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2,000-year-old Roman-era harbour revived in Limantepe

Roman-era harbour revived in Limantepe Urla

The town of Limantepe, on Turkey's western coast is the site a prehistoric (Bronze Age) settlement that includes an ancient port dating from 2500 years located underwater offshore. The area is situated in the urban zone of the coastal town of Urla near İzmir.

The harbour settlement was inhabited starting from 6000 years ago and was equipped with a fortification wall partially submerged in the sea. The settlement changed significantly over time, and is one of the oldest known artificial harbours in the Aegean Sea. The underwater find includes vessels and urns that are believed to have arrived at the port from Greece and maybe Cyprus via the Black Sea.

The archaeological site was discovered by Ekrem Akurgal in 1950, and its exploration has been pursued on land and underwater since 1979 by an international team and many of the artefacts discovered are currently on display in İzmir Archaeology Museum. It is very close but separate from the site of Klazomenai, inhabited as of the Iron Age and which itself had changed location several times during its history in the same area between the mainland and Karantina Island across its coastline.

Three important cultural layers apart from those of the classical period have been encountered at Limantepe up to the present, as well as evidence for the presence of Chalcolithic remains. The lowest layer belongs to the Early Bronze Age and dates from the 3rd millennium B.C. onwards. Three phases of this layer have been excavated so far and the number of phases is expected to increase as the excavations proceed. The second cultural layer consists of five phases that belong to the Middle Bronze Age and which dates from the first half of the 2nd millennium B.C. onwards.

Evidence from these two early periods indicate cultural ties notably with the nearby prehistoric sites of Tepekule, Bayraklı within the city of İzmir (which was later to form the core of "Old Smyrna") and with Panaztepe site at the mouth of the River Gediz (later Hermus during the Classical Age), and perhaps also influences from central Anatolia.

The third layer belongs to the Late Bronze Age and covers the time period from the 14th to the 13th century B.C., roughly contemporary with the Trojan War. Some of the artefacts discovered from this period reflect a cultural proximity with the Mycenaean culture.

Consequently, along with remains from the Classical Age in Klazomenai, Limantepe reflects a history of 4000 years. It is argued that this could make Limantepe the oldest, as well as the longest inhabited centre of the Aegean coast of Anatolia. One of the most important finds at the site was made in 2007 when a wooden merchant ship anchor dating from the 7th century B.C. and which is likely to be the oldest ever found, was discovered wedged in the sea ground during the underwater explorations of Limantepe.

As a part of a project initiated by Ankara University, a two-millennium-old Roman-era harbour will be rebuilt in Urla, one of the oldest coastal towns on the Aegean coast. The boats, loaders and stores that were used by the Romans will be reproduced according to their original designs. Following the construction, visitors to the harbour will be able to take a trip on Roman boats. Professor Hayat Erkanal, the founder of Ankara University's Underwater Archaeology Research and Application Center (ANKÜSAM) and head of the Limantepe excavation project, said, "This project is the first of its kind in the world. We have already begun producing the boats. We will begin detailed construction work within a year."

The project, which will be built over an area assigned by the Urla Municipality, will feature storage rooms where the Romans stored their goods and at least two Roman-era boats. Although the archaeologists discovered that there was a church near the harbour, Erkanal said that they will not rebuild the church, as it did not belong to the specific Roman-era time period of the harbor. The aim of both the archaeologists from Ankara University and the municipality is to keep the harbor's memory alive with tours intended for local and foreign tourists.

Ankara University Chancellor Erkan İbiş said the reconstruction of the harbor is a touchstone of Turkey's tourism. Stressing that they will re-animate the Roman–era harbor exactly as it was, he said: "Ankara University has always valued culture and culture-related projects. Here, we will mirror the same harbour that was established by the Romans 2,000 years ago. All the tools, boats, loaders and stores will be rebuilt, remaining faithful to their originals. This is a very important project for Ankara University as well as for Turkish tourism."

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