MARMARAY-METRO PROJECTS ARCHAEOLOGICAL EXCAVATIONS
İstanbul, the favorite city of the Turkish Republic, has hosted various cultures for thousands of years, has brought the eastern and the western cultures together, has conveyed the magnificent buildings of the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires to the present, was designated as the European Capital of Culture in 2010, maintained its importance during all periods of history, and is distinguished as world's one of the most important metropolises.
One of the most important problems faced by this old city, which preserved its importance in all periods of history, during its transformation into a modern metropolis, was the transportation problem. The archaeological excavations initiated in 2004 under the leadership of the İstanbul Archaeological Museums upon the permission of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, General Directorate for Cultural Assets and Museums thanks to the archaeological finds unearthed during the construction of the stations in Üsküdar, Sirkeci and Yenikapı within the scope of the Marmaray (Marmarail) and Metro projects, which have been developed by the Ministry of Transport and the İstanbul Metropolitan Municipality to solve this problem and constitute Turkey's largest rail network for public transport, are going to enter the final phase.
In Yenikapı, during excavations covering an area of 58,000 square meters and starting 3 meters above the sea level, between 3 meters above the sea level and 1 meter below the sea level, in the cultural layers belonging to the Late Ottoman Period, architectural remains of small factories and workshops dated to the 19th century and a street texture were unearthed. The relevant conservation board decided to conserve the factories and architectural remains on their original site, whereas the street texture has been demounted and put under protection in order to be used as a part of the Archeopark project.
During these activities, which have turned into the most comprehensive archaeological excavations related to the history of İstanbul, in Yenikapı, where a central station is going to be constructed, between 1 and 6.30 meters below the sea level, the Port of Theodosius, the largest port in the Early Byzantine Period was unearthed.
Remains of ships unearthed during excavations and dated to the 7th-11th centuries indicate that the Port of Theodosius, which had been built at the mouth of the Lykos (Bayrampaşa) Creek on the shore of the Sea of Marmara by Theodosius I (379-393) in order to meet the needs of the expanding new capital of the Roman Empire, was continued to be operated as a port for small ships and boats, although it had lost most of its functions due to the silt carried by the Lykos Creek. During excavations at three different locations, remains of 35 ships of different dimensions and types dated to the 5th-11th centuries, namely 13 wrecks at the Marmaray excavation area and 22 wrecks at the Metro excavation area were unearthed.
The Yenikapı shipwrecks, which constitute world's one of the largest repertories as an ancient ship collection, provide important information on the ship types, ship construction technologies and on the development of this technology.
The shipwreck that is called Yenikapı 35 was discovered at the excavation site in June 2011, it has been mentioned as a Byzantine ship remnant in many recent news articles, and it has a special place among the remains of the Port of Theodosius. The present wreck is about 15 meters long and 5 meters wide. The cargo of the wreck includes amphorae of various types. It is one of the largest cargo ships discovered in the port in terms of its dimensions, and the strongest wreck in terms of its wood features. Initial data suggest that the shipwreck is dating from the 4th-5th centuries AD.
The onshore architectural remains of the port, such as the sea walls, the wharf made of large stone blocks and a part of the breakwater, which were unearthed during excavations at the site located west of the Yenikapı excavation area and nowadays called the Plot 100, has been decided to be conserved at their original site, by the relevant regional conservation board. Thus, the station project developed for this area has been cancelled. The activities related to the remains taken under conservation are going to be completed together with the Archeopark project and they will be opened to visitors.
Additionally, the remains of the church unearthed from the port filling during excavations carried out at the Yenikapı Metro area, dated to the 12th-13th centuries AD, and decided to be transported by the relevant board has also been taken under conservation and is going to be incorporated into the Archeopark project.
The discovery of the remains of Neolithic wattle and daub buildings based on simple stones and the corpse in fetal position and the funerary urns around these remains at about 6.30 meters below the current sea level during excavations carried out below the ground filling of the Port of Theodosius seriously contributed to the understanding of the Neolithization of the region. In early 2011, a quite rare example of Neolithic wooden burial structures was found at the Yenikapı Metro excavation site. This new grave unearthed during recent excavations has provided unique data in terms of Neolithic burial architecture. In this new grave, the deceased is an adult individual laid down in fetal position in the southwest-northeast direction. Parallel thin lumbers were located beneath the deceased at intervals, the body was laid down upon them, and the top of the deceased was covered by a large perpendicular lumber, probably a single peace. There is no known other structure similar to this wooden burial structure, yet. The grave is very interesting and remarkable in terms of wood organization. Since it is almost impossible to conserve wood materials in archaeological fillings, this discovery is of great importance.
The Yenikapı Neolithic settlement carried the history of settlements in the Historic Peninsula back to about 8500 years ago. The Neolithic remains unearthed at this site have been observed to be in close similarity to the "Fikirtepe Culture" and "Yarımburgaz 4" phase, which are called the Neolithic communities in the İstanbul region.
During Yenikapı excavations carried out within the scope of the Marmaray and Metro Projects, 35 thousand artifacts covering all periods from the Neolithic Period without interruption and shedding light on the history of the city have been documented and put into the service of science. Additionally, during these activities, the sea fillings that formed layers between the remains of the ancient Port of Theodosius and the Neolithic culture layer have provided evidences that are very important for the understanding of the changes underwent by the Sea of Marmara in the last 10 thousand years.
The Sirkeci and Üsküdar archaeological excavations conducted by our Museum simultaneously with the Yenikapı excavations also provided important outcomes about the Byzantine and Ottoman Periods and shed light on the past of the city.
Although conducting excavation activities at sites affected by the heavy traffic of the highly populated residential areas towards the city center involves many obstacles, the Marmaray and Metro archaeological excavations, the large part of which has been completed, are continued by the experts of our Museum who work devotedly and without interruption.
The Port of Theodosius and remains unearthed in Yenikapı, and the finds belonging to the Ottoman and Byzantine periods discovered during Sirkeci and Üsküdar excavations have produced important outcomes in terms of not only the Neolithic settlement and the history of the city, but also in terms of world's cultural history.
They provided important evidences about the cultural, artistic and geological changes underwent by our city in a period of 8500 years, ship technology, city archaeology, geoarchaeology, osteoarchaeology, archaeobotanics, art history, maritime trade, philology and about dendrochronology.
The Marmaray and Metro Projects, which are among Turkey's most important transportation projects, should be seen as an opportunity for İstanbul. During the implementation of large-scale projects aiming at solving the problems of our rapidly growing city, the needs of which are increasing, cultural assets suffer from a rapid destruction process. However, rational planning has proved that the requirements of modern life are to be met by conserving cultural assets, but not by destructing them.
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