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A Church Pew with a View Volume 53 Number 6, November/December 2000
by Kristin M. Romey

[image] A half-submerged tomb in the waters at Aperlae in southern Turkey (ARCHAEOLOGY/Nicolas Sapieha) [LARGER IMAGE]

A second church has been found beneath the waters of the partially submerged settlement of Aperlae on the southern coast of Turkey, adding credence to the idea that the city was a popular pit-stop for Christian pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land from the fourth to seventh century A.D.

This latest discovery has brought the total number of churches identified at Aperlae to five, an unusually high number, considering the population of the settlement most likely never exceeded 1,000 people.

"During the first several centuries of the Christian era, churches were a sign of regional importance, much like domed sports stadiums are today," said Robert Hohlfelder, an underwater archaeologist and history professor at the University of Colorado, who, along with Lindley Vann of the University of Maryland, has led surveys of the site since 1996. "It looks like this city invested considerable capital in these prestige symbols. Another reason for so many churches is that Aperlae may have been a way station for pilgrims traveling to and from the Holy Land."

The location of the two submerged churches, which were originally built on the shores of the city and later fell victim to earthquake-related shoreline subsidence, emphasized the religious importance of water and gave seafarers a place to pray for safe journeys, says Hohlfelder.

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America