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Archeologists Uncover Massive Underground City That May Have Hid Early Christians

Archeologists Uncover Massive Underground City That May Have Hid Early Christians

Archeologists Uncover Massive Underground City That May Have Hid Early Christians

"Cappadocia - Underground City" (Photo credit: Das_A, CC BY-NC 2.0).
"Cappadocia - Underground City" (Photo credit: Das_A, CC BY-NC 2.0).
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In southeastern Turkey, archaeologists have unearthed a 2,000 year old underground city that likely hid early Christians fleeing persecution from the Romans.

The underground city, dubbed Matiate by archeologists, was first discovered two years ago below the Turkish city of Midyat, near the Syrian border. Workers were performing a routine preservation project on Midyat’s many historical sites when they came across a limestone cave and passageway that led into the underground city, according to LiveScience.

Unearthing Matiate is a colossal project. The underground system stretches an estimated 10 thousand square miles and could have housed up to 70,000 people, Gani Tarkan, the head of excavations and director of Mardin Museum told LiveScience.

As of now, 49 chambers — less than 5% of the city — have been excavated. Within the city’s winding caverns, archeologists discovered a Jewish synagogue and a Christian church, as well as homes, grain silos, wells and streets, according to Tarkan. From Roman-era coins and lamps found within the city’s chamber, the site’s construction has been dated as the second or third century A.D.

A corridor in a nearby underground city in Cappadocia. Likely resembles what many corridors in Matiate. (Photo credit: Das_A, CC BY-NC 2.0).
A corridor in a nearby underground city in Cappadocia. Likely resembles what many corridors in Matiate. (Photo credit: Das_A, CC BY-NC 2.0).

Tarkan told LiveScience that ancient geographers in the fourth century described the southern region of Turkey as largely inhabited by Christians who were heavily persecuted by the Romans. Having underground homes or cities was a common practice in Turkey, according to LiveScience. It was not uncommon for Christians to take refuge from persecution there. A similar underground city, Derinkuyu beneath Cappadocia, could hold 20,000 people and provided refuge to Byzantine Christians in the 8th and 12th centuries A.D.

Caves in Cappadocia where Christians took refuge.(Photo credit: Das_A, CC BY-NC 2.0)
Caves in Cappadocia where Christians took refuge. (Photo credit: Das_A, CC BY-NC 2.0)

“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 told Anadolu Agency.

"Midyat and Syriac-Orthodox St. Akhsnoyo church" (Photo credit: Senol Demir, CC BY 2.0)
“Midyat and Syriac-Orthodox St. Akhsnoyo church” (Photo credit: Senol Demir, CC BY 2.0)

Residents in the above-ground city of Midyat were aware of caves beneath their city but didn’t realize their full scale, Tarkan said. Midyat itself is packed full of ancient buildings — home to nine historical churches and monasteries.

Click here to view some photos by the Wall Street Journal of the discovery beneath Midyat.

 

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Image: “Cappadocia – Underground City” (Photo credit: Das_A, CC BY-NC 2.0).

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