Can a hidden underwater city bring tourists back to Turkey?
Off the coast of the Turkish city of Antalya lies the small uninhabited island of Kekova. It’s a beautiful and tranquil place, with water a jewelled shade of blue. It’s also fragrant, as “Kekova” derives from the Turkish word for thyme.
But the island is perhaps best known for its curious attraction: the remains of a sunken ancient city visible below the waves. These are the ruins of a trading post, Simena, destroyed by earthquakes in the second century.
While it is possible boat or kayak around the area, and dive nearby, under-water exploration has been banned since 1986 as part of a series of measures to protect the lost city’s heritage, something the Turkish government takes seriously. It declared the region a Specially Protected Area in 1990, and in 2000 submitted Kekova to Unesco for consideration as a World Heritage Site. It currently sits on the organisation’s Tentative List.
If the diving restrictions are lifted, the spot would be ideal for novice divers; much of the sunken city is still high enough that it can be seen from the surface, and thus the diving is shallow. But Levent Işık of the Kekova Diving Centre says a lift on diving restrictions could transform the island.
“The potential for tourists to dive this site is of great interest to all who wish to find out more about our heritage,” he said. “The governor of Antalya and the governor of Demre are Scuba divers and protectors of the underwater world.”
“Once this ban has been lifted it will have a tremendous impact as many underwater archaeologists and universities will want to come and see more of the secrets that the 4000 year old civilisation had.”
The sunken city is a five-minute boat from the village of Üçağız, where the dive trips originate, which in turn can be reach from Kaş, a bus away from Antalya.
There’s been no word yet on the status of the application for controlled diving, which was only filed two weeks ago.