August 15, 2013

Postcard from Istanbul: Sultanahmet Archaeology Park (Sultanahmet Arkeolojik Parki)

Sign for Sultanahmet Archaeology Park
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Across from the Haghia Sophia Museum and the Mausoleums of the Sultans is the Sultanahmet Archaeology Park, a fenced off area under excavation and part of the overall plan to preserve Istanbul's historical area as a World Heritage Site. In case you're curious (as I was) and can't walk over to the sign yourself (as I did), here's what the sign says and this is what you will see if you peer behind the fence:

"The lot is situated in one of the oldest and most renowned settlements of Istanbul. The perimeter of the area is closed off due to security reasons. 

"There is little information available on the city’s geographical position during Antiquity. However, it is known that the city entered PERSIAN rule in 512 BC, become part of ROME in 146 BC, and was eventually declared as the second capital of the Roman Empire by Constantine I in 330.

'The lot included the initial structures of the GREAT PALACE (Palatium Magnum), whose construction began during the reign of Constantine I. Between the 4th and 11th centuries, the palace continued to expand, spreading across nearly 100,000 square meters. It was burnt down, demolished and ransacked during the LATIN INVASION (1202-1261).

"Following the Ottoman conquest of the city, various wooden dwellings were constructed on the lot and its environs. The largest structure built upon the property during the Ottoman period was the Darülfünun (University) building.

"Commissioned by Sultan Abdülmecit in 1846, Darülfünun was designed and built by Swiss architects Gaspare and Guiseppe Fossati.

Excavation site (Sultanhamet)
"The Building was completed in 1863 and was later used as a hospital for French soldiers during the Crimean War in 1877, it was reopened as MECLIS-I MEBUSAN (Ottoman Parliament). In the ensuing years, it was allocated to the Ministeries of Treasury, Mortmain Estates and Justice, was eventually converted into ADLIYE SARAYI (Palace of Justice). 

"The entire building burned down in December 1933. Initiated in 1997 by the Istanbul Directorate of Archaeology, ARCHAEOLOGICAL EXCAVATIONS are currently in progress on the 17,000 square-meter lot.

"In the course of excavations, apart from remains of ROMAN, BYZANTINE and OTTOMAN structures, MOVABLE CULTURAL ASSETS such as the BYZANTINE BATH RUINS are cleaned, reinforced and reconstructed in part, to be preserved in situ. These cultural and historic assets are also protected against natural hazards.

"Apart from the works in progress with respect to the site’s function as an Archaeological Park and Museum, a Hotel Annex construction is presently underway in the area. The project of the Hotel Annex has been approved by the Istanbul NATURAL ASSET and CULTURAL HERITAGE BOARD. "