The ruins of the Christian church in Turkey’s Lake Iznik is thought to have been built around A. D. 390 Credit: Mustafa Sahin/the Lake of Iznik, Excavation Archive
When Mustafa Sahin for the first time saw photos of the sunken old church beneath the waves of Turkey is the Lake of Iznik, he couldn’t believe what he saw.
The head of the archaeology in Bursa Uludağ University, have been looking for the shores of the lake for a number of years, but it was not until the local government surveyors showed him some aerial photos in 2014 that he realized that the lake itself covered the ancient ruins he was looking for.
“When I first saw the images of the lake, I was quite surprised to see a church structure that is clear,” Şahin told Science in an e-mail. “I did field research in Iznik [since 2006], and that I still had not discovered such a beautiful structure.’
The ruins of the old church is under about 10 feet (3 meters) of water, about 160 feet (50 m) from the shore of the Lake of Iznik, near the western tip of Turkey, and around 2 hours drive from the capital of Istanbul. [See Photos of the Sunken Basilica in Turkey]
Archaeologists think that the Roman-style church, which is known as a basilica, built on the shore of the lake, around A. D. 390, when Iznik was known as Nicaea and Istanbul was Constantinople — the eastern center of the Roman Empire. The archaeologists now think that this church can hide a treasure beneath it: a pagan temple.
In A. D. 740, an earthquake destroyed the church, which later sank beneath the more surface area, which the ruins under water and forgotten until they were rediscovered, more than 1600 years later.
Before any of this wealth, are lost to history, Sahin and local government leader Alinur Aktaş to the site to be established as Turkey’s first underwater archaeological museum.
Sahin and employees of Iznik archaeological Museum carried out underwater excavations of the sunken basilica since 2015. The warm climate of the region means that the lake is filled with algae, which can reduce the visibility during the excavation dives up to a few centimetres, Sahin said. Archaeologists use special equipment to carry soil from the excavation under water to the shore, where it can be sifted for artifacts.
Sahin said that the most important finds of different human tombs under the basilica, the main transverse wall, known as the bema wall, pointing to a raised platform used by the clergy.
Several coins were found in these graves date from the time of the Roman emperors Valens (who ruled from A. D. 364 to 378) and Valentinian II (who ruled from A. D. 375 to 392), which showed that the basilica was built after A. D. 390, Sahin said. [Photos: Gladiators of the Roman Empire]
Sahin is of the opinion that the basilica is dedicated to St. Neophytos, who was put to death in Nicea by the Romans in A. D. 303, during the reign of the emperor Diocletian.
Ten years later, in A. D. 313, the emperor Constantine the Great issued the Edict of Milan, establishing religious tolerance for Christianity in the Roman Empire; Neophytos was celebrated as an early Christian martyr.
The city of Nicea itself became famous in the whole Christian world in A. D. 325, when Constantine the first council of the leaders of the church to this end, determine the fundamental beliefs of the religion, which he promoted in the pagan Roman Empire.
But the secret of the submerged ruins in the Lake of Iznik, may be even older than Christianity.
Sahin said that the basilica may have been built on top of a pagan temple of Apollo, the Greek and Roman sun-god, sometimes associated with Jesus in the early Christian period.Roman documents concerning the emperor Commodus, who ruled the Roman empire from A. D. 180 to 192, built a temple to Apollo in Nicea outside the city walls.
Some ancient coins, and fragments of an ancient lamp discovered on the church website, indicate a still earlier structure, Sahin said. “Could this temple are under the basilica?”
If the plans for the underwater museum are approved, construction could begin this year and it would be open to visitors in 2019, Sahin said.
The buildings of the museum would be a 60-foot-high (20 m) tower, to the ruins can be seen from the shore, and a footbridge over the lake, above the submerged site itself.
The museum complex would also have a diving club, so tourists can explore the sunken ruins, and an underwater glass room in the ship of the sunken basilica where the visitors to the old church would pray, Sahin said.
Original article on Live Science.