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January 6, 2010

Centuries Old Damatrys Palace Needs Attention

Sunday, January 3, 2010
ISTANBUL - Anatolia News Agency

The ruins of the Damatrys Palace, built at the time of the Byzantine Empire, still survive in Sancaktepe in the Samandıra district of Istanbul. Sancaktepe Mayor İsmail Erdem says the palace can be uncovered through archaeological excavation and the site may turn into a nice open-air museum.

The Damatrys Palace, built in today’s Samandıra district of Istanbul by Byzantine Emperors Tiberius II and Maurikios, was the largest and most important structure outside the city. Time has challenged the structure since the 14th century and now it needs critical attention.

The palace was one of the most important structures in the Byzantine Empire considering its specific characteristics and how it was used by the empire. After the 1980s, due to population growth in the district of Samandıra, the area became disorganized and the planning did not attract attention from city officials. The palace was neglected and looted and now nears collapse.

The name of the palace comes from the Greek name “Demeter,” which was also the ancient name of Samandıra. Demeter means the “goddess of agriculture and abundance” and was also known as the “goddess” of cultivation. Rumor has it that Samandıra had an abundance of game animals, and Emperors Tiberius II and Maurikios, who were known for their interest in hunting, constructed the palace.

Byzantium’s gate opening to Anatolia

The palace was also the gate opening of Istanbul to Anatolia and a resting place for the hunter emperors.

Due to its strategic location on the road to Anatolia, the site was also used as a base for the Byzantine army. When returning from Anatolia to the capital, emperors would spend their last night there. When the emperor was staying at the palace, messengers would reach the capital the day before and the city would make preparations to welcome the sovereign.

The Damatrys Palace has been uninhabited since the 12th or 13th century. Among its ruins, the palace’s cinctures and vaults can be identified and it is estimated that it used to cover an area larger than is seen today.

Archaeological work reveals the palace

Speaking to the Anatolia News Agency, Sancaktepe Mayor İsmail Erdem said more information about the palace could be revealed through archaeological excavation and the area could be converted into a nice open-air museum after its restoration.

The mayor hopes that Damatrys Palace will be included in the 2010 European Capital of Culture program and will be an asset to the historical heritage of Istanbul. Erdem said talks were held with the Special Provincial Administration, and they have been working for a long time to bid for the restoration of the historic structure.

“The Special Provincial Administration was expected to include this area in the 2010 program and initiate a tender for its restoration. After we put this area on our agenda, we applied to the Council of Monuments to get necessary permission. We wanted to expand the area of the palace and make it a square. The structure will be confiscated, a square will open and a new living center will be established there. But the Culture and Tourism Ministry has postponed the project,” Erdem said.

The palace was built for accommodation and its surrounding area was used for defense purposes. “But some part of it is underground now. Centuries have passed and many spaces underground will be revealed if the surface is excavated. Then this place may become a very nice open-air museum,” he said.

The area of the palace ruins were declared an archaeological site during the planning of the Sancaktepe region, but the Council of Monuments widened the archaeological site and did not give permission for structuring, said Erdem.

After the new plans are implemented in January, Erdem said they would talk to the Council of Monuments again and prepare a special plan to reorganize the area as a new archaeological site.