ISTANBUL, Turkey -- Nearly a thousand years after it was lost to history, Turkish archaeologists have apparently found ruins of the Great Palace from which Byzantine emperors ruled much of the known world.
The archaeologists, while cleaning an underground Ottoman chamber in April, noticed a narrow corridor filled with dirt and debris. As they crawled through it with increasing excitement they realized they were looking not at Ottoman ruins but at something much older.
"It is wonderful, one of the most important finds in many years," Erendiz Ozbayoglu, a professor of classical languages at Istanbul University, said last week. "We knew the palace existed, and we have hundreds of books and manuscripts describing it. Now, after all this time, we are actually going to be able to see it. It's very, very exciting."
Archaeologists are not certain which part of the sprawling palace complex they have uncovered, but believe that one room they found may have been a library or archive.
The palace may be opened to tourists after it is fully excavated, but that is likely to take several years.
"What we have found is most probably the Great Palace," said Alpay Pasinli, director of the Istanbul Archaeological Museum, who is overseeing the excavation. "We would like to have taken more time before reporting this, but it was impossible to keep the secret."
"When we reached the room with the fresco, we stared at it for a long time," he said. "To see something that no one has laid eyes on for so many centuries is quite an emotional experience."
Constantine the Great built the core of the Great Palace after he made this city the capital of the Roman Empire in 330 A.D., and work continued intermittently for eight centuries. The palace was home to more than 50 Byzantine emperors.
Constantinople was devastated by fires in the 12th century and plundered by Crusaders in 1204. Later, after it was captured by the Ottoman Turks, a palace called Topkapi was built.
The ruins are just outside the Topkapi walls.
Pub Date: 7/27/98