Underwater Church

Credit: Mustafa Şahin/Lake Iznik Excavation Archive

A recent discovery along the shores of Turkey’s Lake Iznik showed ancient ruins, ones that many archaeologists have been hunting for, submerged underwater.  Local government surveyors took aerial photographs in 2014 that shocked the head of archaeology at Bursa Uludag University, who’s been looking for these ruins that were unknowingly in the lake itself.

The ancient church is clearly seen about 10 feet under water and 160 feet from shore of Lake Iznik. It is thought that the church, or basilica, was built on the shore around A.D 390 when Istanbul was known as Constantinople. Around A.D 740, an earthquake destroyed the structure that later sank, leaving the ruins forgotten until its discovery 1,600 years later. Archaeologists believe it may hide a pagan temple as well. The site is being established as Turkey’s first underwater archaeological museum.

Credit: Mustafa Şahin/Lake Iznik Excavation Archive

Underwater excavations have been carried out since 2015 and archaeologists use special vacuum equipment to carry soil from the underwater excavation to the shore to be sifted for artifacts. Human graves were also discovered beneath the basilica’s main wall and coins within them dated back to the reigns of the Roman emperors Valens and Valentinian II, proving the basilica was built after their rule at around A.D. 390.

It is believed that the church was dedicated to St. Neophytos who was put to death in Nicea by Romans in A.D 303 and later celebrated as a Christian martyr after Constantine the Great established tolerance for Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. Another theory is that it was built on top of a pagan temple for the Greek god, Apollo, as Roman records show that emperor Commodus built such a temple outside city boundaries, yet no physical evidence has been found.  In fact, some early coins and ancient lamp fragments found suggest an even earlier structure that may be the suspected temple.

The anticipated museum will contain a 60 feet high tower to view the ruins, and a walkway over the lake to witness the site directly.  It’ll also feature a diving club to explore the ruins and a glass walled room underwater where visitors can actually pray at the submerged church.

So, whether you’re an ancient ruins enthusiast or want to be the first of your friends to go to church underwater, keep an eye out for this historical museum along the shore of Lake Iznik in Turkey and witness a part of history that was thought never to be seen again.