Tuesday, February 21, 2017


İnceğiz, Çatalca -  - İstanbul - Turkey

GPS : 41°10'54.2"N 28°24'14.6"E / 41.181722, 28.404056

Incegiz Cave Monastery / Catalca - Istanbul photo incegiz_cave101.jpg


The Cave Monastery is in the neighborhood of İnceğiz village nearly to the Karasu valley, 9 km to the northwest of Çatalca. There are three places on the first floor of monastery. Monastery has four storeys within the rock. The church is on the second floor. There are three places on the third floor which two of them are longer than the other. On the fourth floor there is a place of residence measuring 5 x 5 m and a chapel. The third group monastery is two floors and the longest cave of the 4 caves on the ground floor is 11 m in length and 7 m in width. The church on the second floor is at 7 m in length and 4,5 m in width. The cross planned naos is covered by a dome which is 2,6 m diameter.

The man-made, multi-story Byzantine monastery caves and rock-cut churches in the deep valley formed by the Karasu Stream have been known by the scientific community since the 1950’s. These caves are situated near the Inceğiz village, 9 km NW of Çatalca, the most NW district of Istanbul. Thanks to their geological texture, the limestone formations in this area provided structures that can be easily hewn and comfortably used by humans.

As Dirimtekin points out, the monastery-cave and the rock-cut church system had been used from the 4th century until the end of the 12th century A.D.. However, in 1992 it became clear that the area had been settled since much earlier periods thanks to the rescue excavations of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. The directorate of Istanbul Archaeological Museum carried out excavations between 1992 and 1995 to urgently rescue the ancient tombs that had been unearthed by illicit diggers in the area called Maltepe.

This is a plateau stretching in N-S direction at the top of the formation that hosts the rock-cut cave system of Inceğiz. These fieldworks identified a residential area, a necropolis, an ancient road, waterways and an ancient water source that are dated between the 3rd century B.C. and the 5th century A.D.. Hence, the rescue work ascertained that the earliest habitation in the area started at the hilltop long before the beginning of activity in the Inceğiz Caves down on the hillside.

Consequently, the locality of Maltepe was evidenced to have hosted a Thracian village or a small town that had intense trade contacts with Byzantion and Perinthos, both having a similar Aphrodite cult. According to Pasinli, the dwellers of this ancient village might have started using the cave shrines down on the hillside after the 4th century A.D., following the adoption of Christianity. These excavations, however, were confined only to the S sector of the plateau and did not expand towards NW.

Having considered that the region had not been investigated for nearly twenty years, the scientific committee of the Istanbul Prehistoric Research Project decided that the area should be re-surveyed. The aim of this research was to clarify if it was inhabited in earlier periods than those so far identified. In new field surveys, two deep, well-like shafts were encountered in the Maltepe area, which have not been reported in the museum excavations. The reports of the museum fieldwork only spared a few sentences to remark the presence of a water canal discovered in 1994.

It has been stated that the canal could lead to potential cisterns, as it continued towards the NW tip of the plateau, where the remains of a settlement had already been identified (Pasinli et al., 1996). Accordingly, we tried to understand whether the two new shafts were cisterns or structures serving a different function. In consequence, it has been decided to carry out the detailed investigation of the structures, whose primary examination had been performed by archaeologist Haldun Aydıngün from the scientific committee of the research project.

However, specialist researchers from speleology were required for a more comprehensive exploration of such structures. By this necessity, members of Anatolian Speleological Society (ASPEG) were invited for assistance. Following the survey and investigations of the speleology team, sufficient evidence became available for our scientific committee to define and name these structures as the Thracian Cult Pit and the Two Chamber Byzantine Cistern.

The entrance of this Thracian Cult Pit was observed to be a precise square of 230 x 230 cm dimensions, clearly indicating that the structure was man-made. Besides, each corner of this square were precisely pointing towards one cardinal direction, manifesting that the digging of this pit was not a haphazard act but a careful and well-planned undertaking from the beginning. In our investigation it became clear that a pyramidal structure with a cut-off top was created by gradually widening the pit towards the bottom.

The bedrock, into which this structure was dug, is a limestone formation of Eocen age, which is designated by geologists as the Çatalca Formation. This pyramidal pit, the counterpart of which is known in Bulgaria, is nearly 8 m deep. The bottom of the pit is covered by a dense deposit of earth that is 2-3 m thick. It was due to this deposit that we were not able to determine if the structure has other compartments. A part of this earth deposit was found scattered haphazardly by the entrance of the pit, which indicates activity of illicit diggers.

A pile of archaeological finds, which had apparently been recovered by these people from the earth deposit, was found right at the pit’s entrance. The pile contains ceramic sherds dated to the timespan between the 3rd millennium and the 1st century B.C. The earliest sherds are of a hand-made, dark-colored, polished type with inverted rims, which is well known from the major Bronze Age center of Troy I and dated to the Early Bronze Age I period (early 3rd millennium B.C.).

The group of sherds that comes next in the line of chronology belongs to the wheel-made, grey ware tradition of early 2nd millennium NW Anatolia, which is designated in recent years as the “Anatolian Grey Ware”. A single well-slipped and quite lustrous sherd resembles the Grey Ware of the Greek Mainland from the same period. The sherds of Anatolian Grey Ware are predominantly body pieces and long handles. Besides these types, hand-made, thumb-impressed, banded sherds and applique plaques of the socalled Barbarian Ware were recovered.

The Barbarian Ware is regarded an especially significant type of pottery as it is commonly considered as trace of Thracian peoples, who migrated into Anatolia around 1200 B.C. The recovery of the first examples of this pottery in Level VIIb1 settlement of Troy lead to the presumption that peoples of Thracian / Phrygian origin must have crossed the Dardanelles in their migration into the interior of Anatolia.

However, ancient authors wrote that these Balkan peoples moved into Anatolia around this time along two distinct routes, one across the Dardanelles, and other across the Bosphorus. While the evidence for the former route is progressively gaining strength through excavations at Troy and Kilisetepe in Gelibolu, the evidence for the latter route was almost nonexistent until recently.

The only example of the Barbarian Ware from around Istanbul was a small and somewhat neglected sherd found at the construction site of an extension to the Istanbul Archaeological Museum. The occurrence of the Barbarian Ware in significant quantities in our fieldwork in Çatalca enabled us to present these finds to the scientific community as the first evidence for the movement of Thracians / Phrygians across the Bosphorus. Large quantities of burnt animal bones (dog, sheep and horse), and a few burnt human bones were also attested in the thick soil deposit inside the pit.

This evidence lead to the presumption that following the cremation of the deceased, sacrificial rituals were practiced by the pit, which involved deposition of animal bones and broken pottery as offerings. Also to note is the recovery of iron slags and ores inside and around the pit, which demonstrated that people of the area knew how to work iron. As a parallel event, a small iron mine was also discovered by our research team on a sloping hill near the Çakıl Village, not far from Inceğiz.

Finally, there are the megalithic monuments, the stone blocks of which were found scattered in this area. Based on these pieces of evidence, the presence of Thracian / Phrygian peoples in this region now became more visible than before.

Numerous pieces of lekythoi, skyphoi, kantharoi, megarian bowls and amphorae were also found scattered by illicit diggers, which demonstrate that the pit was also used after the Iron Age, during the Hellenistic and Roman periods. These pieces belong to high quality and apparently expensive vessels for their time. The evidence indicates that the pit attracted local people for several millennia to be used for cult purposes.

This ceremonial significance should be the result of spiritual meanings attributed to its location and geological features. Two Chamber Byzantine Cistern The second underground structure in the Maltepe area is a two-chambered cistern system with two entrances. The larger entrance is an 8 m deep shaft with a regular rectangular cross-section of 150x115 cm dimensions. The two walls of the shaft that extend in NE-SW direction contain small niches placed at intervals, which served as steps to facilitate climbing down and up.

The second entrance is situated 17.5 m away from the first and has a regular rectangular cross-section of 120x70 cm. Just like the main entrance shaft, the second shaft was also dug vertically from above and likewise provided with small niches on opposing walls. As this second shaft is filled with branches and rocks thrown in from the outside, it could not have been entered during our research.

The cistern is accessible from the bottom of the larger shaft and consists of two separate chambers aligned in NW-SE direction. The roofs of both chambers were vaulted with a gentle curvature and very neatly plastered. A narrow, gently sloping tunnel connects the upper part of the SE chamber with the lower sector of the second entrance shaft. This connecting tunnel should have been dug in order to transfer the surface water into the cistern. A dike located at the joint of the tunnel and the chamber was possibly built to prevent the insertion of alluvium into the cistern and keep it inside the tunnel.

Thereby, the cleaning of the accumulated silt became possible as it could be reached via the smaller shaft, even when the chamber was full of water. It is generally known that the access shafts of Byzantine cisterns were closed by means of a lid system so that the collected water could remain clean. In our investigations, we could not attest either inside or outside the cistern any remains of stone, metal or brick that could belong to such a system. Taken the 1.5 x 1.15 m dimensions of the shaft into consideration, one can imagine that it could only be closed by a wooden lid.

As this cistern had been continuously disturbed by illicit diggers for many years, a dump of excavation earth has accumulated, from which only a small number of ceramic sherds were recovered. These pieces predominantly belong to the Early and Middle Byzantine periods. We think that this cistern may have been constructed to supply water to the Monastery Caves that are situated at a lower altitude on the slope of the same geological formation, into which the cistern was dug.

It was determined that these caves had been inhabited for a long time starting from the Early Byzantine period, which synchronizes them with the cistern. The construction technique of the shafts, as well as the niches in them have their exact counterparts in the Early Byzantine Manazan Caves near Taşkale in Karaman, which provides one further criterion for the proposed date of the structure. Shaft systems of the same type are also attested in Cappadocia. The cistern should also have been associated with the water canal identified in the rescue excavations of the museum.

When we visited the site in August 2012, we witnessed that illicit diggers had entered and disturbed the cistern. They apparently discovered a shallow pit in bedrock on the E side of the larger entrance shaft and dug into it to a depth of 17.5 m. They eventually accessed the smaller chamber through a horizontal tunnel, disturbing the original structure. The shallow pit, where these people started digging, is well dressed on its S and W sides, and could be an unfinished shaft of the cistern. Unfortunately, both chambers of the cistern are partially filled with rubble excavated in these illegal activities.

Recent discoveries by the Istanbul Prehistoric Research Project near the Inceğiz Village of Çatalca district prove that the area was used for cult and domestic purposes much earlier than previously thought. When we consider the evidence from the two new underground structures together with earlier research at rock-cut Byzantine shrines, it is ascertained that the habitation of the area extends from the beginning of the 3rd millennium B.C. until the end of the 12th century A.D.

This is not a surprising result given the soft limestone formations that are easy to cut, the fertile soil that is suitable for agriculture, the temperate climate of the region, and the somewhat secluded and protected character of the Karasu valley system. However, if more systematic and comprehensive excavations will be carried out, it seems possible that the history of the region can be extended even into earlier prehistory.


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