Tile workshop found in 2000-year-old Roman theater in İznik
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Aygün Ekin Meriç, the head of the excavation and an assistant professor of archaeology at Izmir-based Dokuz Eylül University, said the structure in the Iznik district of Bursa province is one of the rare theaters built on a flat area during the Roman period and raised with vaults.
Highlighting that they found 10 tile kilns during the excavations, Meriç said: “We made a very important discovery during our last excavation.”
“We found a tile workshop dating from the 14th to 15th centuries inside the vault in good shape that carries the sitting steps,” she explained.
“This workshop is very important. We have a very beautiful oven, well preserved. Because of the burns that occurred as a result of use, we can assume that this oven has been in use for a long time,” she noted.
“There used to be an oven or quartz section, but here we found this used workshop without any deterioration. Even the clay floor was preserved," she said and added, "We have completely preserved it and incorporated it into the restoration project to showcase it.”
Roman theater with capacity of 10,000 people
Noting that the three-floor theater was built in the 2nd century during the reign of Roman Emperor Trajan with a capacity of approximately 10,000 people, Meriç said that it has a very ostentatious vaulted infrastructure.
“Gladiator games, famous games of the period were played here, especially in the 2nd and 3rd centuries,” she said.
“Later, the theater changed its function, especially after the year of 325, when the Ecumenical Council was convened and was used mostly for religious purposes,” she said.
The frescoes of the Virgin Mary and Jesus were made on the orchestra’s channel walls in the theater, she said, adding that the entrances and exits to the orchestra were closed. “That area is entirely devoted to religious use.”
Pointing out that several earthquakes occurred in Iznik in the past and that the theater structure was affected by this, Meriç said: “After this religious use, there was a big earthquake in the 5th century and the theater started to be used as a place where the garbage of Iznik was thrown.”
“This situation continued for 200 years. Later, during the Arab raids in the 8th century, all the materials in the theater were transported to be used in the construction of the city walls,” she explained. “After this date, the theater seems to have sacrificed itself for the defense of Iznik.”
Following the Arab raids in the 12th and 13th centuries, a church was built on the second cavea of the theater, she said, referring to the seating sections of Roman theatres.
Another church was built just to the southwest of the theatre during the period of Laskaris, a Byzantine Greek noble family, she explained. “After this date, this area starts to be used more as a church and a cemetery and this continues into the 14th century.”
According to Meriç, the tile kilns were started to be built in this area during the period when Iznik was the capital of the Ottoman Empire. She said the masters in Iznik, which was very famous for its tiles, worked in this region from the 14th to the 17th centuries.
Skeleton found in the soil section to be exhibited
Meriç also explained some historical events that took place in the theater, such as the Goth Invasion of 258.
“During the excavation of the first sitting steps of the theatre, we found many graves,” she said, explaining that the bodies discovered were either died during the war without arms or had wounds visible on skeletons. The use of cemeteries has always been a part of life, she asserted.
"We discovered a baby skeleton in an amphora in an area we excavated this year,” she informed.
Meriç stated that they unearthed another skeleton from the late period outside the theater and that the skeleton, which is estimated to belong to an adult male standing 160 centimeters tall, will be displayed without being removed from the soil.
The excavations at the theater, which began in 1980, were undertaken by a team from Dokuz Eylül University in 2016, said Meriç.
“We have been excavating for the past six seasons. In our period, there was no unexcavated area in the theater,” she added.
Noting that the theater's restoration project has also been completed and approved by the board, and they are awaiting its execution, she said, “We will show all phases of this theater on the secret route.”
Visitors will be able to see the original usage phase of the theater, as well as the later religious use, workshops, churches, tile ovens, the whole history of Iznik, she said.
The team aims to reveal all the structures related to the theater and around it, Meriç said: “We will gain this area as a complex cultural asset.”