Treasure hunters destroy 18th-century chapel in western Turkey

A chapel inside a 250-year-old monastery collapsed in western Turkey after repeated illegal excavations, Daily Sabah reported on Monday.

The chapel was the only surviving part of the 18th-century Ai Dimitri monastery, situated on Cunda Island near the Aegean resort town of Ayvalık, in Balıkesir province, Daily Sabah said. Ayvalık is located near other historical sites such as the ancient city of Troy and settlements like Assos and Pergamon.

Frequent raids by treasure hunters seeking to unearth valuable artefacts have caused damage to historical sites, said Figen Erdoğdu, an assistant professor in the Department of Restoration at Balıkesir University.

“Ancient structures here are invaluable artefacts themselves, but people search for hidden treasures supposedly buried here and, in the process, they destroy them,” Erdoğdu told Demirören News Agency (DHA) on Sunday, according to Daily Sabah.

Erdoğdu said she first saw large pits opened by treasure hunters inside the chapel in 2018.

“People do not appreciate the value of these places and I wonder what future generations will be left with (for learning history),” she said. “I call upon authorities to take measures to protect these places.”

The Ai Dimitri monastery was the first of its kind to be built on Cunda island in 1766 but was damaged after a Greek uprising in 1821, Daily Sabah said, citing historian Taylan Köken. 

“Most monasteries were in a decrepit state, and the chapel was the only surviving part of the complex,” Köken said. “It was still standing strong eight years ago.”

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