Turkey, Culture

Digs unearth riches of Istanbul's 'Land of the Blind'

Around Haydarpasa Train Station, on Istanbul's Asian side, archaeologists unearth ancient city from millennia before Ottomans

Firdevs Bulut   | 07.03.2020
Digs unearth riches of Istanbul's 'Land of the Blind'

ISTANBUL

Archeological excavations around a train station in Istanbul have unearthed a wealth of historical ruins, including tombs, artifacts, and a bath, all hinting of the rich past of the ancient city of Khalkedon (Kadikoy), also called "the Land of the Blind.”

Around the historical Haydarpasa Train Station, located on the Asian side of Istanbul, excavations for subway construction revealed historical remains. The digs, started in 2018 by Turkey's Culture and Tourism Ministry and Istanbul Archeological Museums, have been done with the utmost care for the last two years.

Digs revealing historical structures from the Ottoman, Byzantine, Hellenistic, and Classical eras shed light on the deep roots of Turkey, a cradle of civilizations.

Remains were found by a team of 430 people, including archeologists and museum experts, in an area of 350,000 square meters including the area surrounding subway stations and Ibrahimaga, near Haydarpasa. These remains give significant hints about Khalkedon, the ancient Land of the Blind from some 2,500 years ago.

The area reportedly got its name around 667 B.C. when Byzas from Megara established a colony on the European peninsula of the Golden Horn, opposite Khalkedon on the Asian side. The people of Khalkedon must have been blind not to have settled on the perfect spot, the peninsula just across the water, he reasoned. (The Byzantine Empire, which ruled Istanbul until 1453, when it was conquered by Ottoman forces, was named after Byzas.)

Palace and castle

The fruits of these digs include architectural remains, tombs, artifacts, a bath and around 10,000 gold coins belonging to Khalkedon.

The excavations revealed the remains of a possible fifth-century palace and a T-shaped structure thought to be a castle.

A fifth-century church built in the name of Saint Bassa was also found. Work with tiny brushes and precision tools unearthed the skeletons of 28 people from that era.

Remains being restored

Remains from different areas are categorized by experts according to the location and depth where they were found.

The remains are cleaned with small brushes and separated and sometimes combined, if possible.

After restoration, the remains are recorded, photographed, and then sent to the Istanbul Archeological Museum to eventually be exhibited.

‘Key excavation of Istanbul history’

Coskun Yilmaz, Istanbul's top culture and tourism official, told Anadolu Agency that some of the remains unearthed during subway construction date back to the year 5 B.C.

Yilmaz said the excavations are being done in an area at least 2,500 years old, and that the area known as Haydarpasa Port in modern Kadikoy, on the Asian side of Istanbul, was named Khalkedon by the Romans.

"The remains indicate that Khalkedon was a lively port city,” he explained. “In a period ranging from 5 B.C. to the Republic of Turkey, one can see various remains from different centuries. Remains from the Roman, Ottoman and Turkish Republican eras are found here. We also see that there was a planned structure of the settlement area.

“This is one of the most important excavations for Istanbul's history. It is very important to Istanbul in terms of trade and urban history. Gold coins and other remains indicate that there was a dynamic structure and a society here."

Gifts for the dead

Yilmaz added that 10,000 gold coins dating from around 5 B.C. to the modern day were found, all from various eras. Their presence show that there was continuous and active trade in this city, he argued.

"The excavation found the remains of a bath,” he said. “We also assume that there are remains of a palace, which is under investigation. The St. Bassa Church, one of the first churches in Istanbul dating back to the fifth century, is one of the important remains in the Haydarpasa excavations for both Christian history and the religious life in Istanbul.”

The 28 skeletons unearthed at the site, he said, give us an idea of funerary culture, he said, adding: “When we look at the skeletons, we see that the dead were buried with gifts. For example, a perfume bottle was found in the knee ligament of a skeleton."

Careful work

Yilmaz said Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry of Turkey views archeological excavations as having vital importance. He added that they use advanced technology to excavate and that the ministry does year-round excavations, rather than seasonal ones.

"Archeological excavation is a very delicate business,” he explained. “Our archeologists use devices used in dental work, paying a great deal of attention to cleaning the objects, to do no harm.”

Future exhibits

As “archeological work takes great care, time, finesse, and patience,” no date can be given for when the artifacts will go on exhibit, said Yilmaz.

With a team of more than 400 people at work, he said, “We would like to finish it as soon as possible, revealing the rich cultural heritage that we have here, and sharing it with the public. When we finish the excavations, we will create exhibition areas here for the immovable remains as well."

*Writing by Firdevs Bulut

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