Church closed to visits without an attendant in Turkey's Erzincan

Church closed to visits without an attendant in Turkey's Erzincan

ERZİNCAN - Anadolu Agency
Church closed to visits without an attendant in Turkeys Erzincan

The church draws attention for its mosaic floor and is unique in the eastern Anatolian region. It can only be visited by tourists during the excavation season. AA Photo

A church, which was unearthed during the archaeological excavations in Altıntepe Castle in the eastern province of Erzincan’s Üzümlü district and dates back to the sixth century, cannot be opened to visitors since the ancient site does not have a watcher. The church, which is located in the eastern part of the castle and dates back to the early Byzantine period, has been waiting to be opened since 2011.

The church, which draws attention for its mosaic floor and is unique in the eastern Anatolian region, can only be visited by domestic and foreign tourists for one to one and a half months during the excavation season. It is stated that the restored church should have a watcher in order to be opened to visits.

Head of the Altıntepe Castle excavations, Atatürk University member Professor Mehmet Karaosmanoğlu said that the first-term excavations in the region were carried out between 1959 and 1968 by the late professor Tahsin Özgüç.

Destroyed by treasure hunters

He said that Altıntepe was unearthed by Özgüç and introduced to the world but after the ancient site was destroyed by treasure hunters they had started the second-term excavations in 2003 as the Atatürk University Archaeology Department.

“We started the excavations in the eastern foot of the hill and found a grave there. We found mosaics in the ground of the grave. We could not have known what the structure was but further works showed that it belonged to a church with three naves. It was a significant structure,” he said.

Karaosmanoğlu said that the floor, which was made with mosaic stones called “natural tesserae,” was covered with paintings made with small stones, adding, “They were very precious because it was the first of its kind in eastern Anatolia. We focused on this area since we know its value and think that it should be shown to the world.”

Closing to visits after excavation term

He said that they had worked to protect the walls of the church and finished the restoration works on the floor in 2010. “Then the church was covered with glass to get light.”

“Every year when the excavation works are done, the ancient site is closed to visits but it is very important to open this church to tourism. Tourists visiting Erzincan cannot see this church because its door is locked when the excavation term is closed. We are very sorry about it because no watcher has been appointed to this church. We believe that it will contribute to the region’s economy if a watcher is found.”

Altıntepe Castle

According to sources, the Altıntepe Castle was built in the Urartu period and is located on a 60-meter hill in the northeastern part of Erzincan city center.

The hill was significant center for the Eastern Roman Empire and has a church with three naves and mosaic ground. The church was built on a natural terrace and has a rectangle plan. The color mosaic ground with various geometric, plant and animal figures is unique in the region.