Lonely Planet Writer

Stunning underwater basilica in Turkey to open to visitors for the first time

An underwater basilica in northwest Turkey is to open up to visitors for the first time.

Lake Iznik, Turkey
Lake Iznik, Turkey Image by Molesworth II / CC BY 2.0

The Roman-era basilica was discovered just two metres underwater and 20 metres off the shore of Lake İznik, in the province of Bursa, in 2014. It was named one of the most significant findings in the world that year by the Archaeological Institute of America. Excavations have been under way at the site since its discovery. “Since the doors are closed all the time, people are curious about what is happening there. In order to satisfy their curiosity, we will organise a public day on the first and third Saturdays of every month,” said Professor Mustafa Şahin of Bursa Uludağ University, who is overseeing the works at the site. “We will explain to visitors what we are doing during these public days. The basilica in the lake will be visited by people twice a month,” he told Hürriyet Daily News.

The basilica, estimated to have been built in the fifth century AD, was named after St Neophytos, a 16-year-old Christian who was killed on the shores of Lake İznik in AD 303 by Roman soldiers. Ten years later, the Edict of Milan guaranteed religious freedom for Christians within the Roman Empire. Archaeologists believe that the basilica was destroyed by an earthquake in the region in AD 740, and was, as a result, submerged in Lake İznik. Surface and underwater works have been ongoing at the basilica for the last six months to ensure the structure is ready for tourism. Mosaics, graves and coins are among the artefacts discovered during the excavations.