Dara (or Daras) was an important Roman fortress city in the area corresponding to ancient northern Mesopotamia, and it served as the strategic outpost overlooking the borders of their mighty rivals, the Persian Sassanian Empire. Presently located by the Turkish village of Oğuz (in the province of Mardin, southeastern Turkey), the archaeological site has once again revealed one of its Eastern Roman legacies, in the form of an entire cistern from 6th century. And the interesting part is that the substantially large structural ambit, of around 143,000 cubic ft, was discovered underneath a barn in a field.
According to Nihat Erdoğan, the director of the Mardin Museum, a major section of the ancient Roman ruins of Dara still lie hidden underneath many of the present-day village houses. He said –
As excavations continue in Dara, artifacts from the Roman and Persian eras come to light. The latest excavations discovered the Roman-era cistern, which is 18 meters in depth and 15 meters by width. This place was filled with earth that we later emptied. Its ruined ground has been restored as part of a project led by the cultural and natural heritage conservation board.
As for the purpose of this cistern, the researchers believe that the infrastructural scope might have very served a ‘political’ role, with its water being used to treat the guests from across Mardin. To that end, the subterranean structure was actually located within a fortification comprising a 4-km wall on the western part of the city. So while messengers and ‘strangers’ from Mardin were not allowed to enter inside the strategic city, they were shown some form of respect with the provision of water.
Interestingly enough, Dara in itself started out as a paltry village, but was possibly rebuilt and subsequently transformed into a well-defended urbanized military center, as an answer to the Sassanian threat of 6th century. To that end, according to Zacharias of Mytilene (6th century bishop and ecclesiastical historian), as noted in his Syriac Chronicle, Dara was speedily refurbished and fortified to rival the nearby Persian-held city of Nisibis. But late antique scholar Procopius of Caesarea mentioned how the hasty measures result in poorly constructed walls, which were later renovated by Eastern Roman emperor Justinian I, who thereby renamed the city as Iustiniana Nova.
With all this talk about history, the good news for history-enthusiasts is that the cistern is expected to be open to the public (unlike in the ancient times) from January 2017, after the excavations works have been completed. Erdoğan said –
We are working to make this richness [like the ancient cistern] visible. Our goal is to promote Mardin to the world and reflect these values. The city has had continuous cultural values since its establishment. We expect Mardin to be known by more tourists.