1,700-year-old pagan cemetery unearthed in Istanbul
Turkish and Italian experts have unearthed a pagan cemetery in the Fatih district of Istanbul. The cemetery, which is believed to be 1,700 years old, was found during the restoration of Şeyh Süleyman Mosque located in the Fatih Zeyrek, daily Habertürk reported on May 30.
The grave was found at the ground floor of the mosque and belongs to the late Roman Empire period. “In the basement of the structure on which a mosque has been built, there are two more floors [underneath] from the Roman period. The first floor underneath is an eight-section burial chamber. It is called an arcosolium,” archeologist Murat Sav told the newspaper.
The term arcosolium applies to one form of tombs that exist in ancient Roman catacombs. “Arcosoliums are an important burial structure from the pagan period. It is very important that they are found in Istanbul. In one of its sections, we have found a part belongs to the altar used for pouring the blood during an oath. It was plundered during the Byzantium period,” Sav said.
The archeologist also noted that Byzantine-era amphorae have been recovered in the roof of the structure during the restoration and they have been now placed under state protection.
The structure of Şeyh Süleyman Mosque, built as a grave site 1,700 years ago, was turned into an Islamic monastery by Şeyh Süleyman Efendi, shortly after the conquest of Istanbul by the Turks in 1453 under Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II.
Following the great fire of 1756, the structure was restored under the reign of Ottoman Sultan Murad III, with the addition of a minbar also to be used for Friday prayers.
In the 19th century, it went through an Ottoman renovation once again, and finally, it was during the period from 2013-2016 that the most extensive renovations were undertaken as part of a collaboration between the Turkish General Directorate of Foundation and the Italian Association for Architectural, Artistic and Urban Restoration. The opening ceremony of the restored mosque was held in Istanbul on Feb. 22, 2017.
The project was completed on Nov. 7, 2016 while the construction started on Sept. 25, 2013. The building, which has features of several different eras, is one of the important buildings in the “Zeyrek World Heritage Site.”