In the fourth century AD, a bishop named Nicholas transformed the city of Myra, on the Mediterranean coast of what is now Turkey, into a Christian capital, reports the New York Times.
Nicholas was later canonised, becoming the St Nicholas of Christmas fame. Myra had a much unhappier fate.
After some 800 years as an important pilgrimage site in the Byzantine Empire, it vanished — buried under four metres of mud from the rampaging Myros River. All that remained was the Church of St Nicholas, parts of a Roman amphitheater and tombs cut into the rocky hills.
But now, 700 years later, Myra is reappearing.
Archaeologists first detected the ancient city in 2009 using ground-penetrating radar that revealed anomalies whose shape and size suggested walls and buildings. Over the next two years they excavated a small, stunning 13th-century chapel sealed in an uncanny state of preservation.
Carved out of one wall is a cross that, when sunlit, beams its shape onto the altar. Inside is a vibrant fresco that is highly unusual for Turkey.
The chapel’s structural integrity suggests that Myra may be largely intact underground. “This means we can find the original city, like Pompeii,” said Nevzat Cevik, an archaeologist at Akdeniz University who is director of the excavations at Myra, beneath the modern town of Demre.
FULL STORY Well-preserved Byzantine chapel sealed under Turkish mud (NYT)