Early Byzantine sculptures discovered at Polyeuktos Church excavations in Istanbul

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Early Byzantine sculptures were recently found in the excavations conducted at Agios Polyevktos Church in the Saraçhane Archaeological Park of Istanbul (Constantinople).

While specific details about the statues’ subjects are yet to be fully determined, initial assessments of the excavation have shown that three of the statues are funerary stele belonging to important figures from early Byzantine history.

Credit: IBB MIRAS

Believed to have been crafted during the 5th or 6th century, each carved stele stands approximately two metres tall.

Mahir Polat, Deputy Secretary-General of the Metropolitan Municipality of Istanbul (IBB), stated: “I want to share some exciting news… It is the first time you see this sight, which is 1500 years old. Today, we found another marvelous group of archaeological objects in the heart of Istanbul, two metres below the ground. At Saraçhane, in the city centre, four more sculptures were discovered in the excavation of the Agios Polyevktos Church. It is an honour for us to present the work it deserves to Istanbul, the city of history and tourism.”

Credit: IBB MIRAS

It is known that Agios Polyevktos, which is among the most important structures of this period after Hagia Sophia, was built by the Eastern Roman Princess Anicia Juliana between 524-527.

Beneath the remains of the massive 6th century church, archaeologists have also uncovered underground chambers, the purpose of which is not yet fully understood.

Credit: IBB MIRAS

These underground structures consist of two large rooms connected by a tunnel and apparently connected with the church prosthesis (the small room next to the altar where the bread and wine were prepared). 

According to archaeologists, some of the underground chambers were decorated with mosaics, stone inlays and carved marble blocks.

Credit: IBB MIRAS

In the early part of April, archaeologists discovered a marble male torso fragment draped with a toga with one shoulder exposed, discovered approximately one metre below the surface and believed to date back to the 3rd to 4th centuries. In June, a nearly 1,700-year-old statue was found depicting the Greek god Pan.

Credit: DHA

As the excavation progresses, the IBB archaeological excavation team announced its intention to collaborate with museums and academic institutions to ensure the proper preservation and exhibition of these significant artefacts, safeguarding them for future generations to appreciate.

Source: Arkeofili [July 06, 2023]

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