A partially submerged city on the Mediterranean Sea in present-day Turkey has yielded a second underwater church, leading researchers to believe the settlement was a magnet for pilgrims traveling to and from the Holy Land nearly 2,000 years ago.
Known as Aperlae, the 2,400 year-old settlement likely supported no more than 1,000 people at its zenith in the fourth to sixth centuries, said University of Colorado at Boulder history Professor Robert Hohlfelder. But the five churches discovered since the site was first surveyed in 1996 -- including the two submerged by shoreline subsidence caused by earthquakes are more than would be expected for a population that size.
"During the first several centuries of the Christian era, churches were a sign of regional importance, much like domed sports stadiums are today," said Hohlfelder, an internationally known underwater archaeologist and historian. "It looks like this city invested considerable capital in these prestige symbols. Another reason for so many churches is that Aperlae may have been a way station for pilgrims traveling to and from the Holy Land."
Hohlfelder, Professor Robert Lindley Vann of the University of Maryland's School of Architecture and several of their students began studying the ruins in 1996 after learning of them from Bob Carter, an American traveler who briefly explored Aperlae in the 1970s. One highlight of the 1996 season was the discovery of three large, rectangular brick tanks now submerged in the harbor that were likely used to produce a dye known as "Tyrean Purple," made from marine snails, which was highly coveted by the Roman elite.
Despite the abysmal location of the harbor due to erratic winds, choppy seas and a lack of freshwater spring or river in the city, residents apparently gathered enough rainwater in cisterns to sustain them, Hohlfelder said. Aperlae likely was founded in the fourth century B.C. to produce the valuable dye and export it to nearby
Contact: Robert Hohlfelder
University of Colorado at Boulder