Monday, March 17, 2014

Diving into archaeology

Only the foundations of the former basilica remain under Lake Iznik

The rubble-strewn remains of a 1,600-year-old basilica, dedicated to St Neophytos, have been discovered under Lake Iznik in Turkey’s northwestern Bursa province. Though located only 20 metres from the shore, and at a depth of around 2 metres, the basilica’s existence was unknown until January, when aerial photographs of the area were taken as part of a project to record local historic monuments. A diving team has now investigated the submerged structure and, due to similarities with the Hagia Sophia church in Iznik, experts have dated it to the fourth or fifth centuries. They have suggested it was built on the spot where Roman soldiers martyred St Neophytos in AD303; occurrences of the saint’s name have been found nearby and Medieval engravings show the saint being killed on the edge of a lake. It is thought an earthquake in AD740 caused the basilica to collapse and sink under the lake. The future of the site now rests in the hands of Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry, who can designate it a protected site or open it up to recreational divers.

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