UNESCO Protection of Ancient Sacred Site Not Enforced Within Romania, Spring 2001
By Nancy & Leonard Becker
Sarmizegetusa, located in the sacred Orastie Mountains, of Romania, consists of the remains of a Fortified City and Sacred Area. The city dates from 82 BC to 107 AD, during the reign of Decebal, the last of the Dacian kings. It was the capital of Dacia during this period. The archaeological ruins clearly illustrate the importance of geometry in designing the city; rectangular and polygonal structures were common along with circular sacred spaces.
The most important remnant of the Sacred Area is Sarmizegetusa Regia, a large nearly circular astronomical temple. What remains of the temple are a horseshoe-shaped wooden structure surrounded by a stone circle, making it a combined Woodhenge and Stonehenge. The temple opens towards the south-east with a fireplace facing the direction of sunrise at winter solstice.
Five of the ancient fortresses were declared monuments of Universal Cultural Patrimony by UNESCO in December of 2000. Romania, according to the article, “The Second conquest of Sarmizegetusa” by Mr. Ioan (Magazin, No2/2001), has had difficulty protecting the site because of an absence of fundamental Romanian preservation laws. The site has been subjected to endless looting by professional thieves searching for the legendary golden treasure of the Dacian kings. The greatest cache is thought to be a two-ton gold sarcophagus belonging to Decebel. Other thieves search for small funerary objects or other ìsmall changeî in the form of coins.
The “Second Conquest of Sarmizegetusa” also states that police from a nearby village are well aware of thieves with at least seventy metal detectors used to regularly comb the site in pursuit of artifacts. Four years ago, five robbers were caught stealing silver Dacic coins from the site. They have never been punished in court.
Another kind of pilfering has been perpetrated by wealthy people building homes without permits at Sarmizegetusa. They violate the historic and sacred areas and steal coins and objects uncovered during construction.
Paul Ioan’s article calls upon the Romanian government and its Ministry of Culture to restore dignity to Romanian history by protecting this site with assistance of the Romanian Public Order Ministry. He implores Romanian officials to prevent the flow of artifacts into the hands of private collectors and thieves who sell patrimonial property to foreign museums.
The Romanian Ministry of Culture, according to Sacred Sites member, John Palmer, “ordered the demolition of the illegally built houses. The full outcome of the measures taken is still unknown.”
Leonard & Nancy Becker are co-founders of Sacred Sites International Foundation
Fall 2001 Site Update
by John Palmer with Paul Ioan
Sarmezegetusa has again been featured on television with reports that from 1996, several kilograms of gold in antique items were exported from Romanian soil. While archaeologists have only been able to find a few gold and silver coins from the site in over 30 years; treasure hunters have reported finding since 1990 over 20,000 coins.
Romanian police recently held a car at the border because it was transporting 2000 gold coins destined to be sold outside the country. The police have managed to catch some of the plunderers, however, most are sent free without serious punishment.
The Museum at Deva has in its collection three found coins and 41 gold coins bought from an individual in Orastie. The Museum has been closed since 1996 needing money for restoration. It is possible that gold coins, not unlike objects from Incan tombs, are offered for sale in well-known international auction houses.
John Palmer is author of “The megaliths of Wéris”, Winter 2001, Site Saver newsletter. Paul Ioan is editor of the Romanian “Magazin”.
For more information about Sarmizegetusa: www.cimec.ro/Arheologie/sarmi/4eng.htm
What You Can Do to Help: Please write polite letters to the following officials requesting better site monitoring to prevent looting and appropriate punishment commensurate with the World Heritage Site status of the site.
8, Anton Cehov Sector 1
Please copy your letters to:
UNESCO World Heritage Centre
7 Place de Fontenoy
Dr. Michael Petzet, President
49-51 rue de la Federation