacation; he’ll be visiting innovative grassroots projects that are making life better for the average African. Through his website Africa Heart Beat he’ll be telling us about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, such as creating a job center for landmine victims in Mozambique, an AIDS theater group in Botswana, and a Muslim-Christian vocational center in Mali that’s bringing the two communities together.

“The idea of crossing Africa came to me when I was 10,” Thomas says.”A large map of the world hung above my bed in a small Warsaw apartment. I would study the geography of each continent, its road and railroad network. The most prominent continent would be Africa, placed in the middle of the map, right above where my head would rest on the pillow. The idea stayed in my mind for years. I would eventually learn to ride motorcycles in India and cover the Horn of Africa for publications in Poland and US. In January 2009 my grandmother passed away and I decided it was time to do the trek I’ve been thinking about for so long. Traveling for travel’s sake was past me, and I decided I needed to find a purpose as I travel, something that would give meaning to the journey and benefit others.”

While 20,000 km is a long way to ride, he’s done it before in India. His longest journey there was 20,000 km on a 1950s technology 350cc Royal Enfield Bullet. I’ve ridden that bike and it’s a monster– heavy and tough enough for the task. This time he’ll be probably picking up a KTM 640 LC Adventure, a lighter but rugged off-road bike from a dealer in South Africa when he flies there Thanksgiving Day.

He’ll be crossing some very remote areas but will keep in touch as much as possible with an array of communications equipment. There will be regular updates on his blog, Facebook page, and YouTube channel. On the day after Thanksgiving, when Thomas is safely in Johannesburg and on the first day of his eight-month journey I’ll be writing about some of the gear he’s bringing along and share some advice he has for covering your own journeys as you do them.

Know of a project Thomas should cover? Tell us about it in the comments section!