Port of Theodosius: A forgotten chapter in the history of shipbuilding

The sea contains innumerable, undiscovered living species. They also house material evidence that dates back to the Classical Ages, the period between 500-336 BC when the Greeks achieved new heights in art, architecture, theatre, and philosophy. The Port of Theodosius at Yenikapi in Turkey is a standing example of the cultural treasures that its waters  conceal.


The archaeological site is located quite close to the water- Image courtesy: World Architecture Community

How the port was discovered is rather interesting .  In 2005, the workers assisting a large scale metro project ( Bosphorous Tunnel Project) unearthed the remains of a harbor, which had been concealed by build ups of silt as well as submerged in parts by water.

Known as the Port of Theodosius, the harbor was built around 4th century AD under the rule of Theodosius I (who died in 395 AD) , and was later transformed into an area for cultivation and agriculture. The port was a hub for all trade-related activities during the era of Late Antiquity (between 2-8 century AD).

During the Ottoman period, this hub was refurbished and restructured. Several shipwrecks and artifacts were discovered in the process. Scholars from Texas A&M reported that the workers assisting with the Bosphorous project were in shock as a result of their encounter with the archaeological evidence they had unearthed.

After a careful analysis of the ships recovered in terms of structure proved that the lower portions were built using an ancient method, while the upper portions with  a modern method. This fusion of technical expertise seems to provide a missing link in the history of ship building techniques.

A shipwreck unearthed by the site- Image Courtesy: Olkas

This fragmented nature of excavation that occurred in Yenikapi led to no concrete deduction about the structure and layout of the port, but a close study showed signs of a breakwater built by Theodosius along the bay, and a tower used to keep guard at the shores. During the excavation, around 34 ships were unearthed by  the Metro and Marmaray excavators that participated lent a helping hand  with the project. A sum-total of around 25,000 artifacts were unearthed during the process, including articles such as combs, cutlery and bath essentials. The remnants of organic matter and silt (in large quantities) on the remains indicate the prevalence of cultivation and agricultural practices as well. A stratographic analysis of the area provides a greater degree of detail to the findings.

Amphorae found at the site- Image Courtesy: Olkas

The Neolithization that the region has undergone can be understood by the discovery of wattle and daub buildings as well as bodies in fetal positions.. Wooden burial structures that were found in the earlier layers of stratography of the area provides a literal cross sectional overview of the developments that transformed the port into the dwelling area.

The Archeopark project was completed in 2012- Image Courtesy: World Architecture Community

In 2012, a competition was held in order to develop a design for restructuring and modernizing the site in order to provide citizens and tourists with a historical overview of the site. A complex Archeopark concept was created, that enables the excavation area to configure in terms of being a social space.. The winning proposal was made by Peter Eisenmann and the Aytac Architects. The connectivity the public transport system within Istanbul was also made in order to grant ease of accessibility to visitors from different parts of the city, and integrate the spatial aspects of transportation, tourism and culture, as well as outdoor spaces.

Thus, it is clear that the Archeopark project concentrates on spatial and formal aspects of an environment used to catalogue culture, and is a fine example for countries that are looking for ways to conserve underwater heritage.


Works Cited:

Harbor of Theodosius. Byzantine mIlitary. WordPress. December 2012. Web. http://byzantinemilitary.blogspot.in/2012/12/the-harbor-of-theodosius.html

Harvey, Bejnamin. 1500 Old Byzantine Port Discovered. Washington Post. July 22, 2006. Web. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/07/22/AR2006072201158.html

Portus Theodosiacus. Byzantium 1200. 2011. Web. http://www.byzantium1200.com/port_t.html

Yenikapi Excavations. Istanbul Archaeological Museums. Web. http://www.istanbularkeoloji.gov.tr/web/32-238-1-1/muze_-_en/museum/announcements/yenikapi_excavations underwater heritage


  • Shantanu Tilak

    One of the editors at GoUNESCO. I decided to take my Cultural Studies and Psychology education into the realm of clinical research and writing through my work. I hope to have a Master's in Educational Psychology some day. This time, I'm vastly out numbered by my interns, so it will be a fun ride :).

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