A never-ending story of Istanbul’s 8,500-year history

ISTANBUL - Istanbul is famous for its historic sites. But hundreds of years are still buried underground. With the transportation project Marmaray many ancient pieces have been discovered. Binali Yıldırım, the minister of transportation, says the last of the excavations in the project are about to end

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Istanbul has been home to many civilizations and it is still possible to see traces of the multitude of empires and religions. While much of its history is known, it still has the power to surprise.

Binali Yıldırım, the minister of transportation, said since the excavations part of the Marmaray project, the transportation project consisting of the tunnel running under the Bosphorus to connect both sides of the city, it has been learned that Istanbul’s history dates back further than was previously thought. "It is so old, it dates back 8,500 years. I hope archaeologists will not want to see beyond 8,500 years. If so, we cannot finish the project, Istanbul will not see the project."

Minister Yıldırım inspected completed parts of the Marmaray Ayrılıkçeşme-Üsküdar Tunnel and answered questions from the assembled press. Yıldırım said the Marmaray Project was 77 kilometers in length, starting at Gebze on the Anatolian side and ending at Halkalı on the European side. Yıldırım said the part of the tunnel he had inspected was the first part of the project, the 13.5-kilometer section of the tunnel, that starts in Söğütlüçeşme and ends in Kazlıçeşme.

Construction above ground is second part of the project
Marmaray will include 40 stations and underground work is continuing alongside work occurring above ground that will be the second part of the project.

The third part of Marmaray will be to manufacture trains. Yıldırım said there has been a bid for 440 sets of trains that are going to be manufactured at the fast train factory in Sakarya by a Turkish-Korean company.

Yıldırım also said archaeological excavations had slowed the project down, while answering a question about the excavation at Yenikapı. Yıldırım added that shedding light on Istanbul’s history was one of the many extra benefits of the project. Yıldırım added, "We have lost [3.5] years up until now due to the archaeological excavations.

This is a result of the importance we have given the history and cultural richness of Istanbul."

Yıldırım, however, said the excavations were about to end, "I think by the end of this month, Yenikapı will be complete, which is the last of the excavations. The project will then move faster after that."

Ancient pieces unearthed
Marmaray is one of the biggest current transportation projects in Istanbul. The mass transit system, which will connect 77 kilometers of the city from one end to the other, will be bound with other railway systems in the city.

Since construction started on the underwater rail tunnel, the project has faced many bottlenecks. 8,000 years old skeletons were discovered and with the continuous excavations further graves have been unearthed. The graves reveal that Istanbul used to be home to the earliest settlements during the Stone Age. There were also remnants of some walls found during the excavations. They are now considered as the first city walls of Istanbul. A total of 500 pieces have been unearthed to date.

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The first underwater line, Marmaray, which connects Europe and Asia beneath the Bosphorus, paves the way for suburban development and less chaotic traffic within the city.The Marmaray project that links two continents, Europe and Asia, will be the world's deepest undersea train tunnel. Construction is expected to be completed in 2012.

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