Turkish officials recently discovered that locals in the town of Fethiye were using ancient tombs as storage units. According to Hurriyet Daily News, a subsequent clean-up crew retrieved one ton — 2,000 pounds — of rubber tires, plastic bottles, and boxes from the vaults.
The Amintas tombs, as they’re called, were built in the 4th century BCE to house the remains of King Amintus and the wealthiest inhabitants of Telmessos, then the largest city-state in ancient Lycia. The Lycians carved them directly into the cliff face, giving King Amintas — whose resting place was at the very top — a tomb with a view.
Today the tombs are Fethiye’s main tourist attraction. Which begs the question: how did they get to be filled with so much trash before authorities ever even noticed or took action?
Sadly, they’re not the only cultural sites in Turkey that have been so neglected. In 2013, news agencies reported that villagers in Urfa Province were using a centuries-old Armenian church — registered as a heritage site with the Culture and Tourism Ministry — as a barn. And this past August, the media reported historic Armenian gravestones were being used as manhole covers in one Turkish district. Armenian sites in the country seem particularly vulnerable to neglect and even destruction.
Salih Taşçı,a tour guide in Fethiye, told Hurriyet that Turkey has gained a bad reputation for protecting its cultural heritage. “Examining the historical artifacts in the region, European tourists sometimes say, Turks do not respect history and protect it,” he said. “[The tombs] are centers of attraction in Fethiye, so [their protection] is very important.”