The Marmaray railway tunnel opens today on the 90th anniversary of the Turkish Republic’s founding. Located 62 meters under the Bosphorus Strait, it connects the European and Asian sides of Istanbul for the first time by rail, reports Hurriyet Daily News.

Turkish Transport Minister Binali Yıldırım describs it as ’a continuation of the historical Silk Road’.

“Turkey has always been at the center of the Silk Road. We are quite aware of our responsibility. In that vein, we strived to complete the historical Marmaray project, implementing unprecedented engineering technology. This project connects Asia with Europe, to restore the once internationally important Silk Road,” he said at the International Silk Road Congress.

The 13.6-kilometer tunnel, including a 1.4-kilometer immersed tube tunnel, is the deepest of its kind in the world at 60 meters.

As reported, construction of the tunnel under the Bosphorus had been scheduled to take four years but was delayed after a series of major archaeological discoveries. Some 40,000 objects were excavated from the site, notably a ship graveyard containing some 30 Byzantine vessels, which is the largest known medieval fleet.

The Marmaray will provide a non-stop railway route connecting China to Western European markets and vice versa as a modern day “Iron Silk Road.” In light of expectations that the project’s completion will facilitate a boom in regional trade, Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta and a number of transportation and trade ministers are expected to attend the opening ceremony, where all top Turkish officials from President Abdullah Gül to Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek will be present. Yıldırım said that with a maximum capacity of 1.5 million passengers a day, the Marmaray was expected to alleviate 20 percent of the 14 million-person city’s traffic burden.