The remains of a nearly 1,600-year-old basilica that was discovered at the beginning of last year under Lake Iznik in the northwestern province of Bursa is now set to become an underwater museum.
The underwater museum project, approved by the Culture and Tourism Ministry, will be carried out by the Bursa Metropolitan Municipality, the sponsor of the project. Uludag University Head of Archaeology Department Professor Mustafa Sahin said the basilica had been discovered while photographing the city from the air to make an inventory of historical and cultural artifacts.
Archaeologists, historians and art historians estimate that the structure collapsed during an earthquake that occurred in the region in 740. They determined that it was built in honor of St. Neophytos, who was among the saints and devout Christians who were martyred during the time of Roman emperors Diocletian and Galerius, when bans and punishments against Christians were common. According to resources, Neophytos was a saint who was killed by Roman soldiers in A.D. 303, 10 years before the Edict of Milan, a proclamation that permanently established religious toleration for Christianity within the Roman Empire.
Sahin said the church was established with his name in the place where he was killed. The date of the church construction was not precisely determined but it could have been built after 313, according to Sahin.
“There is one more date, which is important for us. Most probably, it could have been built in 325 after the first council meeting in Iznik. In any case, we think that the church was built in the 4th century or a further date. It is interesting that we have gravures from the Middle Ages depicting this killing. We see Neophytos being killed on the lake coast,” he said, adding that he was a beloved saint.
According to ancient resources, Christians definitely stopped by Iznik in the Middle Ages while making their pilgrimage to visit the church. “Rumor has it that people in Iznik were asking for help from the body of Neophytos when they were in difficulty,” he said.
Preliminary works have started
Surface and underwater works have been made for the basilica to serve tourism. A team made up of the Orcan Vessel Rescue and Maritime Construction, along with Geomarine Land and Marine Research company, have started 10-day surface surveys of the basilica underwater.
Orcan Vessel Rescue and Maritime Construction official Tugrul Orcan said they were currently conducting preliminary works on the area in preparation for converting the area into a maritime museum.
“The project design will be the next stage. We are also working to find out if there are other archaeological remains in the area of the basilica. The seismic values and bathymetry of the area will be measured and building survey will be made,” he said.
The discovery of the basilica was named as one of top 10 discoveries of 2014 by the Archaeological Institute of America.