A project with the intent of historical preservation began in the Midyat district of the Mardin province in Turkey. Midyat is well known for its rich history, not only from the culture it presents but also from the many different artifacts that have been discovered. The project had the aim to conserve the historical streets and houses within the district.
At the end of last month, an amazing discovery has been made, on a system of cave tunnels that seem to have been somewhat forged by the people at the time as living quarters, making the archeologists believe the cave system may have been used as an underground city.
Gani Tarken, the director of Mardin Museum and head of the excavations at Matiate, mentioned that similar examples of underground cities have been found in Anatolia as well as other parts of Turkey. He also describes how these sorts of underground cities had been used by Christians during the 2nd century AD when Christianity was still not declared an official religion and those who followed it were threatened.
“Matiate has been used uninterruptedly for 1,900 years. It was first built as a hiding place or escape area. As it is known, Christianity was not an official religion in the second century. Families and groups who accepted Christianity generally took shelter in underground cities to escape the persecution of Rome or formed an underground city. Possibly, the underground city of Midyat was one of the living spaces built for this purpose. It is an area where we estimate that at least 60–70,000 people lived underground.” (Quote by Gani Tarken)
Based on the size of this underground city, it may actually be the biggest underground city ever discovered, with an approximated 60,000 to 70,000 inhabitants. It is not sure how long people have lived in this underground city, but experts estimate it was for almost 1,900 years, so possibly until the 18th century.
A big part of the cave system is still to be analyzed, but until now the archeology team uncovered 49 rooms, including places of worship, water wells, storage rooms, and numerous tunnels. They estimate that what they have found thus far is only 3% of the whole underground city.
Midyat has an incredibly rich history, especially within the Christian culture, with over 100 churches and 70 monasteries. This is one of the most culturally diverse places on Earth, as many different nations ruled these lands throughout history. From Mitannians to Persians, from Greeks to Byzantines and to Ottomans, these are only a few of the great nations that ruled over these lands.
The archeology team is excited to dwell even further into the unknown and see what other artifacts, chambers, and secrets await to be discovered. Tarken estimates that this will take at least a couple of months, as the cave system spans over 8 different levels and goes as deep as 260 feet. He also estimates that the underground city has more than 600 entrances, most of them still hidden.
As the months will pass, the team will be updating the important findings they discover as they go deeper into the underground city.