Construction Workers Stumble Upon Ancient Cemetery in Turkey
Construction workers digging a tunnel in the province of Izmir in Turkey have stumbled upon an ancient Jewish cemetery, and archaeologists believe that there may be many more remains still to be found.
It is not yet known how old the earliest graves date back, however, the cemetery was used all the way up until the mid-19 th century, until the Republican period in Turkey when two new sites – Gurcesme and Altindag – were used instead.
The graves and bones were discovered seven metres below ground level, ironically, directly underneath the Museum of Archaeology. While tourists strolled through the museum admiring ancient relics of the region, they were oblivious to the important historical remains that lay beneath their feet.
A letter requesting permission for the removal and transfer of the tombstones was submitted to the Ministry of Culture and the remains have now been delivered to the Jewish community of Izmir. The Izmir Jewish Community President, Jak Kaya, said the bones will be reburied in the Altindag Jewish cemetery following a religious ritual. Meanwhile, all work on the tunnel has been halted until archaeologists are certain that all bones have been collected. It is believed that there may be many more.
Jewish communities have been present in Turkey since at least the 5 th century BC, however most Jews arrived into Turkey in the late 15 th century when Jews in Spain faced strong pressures to convert to Christianity. Many yielded to the pressure and became Christians but in 1492 the King of Spain, Ferdinand, issues an order to expel all remaining Jews from Spain. When news of the expulsion reached the Ottoman Empire, the Sultan issued a decree to welcome the Jews. A significant portion of those expelled went to the Ottoman Empire, including regions that are now part of modern Turkey. Izmir is now home to Turkey’s second largest Jewish community after Istanbul.