(ORDO NEWS) — Excavations that began with a small cave in a city in southeastern Turkey have led to an unexpected discovery.
Archaeological work began two years ago in the city of Midyat in the Turkish province of Mardin as part of a project to clean up and preserve historic streets and buildings. Next to one of the houses, archaeologists stumbled upon a cave: during its inspection , it turned out that the cave serves as a passage to other places connected by corridors.
Midyat is a very ancient city. It is authentically known that it existed in the 9th century BC: then it was conquered by the Assyrian king Ashurnatsirapal II . But there are suggestions that the very foundation of the city dates back to the III millennium BC – the time when the Hurrians came to those lands , who later founded the state of Mitanni.
Most likely, the early Christians simply landscaped the caves of natural origin
For many centuries the city remained Assyrian, except for rare periods of conquest. So, in the 1st century BC, the lands around were conquered by Tigran II and became part of Greater Armenia. And later, under the emperor Trajan, they were considered the Roman province of Assyria.
From 150 BC to 250 AD, Midyat was part of the Kingdom of Edessa. During the spread of Christianity in Asia Minor, the Assyrians of Midyat adopted the new religion very quickly. This land is the cradle of the Syro-Persian Christian Church (Assyrian Church of the East).
Archaeologists claim that the modern inhabitants of Midyat knew about the existence of caves throughout the city, but did not attach any importance to this, since they did not represent the scale of underground structures.
Historical sources say that Midyat got its name from the Assyrian word, which translates as “City of caves.” It is also found in inscriptions of the 9th century BC. Scientists believe that the caves under the city have always been, but they became inhabited about 1900 years ago – during the Roman persecution of the first Christians.
In the process of excavations in the underground city, altars, separate rooms of a clearly cult nature, food warehouses, water wells and passages with corridors were discovered. Archaeologists have also found many artifacts dating back to the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD in various parts of the city.
Excavations have been going on for more than a year, but so far a small part of the underground city has been studied
In Asia Minor, underground cities have already been discovered: the most famous of them are Derinkuyu and Nevsehir in Cappadocia. But if the first one was dug up and used millennia ago, then the second one is dated by scientists to a period no older than the early Byzantine one.
According to the head of the excavations, Gani Tarkan, the underground city of Midyat differs from them in that it was used continuously for almost 1900 years.
It was first built as a place to hide or escape. As you know, Christianity was not an official religion in the 2nd century: families and groups that adopted Christianity usually took refuge in caves to escape the persecution of Rome, or formed an underground city.
Tarkan also believes that 60-70 thousand people could live in the city. This is a very bold assumption, but we would not be in a hurry to agree with it – at least until the end of the excavations and the study of all the finds.
But why did the dungeons remain inhabited for centuries after the end of the Roman persecution? It is rather difficult to answer this question, but one can make an assumption.
Since the adoption of Christianity by the Assyrians, Midyat has been considered an important center of this religion in the Middle East. Although the Assyrians for a long time made up the bulk of the population of the city, Armenians and Greeks gradually settled in these places, who also quickly adopted Christianity.
And in the 3rd century AD, the Kingdom of Edessa was conquered by the Sassanids (the ruling dynasty of Iran) and became part of their empire, whose authorities were not too disposed towards either the Assyrians in general or the Christians in particular.
Then came a series of wars between the Sassanids and Byzantium, Byzantium and the Arabs, and in the XI century these lands were conquered by the Seljuk Turks. Despite the fact that Islam became the official religion, quite a lot of Christians remained in Midyat, mostly Assyrians and Armenians.
In the 16th century, Midyat was besieged and taken by Selim I, the ninth sultan of the Ottoman Empire. Muslims, including Kurds, moved to the lands of ancient Assyria.
From time to time they tried to stage what would now be called ethnic cleansing. But then they simply tried to rob the most prosperous citizens – who were mostly, as we have already said, Assyrians and Armenians.
However, the authorities did not allow such robberies to cross a certain line – until 1915, when the Ottoman Empire began to systematically exterminate Assyrians and Armenians on its territory.
The genocide of these peoples, still unrecognized by Turkey, may have led to the fact that the underground city was no longer used as a refuge during the Kurdish robberies – there was no one to hide there.
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