THE YENIKAPI SHIPWRECKS

UFUK KOCABAŞ

Istanbul University, Turkey,

Thirty-six shipwrecks dated to the fifth to tenth centuries AD have been discovered in the Theodosian (Byzantine) harbour of Istanbul, in the district of Yenikapı. Under the auspices of the ‘Istanbul University Yenikapi Shipwrecks Project’, carried out by Istanbul University’s Department of Conservation of Marine Archaeological Objects, our team has undertaken the recording and dismantling of twenty-seven shipwrecks as well as conservation/restoration and reconstruction projects of thirty-one shipwrecks in total. Shipwrecks of various types and sizes have been exposed since 2005; the majority are still under study.

During the construction of the Marmaray railway and metro stations in Yenikapı between 2004 and 2012, no fewer than thirty-six shipwrecks, dating from the Middle Byzantine period to about the fifth to tenth centuries AD, were revealed. The ongoing archaeological excavations have confirmed that Constantinople’s main harbour, Portus Theodosiacus, was once situated in this former natural bay, now silted by the ancient Lykos (Bayrampaşa) river and lying about 300 m from today’s shoreline. The harbour is known to have been built in the late fourth century during the reign of Theodosius I (AD 376– 395), in response to the demands of the growing economy and population of the capital city of the Byzantine Empire. According to historical records, the breakwater of the Theodosian harbour stretched from the Davutpaşa pier on the west, first eastward and then northeast, thus protecting the bay from the prevailing southwesterly winds. Excavations by the Istanbul Archaeological Museums revealed the presence of a breakwater made of limestone blocks exposed at the west end of the construction site. The artefact inventory of the site is also quite rich. Different types of amphorae and table wares, coins, candles, figurines, leather sandals, ornaments, a large number of nautical artefacts – including rigging equipment such as pulleys, ropes, toggles, and also stone and iron anchors – and also well-preserved shipwrecks have been unearthed by the museum’s ongoing archaeological salvage project. The ships from the Theodosian harbour display a moment frozen in time and have made tremendous contributions to information on shipbuilding technology and development during Antiquity and the Middle Ages. The Istanbul Archaeological Museums turned to the Istanbul University’s Department of Conservation of Marine Archaeological Objects to deal with most of the shipwrecks. Department President and project director Professor Ufuk Kocabaş and a hard-working team of Department assistants, full-time specialists, and Istanbul University graduate students have been working for over 5 years in the active construction site in tent-covered pits to document and carefully recover the shipwrecks.2 Undoubtedly, the shipwrecks constitute the most remarkable artefact group, especially for nautical archaeologists. The thirty-four ships can be divided into three groups: long warships (galleys); sea-going traders; and small, local trading vessels.

Figures

  1. Yenikapı excavation area.
  2. The general view of YK 22
  3. Labelling and recording of YK 3
  4. YK 12 with its cargo
  5. Dismantling of the ship members
  6. Iron corrosion removal at the laboratory
For detailed information visit yenikapibatiklari.com