The Theodosian Harbour and Yenikapı Byzantine Shipwrecks Excavation, Istanbul-Turkey

Wednesday 23 January 18.00-19.30

The Theodosian Harbour and Yenikapı Byzantine Shipwrecks Excavation, Istanbul-Turkey

Thirty-six shipwrecks dated to the fifth to tenth centuries AD have been discovered in the Theodosian harbour of Istanbul, in the district of Yenikapı. Under the auspices of the ‘Istanbul University Yenikapi Shipwrecks Project’, carried out by Istanbul University’s Department of Conservation of Marine Archaeological Objects, our team has undertaken the recording and dismantling of twenty-seven shipwrecks as well as conservation/restoration and reconstruction projects of thirty-one shipwrecks in total. Shipwrecks of various types and sizes have been exposed since 2005; the majority are still under study.

During the construction of the Marmaray railway and metro stations in Yenikapı between 2004 and 2012, no fewer than thirty-six shipwrecks, dating from the Middle Byzantine period to about the fifth to tenth centuries AD, were revealed. The ongoing archaeological excavations have confirmed that Constantinople’s main harbour, Portus Theodosiacus, was once situated in this former natural bay, now silted by the ancient Lykos (Bayrampaşa) river and lying about 300 m from today’s shoreline.

The ships from the Theodosian harbour display a moment frozen in time and have made tremendous contributions to information on shipbuilding technology and development during Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The Istanbul Archaeological Museums turned to the Istanbul University’s Department of Conservation of Marine Archaeological Objects to deal with most of the shipwrecks. Department President and project director Professor Ufuk Kocabaş and a hard-working team of Department assistants, full-time specialists, and Istanbul University graduate students have been working for over 6 years in the active construction site in tent-covered pits to document and carefully recover the shipwrecks. Undoubtedly, the shipwrecks constitute the most remarkable artefact group, especially for nautical archaeologists. The thirty-six ships can be divided into three groups: long warships (galleys); sea-going traders; and small, local trading vessels.

Ufuk Kocabas (Istanbul University)