Roman-era sarcophagi awaited in ‘City of the Dead’
The area from which two Roman-era sarcophagi were removed in 2015 and 2016 in the northwestern province of Bursa’s İznik district, known as the “city of the dead” (necropolis), is monitored by police and gendarmerie teams 24/7.
The expropriation lawsuit for the sarcophagi is continuing in the İznik Civil Court of First Instance and its conclusion is necessary to start archaeological excavations in the olive grove in the Hisardere neighborhood’s Bayırdibi area, which is home to the sarcophagi dating back to the 2nd century. Security forces have taken the region under a security cordon to prevent illegal excavations during this court process.
Speaking to state-run Anadolu Agency, İznik Museum Director Hasan Kalsen said the area’s olive grove was registered as a first degree archaeological site in 1992 by the Bursa Cultural and Natural Heritage Preservation Board. He said the museum carried out two rescue excavations in 2015 and 2016 to unearth the sarcophagi that had been detected during illegal excavations.
“During these works, the sarcophaguses were removed and transferred to the museum. Examinations of their styles revealed that they were from the 2nd century,” Kalsen added.
“With the permission of the General Directorate of Cultural Heritage and Museum, excavations were set to start in the area by a team headed by Dokuz Eylül University associated professor Ekin Meriç. But the expropriation lawsuit is still ongoing so we cannot start the works,” he said. “Within the scope of a protocol, the cost of the excavations will be financed by the Bursa Metropolitan Municipality,” Kalsen added.
İznik Deputy Mayor Ahmet Yıldırım said the olive grove was located five kilometers away from the İznik city center and under constant monitoring.
“The expropriation process is still continuing. The area from which the sarcophagi were removed is watched by police and gendarmerie teams 24/7. Excavations will be carried out here in the future,” Yıldırım added. A seven-ton Roman-era marble sarcophagus was found in the olive grove, owned by local woman Hatice Sürek, in 2015. The sarcophagus, which was thought to be the grave of a queen, is the only such example in the world and features an Eros relief with a lotus flower on both sides. A very similar sarcophagus was also found in 2016 in another olive grove 10 meters away.