Turkey’s state-run housing authority has halted construction of a development project in the central province of Nevşehir following what some are calling the biggest archaeological discovery of the year. Excavations have unearthed a massive underground city in the area, one said to date back 5,000 years.
The discovery – one of the biggest in a year that has seen many massive archaeological finds – apparently came entirely by accident, according to Hurriyet Daily News. Construction workers had already demolished some 1,5000 buildings in the area, only discovering the underground city when they began moving large portions of earth in order to lay the foundations for new buildings. Once they discovered what lay beneath the surface, Turkish officials quickly put a halt to construction efforts in the area.
“It is not a known underground city,” said Mehmet Ergün Turan, head of Turkey’s Housing Development Administration’s (TOKI) urban transformation project. “Tunnel passages of seven kilometers are being discussed. We stopped the construction we were planning to do on these areas when an underground city was discovered.”
The halting of construction will not come cheap. Turan says that TOKI has already pumped 90 million Turkish Liras – nearly $40 million – into the project. Turkey is ready to absorb the loss in light of the archaeological find.
That’s because the find appears to be nearly unmatched in both its scale and its age. Experts believe that the underground city dates back 5,000 years, to the time of the Hittites. The seven-kilometer tunnel that was discovered connects to other underground living spaces in the area, covering an area of bout 800,000 square meters.
Inside, the underground city contains churches, galleries, and other structures. It is also said to contain wine cellars, facilities for food storage, schools, and livestock stalls. Some reports hold that certain underground housing units contained what may be human skeletal remains.
Underground facilities like the one discovered in Nevşehir date back thousands of years, but they are believed to have been used most frequently during the Byzantine period. During that time, frequent invasions would have forced locals to hide in the underground tunnel system.
Officials believe that the discovery will prove an unequivocal boon for the region, almost certainly boosting tourism in the area. Big plans are already underway to help the region capitalize on the find.
“We are now working to make it open for visitors,” said Nevşehir Mayor Hasan Ünver. “We will build walking platforms inside and a large park will be built on the surface.”
[Lead image via Wikimedia Commons.]