The 49 rooms unearthed in the subterranean city of Matiate make up only three percent of its estimated total area.
The Turkish town of Midyat has such a rich history that it practically serves as an open-air museum. Now, archaeologists have discovered a completely different history hidden beneath the foundations of the ancient town — the world’s largest underground city.
According to Ancient Origins, conservationists in Midyat discovered this massive subterranean space by sheer luck while cleaning the litany of historical streets and buildings in the town. They stumbled upon a hidden entrance to a cave, then spotted a curious passage — which led them to a colossal complex that left archaeologists in awe.
With dozens of tunnels and 49 rooms discovered so far, the space has been dubbed Matiate, which means “city of caves.” During the excavation process, archaeologists have found artifacts dating to the second and third centuries C.E., storage silos, worship altars, and water wells. Most staggering of all is that historians believe they’ve only uncovered three percent of the city’s total area.
“While the houses on the top are dated to the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, there is a completely different city underneath,” said Gani Tarkan, director of the Mardin Museum and the project’s lead excavator. “That city is 1,900 years old.”
The rural town of Midyat is situated in southeastern Turkey. It was settled during the time of the Assyrian Empire, around 900 B.C.E., and has been ruled by Arameans, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, and Ottomans in turn.
According to Tarkan, the newfound limestone city discovered beneath this ancient town has likely laid untouched for the last 1,900 years. He believes that the sprawling space was once the living quarters of a whopping 70,000 people.
“It was first built as a hiding place or escape area,” Tarkan explained. “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.”
“Possibly, the underground city of Midyat was one of the living spaces built for this purpose,” he continued. “It is an area where we estimate that at least 60-70,000 people lived underground.”
Lozan Bayar, an archaeologist from the Mardin Municipality Protection and Supervision Office, echoed Tarkan’s explanation. “In the early Christianity period, Rome was under the influence of Pagans before it later recognized Christianity as the official religion.”
Bayar went on to say, “Such underground cities provided security for people, and they also performed their prayers there. They were also places to escape. Cisterns, water wells, and sewer systems have been in existence since that period.”
Tarkan and his peers continue to find relics, murals, and tunnels on a regular basis as their excavation work continues. Matiate is proving to be so vast that it threatens to dwarf the previously discovered subterranean city of Derinkuyu in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. According to ArkeoNews, Derinkuyu once held 20,000 people.
At least 40 other underground cities have been uncovered across Turkey, but none compare to Matiate. Aside from the sheer size differences, most of those caves were not located beneath bustling towns the way Matiate was.
Should Tarkan’s estimate that he and his researchers have only uncovered but a mere fraction of Matiate be correct, there is a lot of work left to do. He hopes this staggering discovery ultimately brings people from all over the world to experience the ancient site.
After reading about the underground city discovered in Turkey, learn about the Roman-era workshop excavated in Turkey. Then, read about the oldest-known shipwreck discovered in the Black Sea.