Add It to the Bucket List: The ‘Most Beautiful Underwater Museum’

Ancient underground church in Turkey may one day be open to intrepid tourists and faith-minded historians

Visitors may eventually be able to tour the grounds where the first Christian council presumably met. At the moment, it’s an area submerged underwater at the bottom of a Turkish lake.

“Turkish citizens as well as international tourists will be able to visit the remains of the basilica, which holds an important place in the history of Christianity,” Recep Altepe, the mayor of the Bursa (Turkey) Metropolitan Municipality, announced last year.

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Archaeologists discovered remnants of the Byzantine-era basilica back in 2014.

“We previously thought that the basilica dated back to 1,500 years ago; however, the archaeologists discovered 1,800-year-old coins during their excavations,” Altepe told reporters in July 2016. “Currently, we believe the basilica is at least 1,800 years old.”

He added, “The Roman basilica which hosted the first Christian council was submerged in an earthquake and now lies three meters under the water.”

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In time, tourists will be able to inspect artifacts from the church.

“Plans are now underway to open an underwater museum … The foundation of the church was found lying in 5-7 feet of water in Lake Iznik, in Bursa, Turkey,” reported last week.

Related: This Was Just Uncovered in Ancient Roman Catacombs

The Bursa Metropolitan Municipality and Uludag University’s Department of Archeology last year announced renovations on the church.

A Turkish news organization first noted in 2014 that the remains of the basilica had been discovered under Lake İznik “during a photo shoot from the air,” said the Anadolu Agency. “The early Byzantine-era basilica, which has the traces of early-Christianity architecture, was found about 20 meters from the shore.”

Excavators have removed the sand inside the foundation and discovered everything from mosaics to graves, according to reports.

Related: Museum of the Bible: Here’s a Preview of a Soon-to-Open Landmark

“The history of the region is being gradually exposed to daylight,” Mayor Altepe said, according to the Anadolu Agency. “We dream of making the most beautiful underwater museum in İznik.”

It’s likely that churchgoers built the structure in the 4th century AD or earlier in honor of St. Neophytos, who was killed by Roman soldiers. And “archaeologists, historians and art historians, who are working on the church, estimate that the structure collapsed during an earthquake that occurred in the region in 740 [AD],” according to the Anadolu Agency.

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