Cultural Postcards + [Turkey]

Near East: Byzantine Emperor's tomb turning into garbage dump
To the left of the Silivrikapı Walls in Istanbul’s Fatih neighborhood, there lies a tomb from the fourth century A.D., which is now in ruins. Known as the Silivri Crypt, the tomb, which has been suffering since its discovery in 1988, is now in its worst state.

Byzantine Emperor's tomb turning into garbage dump
The Silivrikapı Crypt dates back to the fourth century A.D. at the time of the eastern 
Roman Emperor Theodosius [Credit: Hurriyet]

The Silivrikapı Crypt, which was found by Professor Ümit Serdaroğlu, dates back to the fourth century A.D. at the time of the eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius. The tomb was restored in 1989 by the Istanbul Municipality but has been looted many times since its restoration. The reliefs that cover the crypt were stolen in 1993, only to be rediscovered and given to the Istanbul Museum of Archeology. The frescoes which were also restored were damaged over time. The historical Byzantine tomb is now no different than a junkyard.

The Silivrikapı Crypt and the surrounding gardens are home to a number of homeless people. Atilla, who has lived in Silivrikapı for almost 40 years, is one of them. “Yes, I admit polluting this place but I am not ashamed of it because I didn’t steal anything from here. The looters and the officials who are responsible for this place should be ashamed,” he said.

Atilla is witness to the damage given to the tomb. “I have been living here for 40 years. I spent my childhood playing around these walls but even we did not know what was in there, because it was covered by rubble. Someday they came and took whatever was inside. There was even a murder between the restoration workers because of a rumor about a hidden treasure. The Yenikapı area was restored but this place remains untouched. Every two years, the mayor visits this place, but he only looks at it without doing anything,” he said.

He also refutes that most people think that the homeless people are the reason for this. “When Bedrettin Dalan was the mayor, everything here was looted. Ask anyone in the neighborhood and they will tell you the same thing. Yes, I do pollute this place and I disrespect history, but thankfully I did not loot anything,” he said.

There are many historical artifacts like the crypt in the area. It is thought that they were all part of the necropolis before the reign of Theodosius II. “Recently a few people came here, saying they were going to dig in this garden. I sent them away. They came back a few days later and dug up the whole place. I doubt they found anything. I saw some looters climbing the cemetery walls with hammers in hand,” said Mustafa, a local shopkeeper.

Even the measures taken by the municipality could not stop the looters. “The municipality installed a door to the crypt to stop the looters. They took the door the same night,” Mustafa said.

Author: Fundanur Öztürk | Source: Hurriyet Daily News [August 23, 2014]