[Elfsea] FW: Byzantine discoveries
fitzmorgan at gmail.com
Fri Jan 27 05:14:08 PST 2006
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Niewoehner, Hugh <hughn at ssd.fsi.com>
Date: Jan 26, 2006 2:59 PM
Subject: [Northkeep] FW: Byzantine discoveries
To: Home <BurgBorrendohl at earthlink.net>, northkeep at ansteorra.org
Lost treasures of Constantinople test Turkey's 21st-century ambition
£2bn train tunnel linking Europe to Asia faces delays as dig unearths
Ian Traynor in Istanbul
Wednesday January 25, 2006
Deep in the soft black earth beneath the cleared slum tenements of old
Istanbul, Metin Gokcay points to neatly stacked and labelled crates heaped
with shattered crockery. "That's mostly old mosaics and old ceramics," said
the Istanbul city archaeologist. "And over there we found bones and coins."
Looking at huge slabs of limestone emerging from a depth of more than 7
metres (25ft) below ground, he adds: "That's late Roman, this is early
Byzantine. This tunnel here is very interesting. Perhaps Constantine's
mother had her palace over there."
The archaeologist is making mischief. For more than a millennium this city
bore the name of Constantine, but whether the emperor's mother lived at this
spot called Yenikapi, a powerful stone's throw from the Sea of Marmara, is a
moot point. Mr Gokcay is intrigued and baffled by the subterranean stone
tunnel which, measuring 1.8 metres by 1.5 metres, is too big to have been
used for sewage or as an aqueduct.
But if Mr Gokcay remains in the dark as to the function of the ancient
tunnel, his excavations have led to a stunning discovery that could
jeopardise Turkey's most ambitious engineering project - a new rail and
underground system traversing the Bosphorus and connecting Europe to Asia
via a high-speed railway.
Mr Gokcay has uncovered a 5th-century gem - the original port of
Constantinople, a maze of dams, jetties and platforms that once was
Byzantium's hub for trade with the near east.
Cemal Pulak, a Turkish-American, from Texas, and one of the world's leading
experts in nautical archaeology, said: "The ships from here carried the wine
in jars and amphorae from the Sea of Marmara. The cargoes of grain came in
from Alexandria. This was the harbour that allowed this city to be."
In a mood of barely suppressed excitement, armies of archaeologists and
labourers have been scraping away silt and rubble for the past year and
revealed a vast site the size of several football pitches. It is slowly
giving up its secrets and its treasures.
Seven sunken ships have already been found buried in mud at Yenikapi, a few
hundred metres inland from the Sea of Marmara and a 10-minute stroll from
the mass tourist attractions of the Grand Bazaar and the Topkapi Palace.
Mr Pulak is thrilled that one of the ships, a longboat, may be the first
Byzantine naval vessel ever found. All of the boats appear to have been
wrecked in a storm. There are 1,000-year-old shipping ropes in perfect
condition, preserved in silt for centuries. There are huge forged iron
anchors, viewed as so valuable in medieval Byzantium they were highly prized
items in the dowries of the daughters of the wealthy.
But if the discovery of the ancient port of Constantinople promises a
treasure chest of riches for historians and archaeologists, it also brings
its problems. The old harbour straddles what is to become the biggest
railway station in Turkey, a gleaming modern temple connecting the city's
new high-speed rail and metro.
"It's a phenomenal site. But it opens a can of worms," said Mr Pulak. "This
is to be the biggest station in Turkey and they'll be wanting to put huge
shopping malls on the top."
The Yenikapi site is the linchpin of what the Turkish government dubs the
"project of the century". The $4bn (£2.2bn) Marmaray transport project is
being built by a Japanese-led consortium. There will be tunnelling under the
Bosphorus for the first time ever, with high-speed trains going through the
deepest underwater tunnel in the world in the middle of a high-risk
earthquake zone. The tunnel itself will be built to withstand quakes
of 9.0on the Richter scale in the area of the North Anatolian Fault,
below the Sea of Marmara nearing the walls of Istanbul. Seismologists say a
large earthquake and a mini tsunami are almost inevitable within a
generation at the latest.
The ambitious new transport system is to shift 75,000 passengers an hour and
to put Istanbul behind only Tokyo and New York in the global league table
for urban rail capacity.
There is no doubt the Marmaray is needed urgently. In a city of 12 million,
which seems to grow by the week, the traffic congestion is a nightmare and
the Bosphorus bridges are gridlocked semi-permanently. So the engineers,
transport officials and urban planners are in a hurry to get the
infrastructure built by the end of the decade. That puts Mr Gokcay and his
teams of experts under immense pressure to finish their dig.
"The transport guys say they are losing a million a day because of the
archaeological delays," said one expert. "But it's ridiculous - when they
were building the Athens metro the excavations took seven years. Here they
want it finished in six months."
Ismail Karamut, the director of the city's museum of archaeology and a
leading expert on the history of Istanbul, refuses to be intimidated by the
urban planners. "This city is 2,800 years old and here we're digging right
in the middle of a living city. It's not like excavating on a mountainside.
The transport people can't start until we're finished. And maybe they'll
have to change their project depending on what we find. We've told them we
can't give them a deadline."
It is perhaps logical and fitting that the same spot that provided the
shipping hub for 5th-century Constantinople should become the rail nexus for
21st-century Istanbul. But the dilemmas thrown up by trying to secure the
future without destroying the past are a headache.
The discovered artefacts fall into the easy bit. The ships can be rebuilt
using computer simulations; the anchors, ropes and coins can all be housed
elsewhere. But you cannot move the ancient port - believed to be Portus
Theodosiacus, in use from the 4th to the 7th centuries, after which it
started silting up, then became useless for shipping. In later centuries it
served just as fertile vegetable plots for Ottoman allotment gardeners.
One idea is to cordon off the old port area creating an "archaeological
island" that would be an exhibit in the new transport complex. But that is a
tricky solution because of the underground shafts and the vast scale of the
The doyen of archaeology for Constantinople, the late German researcher
Wolfgang Muller-Wiener, predicted 30 years ago that the old port would be
found at Yenikapi. But the site was covered in illegal tenements and could
not be explored. It was the modern transport project that made discovery of
the old port possible, since the site had to be cleared to make way for the
Mr Karamut said: "We knew from the ancient documents and records that there
was some kind of port around there. But we didn't know exactly where. We
didn't know that it could be Constantinople's first harbour."
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