Henry Grabar is a staff writer for Slate’s Moneybox and a former fellow at CityLab. He lives in New York.
When life gives you a giant mosaic, build a museum-hotel.
Digging in the soil of Antakya, a small city near Turkey's Syrian border known to the Greeks as Antioch, Nehmi Asfuroğlu discovered one of the world's largest and best-preserved ancient mosaics. It was an archaeologist's dream, but Asfuroğlu is a developer, and he was hoping to build a hotel on the site.
He could have abandoned the project or concealed the discovery, but instead, he funded a seven-month excavation, abandoning the power tools of hotel construction for the manpower of historians from the local university. He hired architect Emre Arolat to design a museum-hotel complex on the site, preserving the floor beneath and creating a space to exhibit artifacts.
Clashes between construction and preservation happen all the time in the cities of the Mediterranean basin, and rarely do they end this well. In June, developers in Beirut controversially destroyed a section of the ancient Phoenician port. In Rome, construction of the third subway line has crawled along due to the large number of artifacts uncovered. In France, archaeological authorities estimate that a large amount of historical information is lost every year at development sites.
In Arolat's renderings for the Antakya Museum-Hotel, pre-fab room modules sit in a grid of steel girders, minimizing on-site construction and joining the space of the hotel with the historical site below. Columns rise from the riverbed to minimize interference in the ruins, supporting a canopy that shelters the entire structure. The mosaic is currently covered by a layer of gravel to protect it from construction, but it probably looks similar to the photo above, which shows the mosaic of Oceanus and Tethys at the Antakya Archaeological Museum.
The cost of the project, meanwhile, has risen from about $30 million to closer to $100 million. "I could have done three hotels for the cost of this one," Asfuroğlu told NBC News. "But this is fun, a challenge, a pleasure."
Top image: Flickr user APHarris75.