An old Roman theater in İznik that once hosted 20,000 people is currently in the process of excavation and promises to become one of the Marmara region's most significant finds.
Excavation leader and Associate Professor Bedri Yalman of Uludağ University told an Anatolia news agency reporter that the theater, built by the Roman emperor Trajanus in the second century A.D., was discovered under 9.5 meters of soil in 1980. Yalman the excavation has been ongoing for 25 years since due to insufficient funding they were only able to work one month of every year.
Yalman explained that when the Arabs conquered Istanbul in the eighth century they first went to İznik to defeat the Byzantines.
"The Byzantine army removed the stones from the theater to build a wall for protection against the Arabs. Many of the theater's stones are visible in the walls, where we are locating them one by one."
He said during the diggings they had found thousands of skeletons, which they presumed belonged to Byzantine warriors. "We found ceramic workshops dating back to the Seljuk and Ottoman periods inside the theater along with seven kilns. We have also made significant finds in ceramic bowls at this site. These artifacts are on display at the İznik Museum. The theater is a magnificent feat of architecture that was built on a flat surface, but in order to make seats for spectators a particular kind of infrastructure was required. For this they constructed areas featuring 36 arched roofs and seven trapezoids. We estimate the theater to have measured about 35 meters in height."
Yalman estimated they would be able to complete the excavation in five years and added: "This can be converted into an entertainment area or an open air museum. The many important artifacts we found here will make this the most magnificent archeological site in the Marmara region."
Yalman said they had unexpectedly found frescos during the dig. "We found Byzantine-era frescoes in the water channels. Those bearing likenesses of the Virgin Mary and Jesus caught our attention in particular. We also found images of angels and important figures of the Christian world. This is a very exciting find," he said.