A Roman Tomb in Turkey, Lost and Found

A Roman tomb, graffiti clad, filled with water, quenches thirst, lost in Çakırköy, Turkey.

This little snippet (below) fascinated me. How this 2,000 year old Roman tomb was unearthed and somehow wound up as a fountain in this small town in the heart of what once was Roman Anatolia and is now Turkey – somewhere between Istanbul and Ankara – no one knows. But there it is in the picture below, alive, used. Perhaps that is best. One wonders what the thirsty passerby thinks when they lean in to take sip…


“A 2,000-year-old tomb from the late Roman era serves as a fountain in the village of Çakırköy in the western province Afyonkarahisar.

Nike, the god of victory, is depicted on four sides of the Roman tomb, which was discovered in 1986 by the Turkish Grain Board. On one of the long sides of the tomb, the reliefs depict a man and woman, who were most probably the owners of the tomb, and two Medusa heads on the other side. The writings on the tomb have been destroyed, as reported by Aktüel Archaeology magazine. The tomb is thought to have served as an important family grave in the ancient age.

Museum officials say the tomb is used as a fountain in order to keep treasure hunters away from the area.”
March/29/2016 – From Hurriyet Daily News

Diocletian’s lost palace, discovered…

When you hear the word “Izmit”, what comes to mind?

How about capital of the Roman Empire?

Once known as the Roman city of Nicomedia, founded by refugees from the Greek city of Megara (whose compatriots also founded nearby Byzantium – Constantinople – Istanbul), Nicomedia, now Izmit, sits in modern Turkey on the Sea of Marmara.

DiocletianIn 286 CE, the Roman Emperor Diocletian (right) struggled to containwhat is known as the “Crisis of the Third Century”, when Rome came under ferocious attack along its northern and eastern frontiers. In response to these threats, Diocletian instituted a massive reform in Roman government. He split the power that resided in the office of Emperor into four, creating two senior Emperors, or Augustus (Diocletian and Maximian), and two junior Emperors, or Caesars (Galerius and Constantius, father of future Emperor Constantine the Great).

Diocletian assumed responsibility for the Roman East, establishing his capital at Nicomedia. It would remain the capital city of the Eastern Roman Empire under Diocletian and subsequently, under Constantine the Great until Constantine moved the capital across the Bosporus to Byzantium in 330CE (though Constantine would eventually die in Nicomedia seven years later in 337).

Nicomedia, a city lost in time, or at least lost to Western minds, remains a thriving metropolis, now known as Izmit.

And under the streets of Izmit, the Roman city still lies, proof of which Izmit Marble surfaced during routine work to recover from a devastating earthquake in 1999. Builders who discovered the headless Hercules in 2001 (pictured below) treated the Roman remains as garbage for fear that their construction work would be stopped by local authorities. Fortunately, that is precisely what happened and the site is now Headless Hercules from Izmitunder protection from the local museum and a proper dig to excavate the unearthed remains of Nicomedia begin this month. Archaeologists now believe that that the headless Hercules once sat in Diocletian’s palace which
still rests meters below street level, waiting to be uncovered.

Izmit Palace

Remarkable stuff, and as surprising as the discovery may be to us, to many local residents it is just as novel. As one of the lead archaeologists on the soon to begin dig stated: “[M]any people living here are unaware that they have been living on a huge palace for centuries,”

For more see the Turkish paper Hurriyet.

Roman Gardens in Istanbul, Under Siege

Amateur gardeners (myself included), eat your heart out…

On the fringes of Istanbul’s Theodosian walls, in the neighborhood of Yedikule, the residents of Byzantium / Constantinople / Istanbul have been cultivating gardens on the same plots of lands for nearly 2000 years, since before the city walls were built by the Roman Emperor Theodosius II (408-450CE) – a restored section of the Wall near in Yedikule is pictured below.



The first gardeners were likely the Greek Byzantines, then the Romans, then the Ottomans / Turks and most recently, migrants from Turkey’s Black Sea region and most recently, Syrian and Afghan refugees. Throughout the gardens’ 2000 years history many of the same crops have been grown as the gardeners themselves have changed including cabbage, beets, carrots, onions, turnips among other crops.

Sadly, these ancient gardens, or ‘bostan’ as they are known in Turkish are under threat from the swelling population of the city (now topping 16 million from the 9 million residents when I lived here in the late 90’s). Underutilized land across the city is being consumed by sprawl, and many of these ancient gardens / ‘bostan’ have already succumbed.  Below is a picture of one patch of Yedikule’s bostan.


Yet a growinYedikule Gardensg movement in Istanbul recognizes the cultural and environmental value of these remarkable gardens and are fighting to preserve them.

See this article in Yale University’s “Environment 360” newsletter for more on this fascinating issue.


Last Roman church in Ankara (Turkey) close to disappearing

Saint Clement - ruins

It’s easy to forget that all of Turkey was once the heart of the Roman Empire after the far-sighted Emperor Constantine moved the Empire’s capital from Italy to Turkey (to Byzantium-Constantinople-Nova Roma-Istanbul).

Yet evidence of Rome’s presence in Turkey (not to mention Syria/Libya/Israel/Egypt/Algeria etc.) is everywhere, sitting patiently in the shadows, enduring benign and not so benign neglect by the country’s current government.

Hence this intriguing article.  There seems to be a rebirth of interest in Turkey’s Roman past among academics and ordinary citizens, and a growing movement to preserve and promote that past.  As you will see in the link below, the paper, Hurriyet, references what appears to be the last Roman church where traces (ruins) are still visible in the capital of modern Turkey, Ankara – far from Istanbul / Constantinople, wedged in between modern buildings, almost forgotten and rapidly disappearing.

The article speculates that the church known as Saint Clement’s was built as early as the 4th century, and the paper calls for the Roman building to be preserved.  From a glimpse at the picture above, one cannot help but hope that the call to action is heeded.  Saint Clement the man (and the structure) is described by Wikipedia as:

In 303, Ancyra was one of the towns where the co-Emperors Diocletian and his deputy Galerius launched their anti-Christian persecution. In Ancyra, their first target was the 38-year-old Bishop of the town, whose name was Clement. Clement’s life describes how he was taken to Rome, then sent back, and forced to undergo many interrogations and hardship before he, and his brother, and various companions were put to death. The remains of the church of St. Clement can be found today in a building just off Işıklar Caddesi in the Ulus district. Quite possibly this marks the site where Clement was originally buried.

Other Roman structures still exist in Ankara, including traces of the Roman Baths below.  See this Wikipedia on Roman Ankara for more on Ankara’s Roman past.