When Mustafa Şahin first saw photographs of the submerged ancient church under the waves of Turkey’s Lake Iznik, he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing.
The head of archaeology at Bursa Uludağ University had been searching the shores of the lake for several years, but it wasn’t until local government surveyors showed him some aerial photographs in 2014 that he realized the lake itself covered the ancient ruins he was looking for.
“When I first saw the images of the lake, I was quite surprised to see a church structure that clearly,” Şahin told Live Science in an email. “I was doing field surveys in Iznik [since 2006], and I hadn’t discovered such a magnificent structure like that.”
The ruined ancient church lies beneath about 10 feet (3 meters) of water, about 160 feet (50 m) from the shore of Lake Iznik, near the western tip of Turkey and about a 2-hour drive from the capital of Istanbul.
Archaeologists think that the Roman-style church, known as a basilica, was built on the shore of the lake around A.D. 390, when Iznik was known as Nicea and Istanbul was Constantinople — the eastern center of the Roman Empire. The archaeologists now think this church may hide another treasure beneath it: a pagan temple.