For just about as long as anyone can remember, discoveries about our past have been made on the earth. Archeologists uncover items, buildings, and signs that point to not only how life used to be in a certain area and for a certain people but also help us explain some of our present state.
While there have been some rather massive and incredible finds over the centuries, you know, like the excavations of the Pyramids or the ruins of Machu Picchu, others have been rather small and seemingly insignificant.
At first, this one recently found in Turkey was thought to be the latter. However, as excavation continues, archeologists are discovering it just might be the largest of its kind to have ever been found.
So what are we talking about exactly?
A few years ago, during a rather routine project to clean up and conserve the historic houses of the Midyat district, an area known for its incredible history, what was thought to be a small cave was discovered. However, as digging began, those excavating soon realized that while the cave seemed to not be so grand or large, it was only the beginning.
In fact, it led excavators and archeologists to what the Jerusalem Post says researchers are calling the largest underground city ever recorded or found.
Now, to give you a little more context, you have to understand a bit more about Midyat. The district resides in the Mardin province of southeastern Turkey and has been a place of rich culture and significance for as long as anyone can remember.
As the Turkish government’s state-run Anadolu Agency noted, “Midyat, which is almost an open-air museum with its history and culture, offers a magical atmosphere to its visitors with stone houses, inns, mosques, churches and monasteries that are thousands of years old.”
Like many other similar sites throughout Turkey, it also became a place of refuge for those facing religious persecution over the years, particularly during decades when Christianity was new and not so well received by governments and leaders.
And it is to hide these persecuted people that archeologists believe this particular city was created and used.
Gani Tarkan, director of the Mardin Museum, told the Anadolu Agency that it’s clear from the artifacts found here that it was first used “as a hiding place or escape area.”
He further explained that for those of the Christian faith, it was not until the second century that their religion was more widely accepted or even viewed as a religion at all. And so many were persecuted. Rome, in particular, which ruled over much of the area during those years, was not fond of Christians. If caught or even believed to be in league with Christians, one might be rounded up and fed to lions or burned at the stake.
And so, when at all possible, Christians sought a safe place to not only live but worship freely. As Tarkan says, it seems this was one of those places.
To be clear, we aren’t just talking about finding a few rooms where a few families would have packed inside for their safety. Instead, the caverns and chambers go on forever, it would seem, and includes features like “places of worship, silos, water wells, and passages with corridors.”
And it is believed that tens of thousands lived there at one time.
Yes, you read that correctly. According to Tarkan, who is also heading up the excavation of the ancient underground city, “It is an area where we estimate that at least 60-70,000 people lived underground.”
And that’s just based on what they have excavated so far.
As Tarkan told TRT World, a Turkish state broadcaster, they have only dug out about three percent of the city so far. However, by the time they are completely finished, just about everyone involved believes it will officially be the largest underground city ever discovered.
What’s more is that the city, known as Matiate, looks to have been occupied and used for nearly 2000 years before it was abandoned to time. Artifacts dating as far back as the second and third centuries have already been found, with many more from much later in humankind’s history.
If its sheer size didn’t already make it a wonder, this fact establishes it completely as one of a kind, as well as a testament to both the will to survive and the sacrifices we are willing to make to uphold our beliefs.