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A section of the excavation site in the region known as the Land of the Blind, Istanbul, Turkey. Source: AA

Riches Unearthed in Turkey’s ‘Land of the Blind’

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Excavations around a historic Istanbul train station have exposed a spread of tombs loaded with artifacts, including the remains of 28 human skeletons and 10,000 gold coins.

Exploring the Land of the Blind

Khalkedon (Kadıköy), otherwise known as the ancient “Land of the Blind,” was named sometime around 667 BC when Byzantines from Megara established a colony opposite Khalkedon on the European peninsula of the Golden Horn, on the Asian side, thinking the locals “must have been blind” not to have developed what they thought of as being a near-perfect location.

In 2018, a team comprising 430 archaeologists and museologists from Turkey's Culture and Tourism Ministry and Istanbul Archeological Museums , set about excavating the historical Haydarpaşa Train Station for a new subway. It was during these digs that they slowly revealed a range of historical structures dating from the Ottoman, Byzantine, Hellenistic, and Classical eras, in a dig area of 350,000 square meters. Coskun Yılmaz, Istanbul’s leading culture and tourism official told Anadolu Agency that some of the remains unearthed during subway construction date back to the year 5 BC, in a city that is “2,500-years-old,” known as Haydarpaşa Port in modern Kadıköy, on the Asian side of Istanbul, and originally named Khalkedon by the Romans.

The immense excavation site in the area known as the Land of the Blind. (Pusula Haber)

The immense excavation site in the area known as the Land of the Blind. ( Pusula Haber )

Unearthing Ancient Castles, Palaces, and Churches

Among the architectural remains the researchers discovered 2,500-year-old tombs and the skeletal remains of 28 people who had been buried with some elaborate grave goods. For example, “a perfume bottle was found in the knee ligament of a skeleton,” and 10,000 Khalkedon gold coins were also discovered. According to Hurriyet Daily News the excavations also unearthed a 5th-century church dedicated to Saint Bassa, a building which is thought to have been a 5th-century palace, and another T-shaped structure believed to be a castle.

The excavation has unearthed a T-shaped structure believed to be a castle. (mynet)

The excavation has unearthed a T-shaped structure believed to be a castle. ( mynet)

The human remains and artifacts were collected from many archaeological layers which demonstrate different eras, and all the finds are being categorized according to their location and depth. After being logged and restored, the remains are then photographed and sent to the Istanbul Archaeological Museum to eventually be exhibited to the public.

The human remains and artifacts were collected from many archaeological layers which demonstrate different eras. (HABERTURK)

The human remains and artifacts were collected from many archaeological layers which demonstrate different eras. ( HABERTURK)

Religious Changes Frozen in Time

Yılmaz explained that the discovery of the 10,000 gold coins dating from around 5 BC is perhaps the most culturally important as they indicate a dynamic trade structure which in turn points towards a developed society, and he added that the coins were, “all from various eras,” showing continuous and active trade in the city. The variety of ancient artifacts, as a whole, confirms Khalkedon was “a lively port city in a period ranging from 5 BC to the Republic of Turkey,” and because the city contains remains from the Roman, Ottoman, and Turkish Republican eras, the region has the “most important excavations for Istanbul's history” in terms of trade and urban history, according to Yılmaz.

The discovery of a bath and the remains of the 5th-century palace are currently under investigation and they will no doubt reveal much about the elites who controlled the ancient cities’ trading activities, but archaeologists have determined that the 5th-century St. Bassa Church was one of the first churches ever built in Istanbul, making this one holy site of ultimate importance to Christian history and the development of Christian architectural styles, and it also speaks of the ever-changing religious life in ancient Istanbul.

Yılmaz explained to press that the subway excavation is a particularly drawn out process because, Our archaeologists use devices used in dental work, paying a great deal of attention to cleaning the objects, to do no harm.” And he added that systematic archaeological work in different artifact layers takes “great care, time, finesse, and patience,” and as such, the archaeologists have no idea when the recovered and restored artifacts will go on public display.

Systematic archaeological work is underway and it includes “great care, time, finesse, and patience.” (mynet)

Systematic archaeological work is underway and it includes “great care, time, finesse, and patience.” ( mynet)

Top Image: A section of the excavation site in the region known as the Land of the Blind, Istanbul, Turkey. Source: AA

By Ashley Cowie

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