ARCHAEOLOGY >First Roman Christian church unearthed in Diyarbakır

DİYARBAKIR – Anadolu Agency

A church discovered in Diyarbakır’s Zerzevan Castle is considered by some to be the first church of the Romans, who converted to Christianity from polytheistic religions

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Excavations in the historic Zerzevan Castle in the eastern province of Diyarbakır’s Çınar district have unearthed the first church of Roman Christians beneath the fortress.

“We have determined that it was an underground church or underground sanctuary,” said Dicle University Archaeology Department Professor Aytaç Coşkun. “The church may be the first sanctuary that was discovered after the transition from the polytheistic religions to Christianity. The early Romans prayed here after they became Christian.”

The castle served as a military base during the Roman era and works that started last year there have been continuing with a team of 60 people. 

The castle in the Demirölçek neighborhood, 13 kilometers from the city center, boasts the remnants of 12-meter-high and 1,200-meter-long city walls, a 22-meter-high observation tower, church, palace, residence, rock tombs, baths, granaries and armories, as well as 54 water cisterns. 

Coşkun said the Zerzevan Castle was considered the “Roman Headquarters” as it had been a military base in the Roman era.

Soldiers used to live in the facility with their families, Coşkun said, adding that they had found jewelry belonging to family members and other traces of civil life. 

“The castle is positioned on a strategic spot between the ancient Dara and Amida [Diyarbakır]. This is why it met the army before the city did. It is known that big battles occurred here,” he said.

He said they estimated that the castle was home to 1,000 people including civilians and soldiers, and that its field had been used until the arrival of Islamic armies in 639 A.D. 

Underground church or underground sanctuary 

Coşkun said they had discovered Aramaic writing on the walls of the sanctuary and had invited a specialist to decipherer the writing. 

There are also crosses inscribed into some sections of the sanctuary, the professor said. “They built the baptismal font in the main rock. It is pretty big. As the number of Christians increased, they built this church. The bigger church, where soldiers and civilians prayed, was built some 150 years after this sanctuary.”

The excavations, carried out in collaboration with the Culture and Tourism Ministry, Diyarbakır Governor’s Office and Dicle University, are expected to last 30 years.


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