Anatolian Treasures Away From Where They Belong

Anatolian Treasures Away From Where They Belong

The geography of Anatolia is a huge treasure. It is rich in civilizations and archaeological findings. Throughout history, it has accumulated so much that it has always been the center of attention to world art history.

You certainly cannot get enough of Turkey’s museums but we know that not all of the relics unearthed are where they belong. Many of the famous museums of the world exhibit the smuggled artifacts excavated in the late Ottoman period as well as in the early period of the Republic of Turkey. One of the important obstacles to the removal of historical artifacts out of the country was the declaration of the First Constitutional Monarchy, which established a constitutional system and prevented the will of the Sultan to give permission. Osman Hamdi Bey, the founder of the Academy of Fine Arts and the İstanbul Archaeological Museum, banned the removal of historical artifacts out of the country with the Asr-ı Atika Regulations passed in 1883. However, the most significant step regarding the protection of historical artifacts was taken during the Republic period with the efforts of Atatürk. Although some of the artifacts have returned to the country over the years, most of them are still abroad… Here are some of them…

BERGAMA (ZEUS) ALTAR                                                                                                                                             

The Museuminsel (Museum Island), a small island on the River Spree, which can compete with the Louvre of Paris, is made up of five old museums with great historical wealth. At the end of the 18th century, a collection of museums emerged as a result of the nobles’ desire to open their collections to the public. This tradition begins in Berlin at the same time as the Louvre in Paris, the British Museum in London and the Prado in Madrid. There is an archaeological piece among the artifacts, which belonged to different periods and qualified as treasures, exhibited in the Bergama (Pergamon) Museum, which was completed in 1930. This artifact not only concerns Turkey but the whole world closely: Bergama (Zeus) Altar (BC 165)… The story of the altar, which has been closed for a while now due to restoration, is as follows; when King Eumenes the II. escaped from an assassination attempt, Zeus and Athena built this altar on behalf of the gods. The striking contrast between the peace in the creation of a city and the chaos in its fall is represented at the magnificent Hellenistic sculpting work with embossments, where the life of Telephos, the legendary founder of Pergamon, is depicted on the interior and a scene of the mythological War with the Giants is depicted on the exterior. The Zeus Altar is the first anti-militarist message in the world and an artifact that the history of mankind should be proud of in terms of the well-measured symbolization of the victory of the Pergamon against the enemy. In the 1870s, German archaeologist Karl Humann, after finding the Acropolis of Pergamon, built a 20 km railway to carry the remains of the altar to a port. He then loaded them on seven ships and transported them to Germany.


One of the seven wonders of the ancient world, unfortunately, is not on the territory of Anatolia. The foundation stones, column pieces, and reliefs of the Temple of Artemis, which was excavated during archaeological excavations, are being exhibited at the British Museum in London. They are among the museum’s most valuable collections. The only thing left behind from the Temple of Artemis in İzmir’s Selçuk district is a column piece. The artifact, which is believed to be the statue of Artemis, unearthed during the digs, is in the Selçuk Museum. Located in Ephesus, which was once one of the four largest cities of the ancient world, this temple, built entirely of marble, featuring an extraordinary statue of Artemis with the features of Greek Artemis of the Goddess of Hunting and Anatolian Kybele of the Goddess of Fertility, was the largest of the Hellenistic temples. The most common view on the construction of the temple is that it was built for the Goddess of Fertility Artemis by the order of King of Lydia Kroesus in 550 B.C. and that it was the result of a 120-year long project. The 36 columns on the front were decorated with reliefs and statues. According to the famous historian Herodotus, the waves of the sea washed the steps of the temple. In 1867, during the fall of the Ottoman Empire, England convinced the Ottoman Empire to build a railway for the export of figs and tobacco between Aydın and İzmir. In fact, their aim was to include the Ottoman Empire in their empire. Engineer John T. Wood was assigned this task. Wood, who was also an amateur archaeologist, encountered some remarkably large ruins as he passed through Selçuk. He understood from their dimensions that these were not ordinary relics. With the permission of the Ottoman Empire, he started excavations and revealed that this was the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Unfortunately, he took valuable sculptures, columns, and reliefs to England.


Heinrich Schliemann, an enthusiast of archeology, had pursued a passion for years, starting from Homer’s Iliad, which he had studied in his childhood: the treasures of Troy. In May 1873, in one of his excavations, during which he had damaged many artifacts, he saw objects shining at 10 meters deep, and along with his Greek wife Sofia, smuggled the treasure to Athens in his wife’s shawl. The photographs of his wife wearing some pieces around her neck are proof that she was with him at that time. No archaeological institute accepted the discovery since he did not have any archaeological education and excavations were not conducted in a scientific way. Although every artifact was documented, no museum wanted to exhibit neither the treasure nor the other pottery. In 1882, he hired the young architect-archaeologist Dörpfeld. Thanks to him, he learned that archeology was a science other than treasure hunting. He presented his findings to the Berlin Museum in Germany, of which he was a citizen. The treasury had been exhibited in this museum for ten years after the First World War. It was stored to avoid damage during World War II. At the end of the war, all the artifacts in the museums were moved to a safe place so that they would not fall into the hands of the Russians. There were still three vaults remained at the tower where General Unversagt, a loyal Nazi, stayed in Berlin. It is even rumored that he slept on these vaults at night. The general remained in Berlin with the vaults, even when the city was in flames. When Berlin fell into the hands of the Russians, Unversagt begged the Russian general to avoid damage to the vaults. Although the Russians promised the German general that they would be safe, they soon disappeared. Exactly 40 years later, in 1987, the curator of the Pushkin Museum in Moscow declared to the world that the vaults were found “by chance”.


The book guarantee through inheritance and the ingenious solution to dampness were implemented in the Celsus Library of Ephesus, which has a special place in the cultural history of the ancient world. Roman consul Gaius Julius Aquila built this marble library in honor of his senator father Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus, by using his father’s legacy and left 25,000 gold coins for the preservation of the building and the purchase of books. It is estimated that the library has between 9,500 and 12,000 book rolls. A corridor between the inner wall and the outer wall to protect the books from moisture was built. The sarcophagus, which is still visible in the library today, is the tomb of Celsus. Although not certain, it is estimated that his son wanted to build a mausoleum in the city center to fulfill his father’s will, but he could not get permission so, he turned it into a library. For archaeological studies that began in 1860, Austria, on the basis of its close relations to the Ottoman Empire, was granted permission to excavate in Ephesus, which was discovered 50 years ago but has not yet been excavated. The library was found completely destroyed during the excavations of 1905. In the years between 1970 and 1978, the Austrian Archaeological Institute united more than 700 original pieces of the library, and after 10 years, the institute rebuilt the façade by bringing together 80% of the structure. The magnificent reliefs and sculptures, which were originally taken to Vienna during the years when the library was being excavated, are now on display at the Ephesus Museum within the Vienna Art History Museum. Especially the woman statues, the replicas of which are standing in the niches today, are remarkable. As it is written in their pedestals, the statues symbolize the characteristics of Celsus, which are wisdom (Sophia), knowledge (Episteme), intelligence (Ennoia) and virtue (Arete).


There were three cities in the ancient world that were famous for their terracotta figurines: Tanagra in Greece, Tarentum in Italy and Myrina in Western Anatolia. Myrina is located in the Aiolis region, just north of the Aliağa district of İzmir. It was a wealthy Anatolian city between the years of 250 and 106 and it was at the height of its art when it was destroyed by an earthquake. Multicolored terracotta figurines were produced in high quality in the workshops of the city. In the Hellenistic period, these workshops were specialized in reproducing these famous sculptures, which were especially women. Also among the masters of Myrina, Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, was a very popular topic among many terracotta figures. Today, the Crouching Aphrodite, which is being exhibited in the Louvre, the world-famous museum of Paris, France, is estimated to belong to the 2nd century B.C. The largest collection of Myrina terracotta figurines are exhibited in the Louvre Museum, while the second-largest collection is in the İstanbul Archaeological Museum. In 1880, three French archaeologists in their twenties received permission from the Ottoman Empire to excavate Myrina. The Baltacı (Baltazzi) family of Venetian origin that settled in İzmir in the middle of the 18th century assisted the French diggers. Demosthenes Baltazzi of this family was interested in archeology and even participated in the Lebanon-Sayda excavations with Osman Hamdi Bey. Baltazzi, who was also the archaeological director of the Aydın province, also dug his own land in Myrina and Kyme. Myrina owes its fame to the thousands of terracotta figurines that came to light in the second half of the 19th century, both in illegal excavations and in French excavations. The number of earth figurines unearthed by official excavations is not small.