Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Under Istanbul Volume 60 Number 4, July/August 2007
by Mark Rose and Sengül Aydingün

One of the largest urban excavations in history exposes a massive Byzantine port.


The vast Yenikapi archaeological dig at Constantinople's ancient harbor is the future site of a major transportation hub. (Haldun Aydingün)

Welcome to Yenikapi, on the south side of Istanbul's historic peninsula. It's one of the biggest digs in recent years, with 50 archaeologists and 750 workers excavating in shifts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in an area the size of 10 city blocks. It's also an excavation that has turned up one superlative after another...the earliest, the first, the most. So far, the site has yielded the oldest settlement in Istanbul, the earliest known city wall of Constantinople, and at last count 22 shipwrecks, including the first Byzantine galleys ever found. It may, some say, be the greatest nautical archaeological site of all time.

And the public? Istanbul is today as much a nexus of trade routes and cultural links between Europe and Asia as it was when the city was known as Constantinople. The discoveries at Yenikapi are important for both tourists and Istanbul's residents. The western end of the excavation, with the early city wall, will be made into an archaeological park, and plans for the Yenikapi station—a gleaming, light and airy structure in architect's renderings—have been altered. It will now have a museum, says Ismail Karamut, displaying not only artifacts but also ships from the city's first harbor.

Mark Rose is AIA online editorial director. Sengül Aydingün ( is an assistant professor in the University of Kocaeli's department of archaeology.

Editor's Note: There are now at least 23 shipwrecks at the site.

© 2007 by the Archaeological Institute of America