The paradox of protection

A big part of the Lycian coast –of which Olympos was a major city some 2000 years ago- is a well-protected area. The Turkish military regime of 1980-83 made the first (and only) development plan for tourism and determined that this region should be preserved. Apart from the many archeological sites, the whole mountain range is one big nature reserve. That’s why each time I walk along the river through the overgrown ruins of Olympos to a pristine beach embraced by pink flowering oleander bushes, I’m stunned. And convinced that Indiana Jones must have been here. It is the reason why our summer house overlooks green mountains (one now brown, due to a forest fire last year), and why at six in the morning I hear the cocks crow all the way down in the valley, their thin voices carried by the sweet=scented air (sweetly scented with hay).
There is tourism here, but only on a small scale: little pensions built out of scrap wood, the famous tree houses of Olympos. Those are all illegal, but the villagers are allowed to get away with it as long as their ‘pansyons’ are not too structural and can be torn up immediately should the authorities so order.
The fact that they never do, of course, invites outsiders to try and bend the rules as well. At the bottom of the valley we can see a stone building, immaculately built to be a boutique hotel. The Istanbul owner spent a lot of money, yet he can’t get his building legalized because he has no access road. And because he never thought through the plan, something he would have had to in any normal situation, the building is functionally improbable as a hotel even if it was legal: the entrance is at the back, it’s facing north and an unhappy experimental pool is now a big hole in the wrong place. The same goes for our direct neighbor. With the left-overs of a renovation of the hotel in Kemer he was the manager of, he built a palatial villa, but abandoned the project when he couldn’t get an access road. It now sits there, a half-finished eye-sore. A friend of ours from Bolu spent a fortune with his German business partner to prepare the land they bought across our valley for a series of small holiday villas. Roads were built up into the forest, platforms cleared, water and sewage systems installed… they have been giving work to a whole army of people for several years now, only to discover that it is true what they knew all along: on one plot of land here you are only allowed to build one building. This rule prevents the emergence of holiday villages that have ruined so many coastlines in Turkey.
I feel sorry for our friend, and all those other people who have wasted their money and creative energy, but I’m happy that the rules are strict, and for once, applied (fingers crossed). I know our friend is working on a ‘solution’. The best outcome would be a change of the rules that does allow small-scale, upmarket development that preserves the natural and archeological beauty of Lycia, but until that happens, I hope he will fail. Perhaps the project will die and the forest will take back the cleared land, just like has happened with a similar project on the hillside below us. Or perhaps he could put luxury tents on the platforms, like in those African safari’s for which one pays 500euros a night.
If this region has to be developed (and it will, we’re part of it), I’d like it to remain different from anywhere else in Turkey. If only because there still exist people who don’t like massive hotels with their strict regime of meals at set times, noisy swimming-pool gymnastics, obligatory beach volleyball and deafening disco at night. Just for those people who like the –also deafening- sound of crickets, who like beaches without plastic chairs, and who don’t need to walk on granite-paved floors or ride an airconditioned elevator in their bathing suits.


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