Ottoman tile workshop unearthed in Turkey’s Iznik Roman Theater


A tile workshop with ceramics and glaze kilns was discovered during the archaeological digs in the 2,000-year-old ancient Roman theater of the Iznik district of northwestern Bursa province. While the workshop dates back to the early Ottoman period, archaeologists also unearthed crushed quartz stones in the workshop.

The excavations in the ruins of Iznik Roman theater have been conducted under the presidency of Aygün Ekin Meriç, an assistant professor of archaeology at Izmir-based Dokuz Eylul University. Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), Meriç said the historical structure in Iznik is one of the rare theaters built on a flat area during the Roman period and raised with vaults.

Meriç pointed out that tile kilns were first built in this area during the period when Iznik was the capital of the Ottoman Empire and said that the masters in Iznik, which is famous for tiles, worked in this region from the 14th century to the 17th century.

An aerial view from the ancient Roman theater, Iznik, Bursa, northwestern Turkey, Oct. 4, 2021. (AA Photo)

An aerial view of the ancient Roman theater, Iznik, Bursa, northwestern Turkey, Oct. 4, 2021. (AA Photo)

Highlighting that they found 10 tile kilns during excavations, Meriç said: “We made a very important discovery during our last excavation. We found a tile workshop dating from the 14th to 15th centuries inside the vault in good shape.”

“This workshop is very important. We have a very beautiful kiln, which is well preserved. Because of the burns that occurred as a result of use, we can assume that this kiln had been in use for a long time,” she noted. There is also a kiln used for glazing, Meriç explained, adding that two marble stone chambers where quartz is produced can also be seen in the area.

“It is a complete ceramic workshop with everything, including a glaze kiln and stone chambers for quartz production, and it is the first time it emerges in Iznik en masse,” she said.

Roman theater

Noting that the three-floor theater was built in the second century during the reign of Roman Emperor Trajan with a capacity of approximately 10,000 people, Meriç said that it has a very ostentatious vaulted infrastructure. “Gladiator games, famous games of the period were played here, especially in the second and third centuries,” she said.

“Later, the theater changed its function, especially after the year 325, when the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (Iznik) was convened, and was used mostly for religious purposes,” she added.

The frescoes of the Virgin Mary and Jesus were made on the walls in the theater in the later period, she said, adding that the entrances and exits to the orchestra were closed. “That area was entirely devoted to religious use.”

Pointing out that several earthquakes occurred in Iznik in the past and that the theater structure was affected by this, Meriç said: “After this religious use, there was a big earthquake in the fifth century and the theater started being used as a garbage dump.”

Archaeologists work on the tile workshop area of an ancient Roman theater, Iznik, Bursa, northwestern Turkey, Oct. 4, 2021. (AA Photo)

An archaeologist works on the tile workshop area of an ancient Roman theater, Iznik, Bursa, northwestern Turkey, Oct. 4, 2021. (AA Photo)

“This situation continued for 200 years. Later, during the Arab raids in the eighth century, all the materials in the theater were transported to be used in the construction of the city walls,” she explained. “After this date, the theater seems to have sacrificed itself for the defense of Iznik.”

After the Arab period in the 12th and 13th centuries, a church was built on the second cavea of the theater, she said, referring to the seating sections of Roman theaters.

Another church was built just to the southwest of the theater during the period of the Laskaris, a Byzantine Greek noble family, she explained. “After this date, this area was used more as a church and a cemetery and this continues into the 14th century.”

​Skeleton in soil

Meriç also explained that the theater witnessed some historical events like the Gothic Invasion in 258. “During the excavation of the first sitting steps of the theater, we found many graves,” she said, explaining that the bodies discovered were of people who either died during the war and were handicapped or had been wounded severely, which could be seen in the form of marks on the bones. The use of cemeteries has always been a part of life, she asserted.

“We discovered a baby skeleton in an amphora in an area we excavated this year,” she informed.

Meriç stated that they unearthed another skeleton from the late period outside the theater. It is estimated to belong to a 160-centimeter tall (5.2 feet) adult male and will be displayed without being removed from the soil.

A skeleton to be displayed without being removed from the soil, ancient Roman theater, Iznik, Bursa, northwestern Turkey, Oct. 4, 2021. (AA Photo)

Archaeologists work on the tile workshop area of an ancient Roman theater, Iznik, Bursa, northwestern Turkey, Oct. 4, 2021. (AA Photo)

The excavations at the theater, which began in 1980, were undertaken by a team from Dokuz Eylül University in 2016, Meriç informed.

“We have been excavating for the past six seasons. In our period, we left no unexcavated area in the theater,” she added.

Noting that the theater’s restoration project has also been completed and approved by the board, and that they are awaiting its execution, she said, “We will show all phases of this theater.”

Visitors will be able to see the different functions of the theater over time including its original use as a theater. Its churches, workshops, tile ovens and the whole story of Iznik will be up on display, she said.

The team aims to reveal all the structures related to the theater and around it, Meriç said: “We will highlight this area as a complex cultural asset.”



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0 thoughts on “Ottoman tile workshop unearthed in Turkey’s Iznik Roman Theater

  • November 27, 2021 at 1:23 pm
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