The algae-covered footprint of a Roman-era Christian basilica dating back some 1,600 years may once again welcome curious visitors.
Discovered in 2014 by Mustafa Şahin, head archaeologist at Bursa Uludağ University in Bursa, the ruins of the massive church lie under 10 feet of water and about 160 feet from the shore of Turkey's Lake Iznik. Şahin came upon the ruins by chance while conducting an aerial survey by helicopter of the lake.
"When I first saw the images of the lake, I was quite surprised to see a church structure that clearly," Şahin told Live Science in an email. "I was doing field surveys in Iznik [since 2006], and I hadn't discovered such a magnificent structure like that."
Peering through time
Starting in 2015, underwater archaeologists began sifting through the ruins of the church to learn more about its history. Within human graves located just outside the basilica's main transverse wall, they retrieved coins dating the site to around 390 A.D. Şahin and his team believe the basilica was dedicated to St. Neophytos, a Christian priest who denounced paganism and was put to death by the Romans near the site in 303.
In 740, an earthquake toppled the basilica, with the lake's waters later submerging the remaining ruins.
According to Şahin, it's likely that the site's history goes back even further; with additional recovered artifacts hinting at the remains of a pagan temple dedicated to the Roman god Apollo beneath the present ruins.
Welcoming new visitors
According to officials, if approved, the site will soon host a visitor's center that will include a 60-foot tower for observation of the ruins from shore and a boardwalk from the shore. In the meantime, archaeologists will continue to dive the site in an effort to peel back the history behind its watery grave.
“When the work is completely finished, the outcome will be great," İznik District Gov. Ali Hamza Pehlivan said. "Before anything else, thousands of years of artifacts will come to light. It will open to visits of people from Turkey and the world.”