Ancient City, Ancient Crypt

IMG_4511So I met up with a traveler that I had said I would show around town. I had wanted to explore the Theodosian walls further south than I had before. In a past trip I found a synagogue turned parking lot and some really nice Turkish people. Nothing other than cursory research could have prepared me for what we found.

We met up at the Boğa in Kadıköy, and took the famed Metrobüs across the first bridge, across the Golden Horn, and across about half of the length of the Theodesian walls – those walls so impenetrable that only several hoards, Christian and Muslim were able to breach them at different times in history.

We got off the Metrobüs at Cevizlibağ. I got myself a two Lira Pilav, not because I was hungry, but because it is so delicious. We walked across a park across from the 1453 Museum and past a Muslim cemetery. Behind it there is an opening in the second wall, which leads to a stair way. If you climb those stairs you come out on top of the second wall and are able to walk along it, looking out the arrowslits.

Farming in the ancient moat.
Farming in the ancient moat.

Between the second and “third walls”, farmers, of yet-unknown-to-me ancestry farm the soil between the second and third walls. The farmed space is actually the land or backfilled land that exists where the moat used to be. As you walk along it, in some places, you can see small dams built, presumably to contain irrigation water for the farming operation.

Delicious. Fallen cities make the best farming.
Delicious. Fallen cities make the best farming.

The moat, in theory, stretched most of the length of the Land Walls, execpt for the new walls which were built to enclose the suburb and palace of the Blachernae on the northern end of the city, near the Golden Horn. What I call the third wall is actually a restored part of the escarpment of the moat. I wonder how much of the food I have eaten came from this area!

The spaces between the second wall and the giant yet crumbling first wall is a mass of rubble, dog-paths, trash, human latrines, homeless shelters and one ancient crypt, in short a proud UNESCO World Heratige site. A series of holes in the wall, some ancient, some modern, allow pedestrian and vehicle traffic to move between the land of th

e ancient city and the vast expanse of the modern city west and south of the byzantine peninsula. On the back, east side of the wall a motley assortment of shacks, huts, warehouses, city machinery yards and other not-so-pretty things of cities can be found.

A view roughly due west. That is the second wall. The areched doorway is were we came out. We jumped from the ledge down onto the dog-infested path.

As we passed a shop not far from Silivrikapı a man shouted at his friend to take a look at the foreigners waling by. I said hello to him and struck up a conversation.  He asked what after all we were doing in that part of Istanbul. I explained that we were just looking for old stuff. He said that between the walls, just past the Silivri gate was a small church. He told me to be careful.

We made a small stop by a man-café where they had a potbelly stove and warm çay. There, three men with binomial names ending in the name nomen “Kan” or “blood”, Serkan, Hağkan, and AliKan, told us to be careful because all sorts of “Gypsies, Kurds and other people” hang out there. Duly unnerved, we headed 100 meters down, past the Mosque and into the space between the walls.  A few feet beyond the road, sure enough there was a little semi-arched structure and some men in it. We approached, they welcomed us and we spoke breifly.  The man was kind and insisted that we go inside what was presumably his home. I was a bit nervous, though that was nuts. Turkish people are very welcoming and kind and to be very honest, I have never heard any credible stories of attact or robbery.

IMG_4495I was not sure what I expect would be inside, mostly delapidation from neglect and the sheer disinterest there is in all things pre-Ottoman.

Inside, what little winter light came in the columned doorway showed us a room from the very long past. There were at least 6 crypts all of which seemed opened. On the sides there were old carvings, but I couldn’t make them out very well.  This was the first time that I have set foot inside an unprotected, un-restored, uncaredfor historical structure inside Europe. I was fascinated, but did not want to ask the gentlemen anything. I decided to come back the next day with more light and fresh batteries.

That night I  tried to find information about the crypt but for some reason couldn’t find any. This was surprising since there is even information on already dug-up-and-covered sites within Istanbul. Site here.

IMG_4507I went out this morning, camera, tripod, flashling in hand and wearing soil-able clothes. I took another friend of mine with me, and after an somewhat uncomfortable encounter with the wall-dogs, which are far less docile than the ones who exist in the rest of the city, we made it to the  crypt. There was the man from the day before, whose same it turns out is Attila, sitting in the portico carefully cutting and apple on his make-shift table covered in the day’s tabloid.

We went in, took pictures and so forth. Under the light of my flashlight, I could see that the tombs were full of trash, those beneath us and beside us. I considered crawling down into one of the sub-floor crypts, but I was not sure how solid the rubble might be so I was afraid of getting trapped and dead and similar unpleseant things. So I was satisfied with taking pictures of the above-ground stuff.

IMG_4508As you can see in the pictures, the tombs are covered in carvings depicting things I do not understand.

I tried to find a date in the crypt, but couldn’t. I really couldn’t see any writing on it at all. The ceiling and walls are covered with soot from countless fires set by countless people taking shelter from the cold. I spoke with attilla who said that under the governorship of Bedrettin Dalan about twenty years prior had dug it up and sent it all to a museum in France. That is what he said at least.

In the anteroom or portico (what it should be called I do not know) Atilla has his little home set up, including his small stove. Atilla enjoys drinking wine and I guess he spends most of his time there, sheltered from the worst of the elements, drinking his şarap. I think that is fitting, that a man from a presumably Muslim background should be getting drunk in the looted, 4th century, Christian crypt.

When I came home today I tried different searches and sure enough I did find information about the crypt. It is from the 4th century AD apparently. That seems unlikely since these walls were built in the 5th century, althought it is possible that he crypt existed before the walls. According to the article, it was found in 1987 and was restored only to be looted countless times since. I share with you both my pictures and some the articles I found. But that is the only article I have been able to find about it and it does not seem to be very trustworthy to me. The article.

Here are some extra pictures.

Of the Crypt:


Jesus and twelve other Jews looking more Greek than I thought levantines looked.

Of the walls, etc.

Squatters regularly burn plastic and other combustables to stay warm. In turkish, a squatter settelement is called Gecekondu from gece “night” + (presumably) kont “count” as in Count Chocula count. A bit of dark cultural humor for you.
The inside of the walls, Constantinople side. This must have been a shitty place to be during the siege of 1453. not doing much better now, though.
Walking on the upper rampart of the the second wall. In the distance a tunnel we took to climb to the bridge over the gate (Mevlanikapı).

One thought on “Ancient City, Ancient Crypt

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  1. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Byzantine Constantinople lives…sort of! This is an older (April 2015) article by blogger Morris Gevirtz of the “Oranges Taste Good” blog which, if it is still active, focuses on archaeology-themed travel. This is a really interesting piece about an ancient 4th century crypt in Istanbul, as well as some other pieces of ancient Byzantium, like the walls, that are still visible, if somewhat neglected. This is an interesting companion piece to my own recent article about the “romance” of Istanbul. Well worth a read, and the pictures are great!

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