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Long-awaited excavations start at Yoros castle in Istanbul

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 8/29/2010 12:00:00 AM | VERCİHAN ZİFLİOĞLU

The Council of Ministers has given permission for excavations in the thousands-of-years-old Yoros castle, located at the entrance of the Black Sea. Stoneware and a water pipe were found on the first day of the excavations. The excavation team’s chairman, Professor Asnu Bilban Yalçın, says, ‘Our goal is to unearth a temple which was mentioned in ancient sources and to determine when the Greek colonies arrived in the Black Sea for the first time’

Turkey's Council of Ministers has finally given permission for long-awaited excavations at Yoros castle, located in Anadolu Kavağı on Istanbul’s Asian side. An expert team from Istanbul University has started excavations under the leadership of Byzantium art history expert Professor Asnu Bilban Yalçın.

But a few days before the excavations started, a sad event happened: A huge Byzantium emblem on the outer façade of the castle was removed and stolen. Yalçın said that she was very sorry about the theft.

She said that the area surrounding the castle currently served as a picnic area and its inside was used as a toilet, adding that they had been forced to do detailed cleaning work before the excavations. Yalçın said that Turkish tourists sometimes reacted negatively to the excavation team. “They are not even aware of the historic importance of this place. They tell us that we’ve occupied their picnic area,” she added.

The base of the castle, which is 128 meters above sea level, is within the borders of military land. This is why there has been no excavation work at this level before now. The excavation team is preparing to present a project to the Defense Ministry. According to the information provided by the excavation team, on the first day of the excavations, which started on July 16 and is scheduled to continue six years, stoneware from the Ottoman and Byzantine periods was found, as well as a water pipe. The team has two big goals: One is to find a temple that is mentioned in ancient sources and the other is to determine when Greek colonies first arrived in the Black Sea.

[HH] No scientific research done

According to Yalçın, no scientific research has been done so far at the Yoros castle. “Forget about archaeological excavation, even its history has not been written,” she said, adding that it was very important to carry out research in and around the castle.

The castle was named “Hieron” (holy place) in the ancient times in Greek and Latin sources. There was once a temple dedicated to Zeus on the spot. She said that the castle had served as a customs facility in the Byzantine and Ottoman periods and continued: “At the time of the Byzantines, one more castle was built directly opposite to this castle in order to defend against raids from the Russians. According to ancient sources, there was a huge chain between the two castles to block the entrance of the strait.”

[HH] First research in the Black Sea

Despite the importance of the castle and its surroundings, it was not easy to get the necessary permissions, said Yalçın. “The team will be able to do research and excavations on an area of 6,100 square meters around the castle only. A new project should be presented to the Council of Ministers for scientific research inside the castle. Since the Yoros castle is at the very entrance of the Black Sea, research here has great significance,” she said, and added, “Research in the Black Sea coasts has so far been conducted in the Russian and Georgian parts only. No research has been conducted in the Turkish part. Therefore the Black Sea is a virgin area. All things that will be found there are very important. It may change western history to determine when the Greek colonies arrived in the Black Sea.”

Archaeologist Bekir Sadık Aktürk, from the excavation team, spoke about their work, and said that it was very important to find data on the first day. He said that things were found 50 centimeters deep in some places and one meter deep in other places.

Art historian Gülşah Soylu, who unearthed the water pipe with the team, said that it was a very big surprise for them, adding: “We determined that the pipe was used at the time of the Byzantines and Ottomans. Probably, there was a cistern and water from this cistern was routed through this pipe.”

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