An enormous underground city has been discovered in Southern Turkey dating back nearly 2,000 years. The site, known as Matiate, rests below the storied Turkish city of Midyat, which has been populated since at least the 3rd century. Experts have suggested that Matiate could have served as a refuge for early Christians to escape Roman persecution.
The discovery came, as archaeological finds often do, while workers were preparing for a construction project. According to Live Science, they first discovered a limestone cave that opened up a complex network of tunnels and chambers. The site is said to be large enough to accommodate up to 70,000 people.
The excavation effort was started two years ago, but the team estimates that only 3% of the city has been explored. It’s a slow pace, but work has also been made more difficult by the world pandemic. Even so early in the excavation process, however, they have already unearthed 49 chambers and connecting passages. They have also identified places of worship, grain silos, and water wells.
In an interview with the Daily Sabah, Gani Tarkan, director of Mardin Museum and head of excavation, suggested that the city could have been an early Christian refuge. He said:
“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.”
Tarkan went on to note that the ability to house tens of thousands could have made it the perfect hiding spot. The reports do not indicate whether or not any early Christian paraphernalia or art has been discovered.
The Turkish government has hinted that they intend to open the site to tourists when the work is completed. With so much of the city left to excavate, it is possible that they will open it up to visitors in sections, rather than wait until the archaeological effort, which could take decades, is complete.