1500 year old ruins of St. Polieuktos Church are being excavated

Ruins of St. Polieuktos Church.
Ruins of St. Polieuktos Church. Photo: AA
The remains of St. Polieuktos Church, one of the most important structures of Eastern Rome, are being unearthed by the Istanbul Archaeological Museums Directorate.

The ruins of the Church of St. Polieuktos, one of the most important structures of Eastern Rome, built about 1500 years ago, are being unearthed through archaeological excavations in Saraçhane, Istanbul.

The excavations in the underground parts of the church are being carried out by the Istanbul Archaeological Museums Directorate. The findings reached in the area are included in the inventory of the Istanbul Archaeology Museum.

Rahmi Asal, Director of Istanbul Archaeological Museums, told AA correspondent at the excavation site in Saraçhane that the area where the church is located is home to one of the most important archaeological remains of Istanbul.

St. Polieuktos is the largest and most important building of its period after the Hagia Sophia Mosque, the church was built by the Eastern Roman Princess Anicia Juliana. The church was built by Princess Anicia Juliana in 524-527 as a show of force against Emperor Justinian and his non-dynastic wife Theodora, who came to power after her.

The church has very important decorations and architectural structure. The building can be considered as a domed basilica. “Whether it is a domed basilica or not, it is very valuable especially for its architectural ornaments. For example, there is a very beautiful poem on the architrave block, there are beautiful expressions about Anicia Juliana and her family. For this reason, it is very valuable.” Asal said.

The church suffered great destruction, especially during the Latin invasion. It is also known that the building was affected by the earthquake in 1010 and its parts were dismantled and taken away to be used in the Basilica of San Marco in Venice. In addition, the materials of the Church of St. Polieuktos were also used in the decoration and construction of other church-like structures in Istanbul.

Architectural decorations of the St. Polieuktos Church. AA

During the excavations in the area, a fragment of a marble male statue (torso) was found about 1 meter below the surface on the north side of the main structure. Measuring 33 centimeters in height and 28 centimeters in width, the marble statue is estimated to be from the 3rd to 4th century Late Roman period. The work bears traces of the social structure of the period. The statue of a male body with missing arms, legs and head has one bare shoulder and is wearing a garment called “toga”.

The first archaeological excavations of the church were carried out in 1960-1967 by archaeologist Nezih Fıratlı and British art historian Martin Harrison. A large part of the church’s unearthed area was uncovered at that time.

Rahmi Asal said that a project is being developed to turn the site into an “archaeopark” and open it to visitors. Currently, the site is being cleaned, restored and exhibition work is planned.

Asal, on behalf of the excavation teams of the Istanbul Archaeological Museums Directorate, which began work last year:

“In the area unearthed during the excavations in the 1960s, there is a layer of fill with current waste due to various reasons. We are trying to purify them from the area. As soon as possible, we want to complete the excavation work in the area, then the restoration and conservation work and put it at the service of visitors.”

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