By Aislinn Sanders
News broke recently of the underground city uncovered by archaeologists in Mardin, Turkey. Researchers in the Midyat district found a cave with passageways, corridors, wall murals, artifacts, places of worship, and water wells during cleaning and conservation of historic houses and streets in the city two years ago. After it was determined that there was more to the cave, excavation work began. Currently, 49 rooms have been uncovered by archaeologists, and they estimate this makes up only 3% of the city’s size. The city, which has been called Matiate (meaning “City of Caves”), may be the largest of its kind.
Gani Tarkan, lead excavator for the project and director of the Mardin Museum, believes the underground city was used for 1,900 years. During the second century, Christianity was not an official religion of the region and families who accepted the religion took shelter in these underground cities to avoid persecution from Roman authorities. It is believed that Matiate, too, served this purpose, and may have housed 60-70,000 people.
These types of discoveries are not uncommon in Turkey, though one of this size is unusual. So far, more than 40 have been unearthed. One famous example of this is Derinkuyu, an underground city in Cappadocia, Turkey. The complex, with more than 600 known entrances, spans eight levels, contains ventilation shafts, stables, and tombs, and is protected by 1000-pound stone doors than cannot be opened from the outside.
It is believed that the city may span the length of the Midyat district. Excavators hope to uncover the rest of the underground city and expect tourism to increase following the completion of the project.
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