Sunday, March 12, 2017


Laleli, Fatih - İstanbul - Turkey

GPS : 41°00'31.0"N 28°57'20.0"E / 41.008611, 28.955556

Myrelaion Cistern Bazaar / Laleli - Fatih photo myrelaion_cistern110.jpg


Myrelaion Palace was a summer residence located between Aksaray and Laleli districts. Very few remains were found during the excavations. This palace was built at an unknown time into the ruins of a vast late antique palace. It stood on an elevated platform that was formed by inserting a cistern into the former circular main hall. The monumental semicircular courtyard in front of the rotunda which connected it to the colonnaded main street in the north, still survived, but was not accessible from the new buildings on the platform.

Under the name of Ta Amastrianou (= property of a man from Amastris) it was used as a market place and for executions. The new palace later became property of Romanos Lakapenos and was converted by him into a monastery at the beginning of his reign (920-944).

Excavations of a huge rotunda next to the Myrelaion started before the World War II (D.T. Rice and T. Macridy)1 and were completed in the 1960s by R. Naumann. The unearthed (probably) fifth-century centrally-planned building, originally covered with a large dome, has outer diameter 41.80 m which makes it the second largest circular structure of the Roman-Byzantine period (only the Pantheon in Rome surpasses it). Inner diameter is 29.60 m and the maximum thickness of the rotunda wall is 6.10 m.

The lower part of the building, which has survived up to 3.40 m, is built of cramped limestone blocks. The interior of the circular hall was articulated with large niches: four rectangular niches on the main axes and four semicircular niches on the diagonals. The exterior of the building is flatened on the north and south and there were entrances to the interior through the respective rectangular niches.

The north door was the main entrance and was preceded with a (probably) semicircular (sigma) portico of which only two columns and part of a stylobate survived in-situ. The reconstructed diameter of the semicircular colonnaded forecourt, which was located just south of the Mese street, is about 55 m. Due to the sloping ground there were eight semicircular steps in front of the south entrance. A fragment of wall projects from the south façade of the hall and a column base aligned with this wall was found nearby.

These remains are interpreted as part of a north-south colonnade which may have had its counterpart west of the south door of the rotunda. If so, there would be an elaborate entrance way leading to the rotunda from the south. Yet further south of the huge rotunda another centrally-planned building was excavated. This small structure stood on a lower level than the rotunda and had an opus sectile floor. The original function and identity of the rotunda are disputed. One of the possibilities, taking into account the probable fifth-century date of the complex, is that it was the palace of the Theodosian princess Arcadia.

Moreover, Naumann suggested that the sigma portico of the rotunda could be identified as the Amastrianon which served as a market and place for public executions in the Middle Ages (this identification accepted for example by A. Berger). According to Byzantine texts, the Amastrianon was an open space limited by a semicircular portico and adjacent to the Mese approximately in the location of the Myrelaion rotunda and it was defined by a semicircular portico and a straight wall which contained a gate.

The Patria (10th century) tell us other interesting details: For example, there were several reliefs and statues in the Amastrianon court, such as Zeus driving a chariot , turtles, a personification of the Lycus River and a relief of a man from Amastris with his servant. In the 8th century the rotunda behind the portico must have been in ruins (confirmed by the twentieth-century excavations) and it is quite possible that the sigma court may have become a market place by that time.

One of the most significant monuments in Istanbul's history has been one of its least fortunate survivors. A large rotunda from an Late Roman palace was incorporated as the substructure for the palace of Romanos Lecapenos in the early tenth century. The church, adjacent to Romanos' palace, was built on separate substructures, into which a funerary chapel was added in the Late Byzantine period. The site thus represents three major periods in the Byzantine history of the city.

The rotunda had been converted to a cistern when the tenth-century palace was added, with the insertion of dozens of columns to support the vaulting. In the early 1990s bulldozing for the construction of a hotel next door damaged the cistern. In 1993-94, the cistern was cleared, cleaned, and replastered by developers, who have turned it into a shopping bazaar -- one of the most surprising adaptive reuse projects I've seen. The terrace above was paved with marble.

Palace of Romanos I Lakapenos

The ruined rotunda was re-used when a new palatian building was erected directly on the top of it in the Early Middle Ages. Before the construction of the new palace started, the walls of the rotunda had been consolidated and both doors walled-up. The interior of what had left of the late antique structure was converted into a cistern whose vaulting, supported by re-used columns, created a leveled platform on which the medieval palace was built. The palace was considerably smaller than the rotunda and occupied only the eastern part of the platform.

It consisted of a rectangular hall (21.75 x 7.80 m) with two corner tower-like structures connected by a portico. Thus, the building resembled Roman corridor villae. The building was identified as the palace which belonged to the emperor Romanos I Lakapenos (920-944) and was converted by him to a nunnery, as it is known from the sources, situated near the Myrelaion church (also work of Romanos) which fortunately survived, converted into a mosque (Bodrum Camii).

Nevertheless, it is not certain whether Romanos built this palace. In this respect it has been suggested that the palace may be the same as the House of Krateros adjacent to the semicircular Amastrianon court (either the general Theodore Krateros serving under the emperor Theophilos (first half of the 9th century) or Andreas Krateros who was a domestikos in the reigns of Basil I and Leo VI (second half of the 9th century).

The church, now Bodrum Camii, suffered in a disasterous restoration in 1964-65 that replaced 90% of the exterior masonry with concrete bricks, altering the lines of the building. This restoration was abandoned before completion, and the building was re-restored in the late 1980s to a more satisfying appearance, although there is virtually no original surface left on the building.


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