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Two of the frescoes from the church, which is in a region of 200 underground villages and tunnel towns.

Archaeologists uncover underground church with scenes of the damned in Turkey

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An underground Orthodox church carved into rock in Turkey with scenes of Jesus rising into the sky and the killing of bad souls has been discovered—the first of its kind with such paintings, says the mayor of the town where the church was unearthed.

“We know that such frescoes have so far never been seen in any other church,” Nevşehir Mayor Hasan Ünver told Hurriyet Daily News. “This place is even bigger than the other historical churches in Cappadocia. It was built underground and has original frescoes that have survived to this day.”

The region of Cappadocia in central Turkey is home to one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world – deep valleys and soaring rock formations dotted with homes, chapels, tombs, temples and entire subterranean cities harmoniously carved into the natural landforms. Cities, empires and religions have risen and fallen around these unique underground havens. Archaeologists in December 2014 announced they uncovered a massive underground city in Cappadocia, consisting of at least 7 kilometers (3.5 miles) of tunnels, hidden churches, and escape galleries dating back around 5,000 years.

Calling it the biggest archeological finding of 2014, Hurriyet Daily News said the ancient city was found beneath Nevşehir fortress and the surrounding area during an urban transformation project carried out by Turkey’s Housing Development Administration (TOKİ).  About 1,500 buildings were found in and around the Nevşehir fortress, and the underground city was discovered during earthmoving to construct new buildings.

The rock houses of Cappadocia.

The rock houses of Cappadocia. (Public domain)

The church found in 2016 is among the many structures in the underground city. Unver said the church may have been built in the 5th century AD.

“We didn’t even think of finding such a structure when we first started works. But excavations and cleaning work are continuing and we hope to find new data relating to the history of Cappadocia,” Mr. Ünver told Hurriyet. “It is reported that some of the frescoes here are unique. There are exciting depictions like fish falling from the hand of Jesus Christ, him rising up into the sky, and the bad souls being killed. When the church is completely revealed, Cappadocia could become an even bigger pilgrimage center of Orthodoxy.”

Semih İstanbulluoğlu, the archaeologist who is leading the dig in the underground city and church, said snow and rain made the thin walls of the church collapse, but workers would fix them during restorations. 

An underground house in Cappadocia

An underground house in Cappadocia (Photo by Ed Yourdon/Wikimedia Commons)

At the time it was found, the church was filled with dirt, and the archaeological team had to collect pieces of the frescoes. Though some frescoes appear to be intact, restoration work will restore as many as possible.

Ali Aydın, another archaeologist on the job, said they would have to dry the humidity in the church slowly to prevent the frescoes from disintegrating. After the weather warms in the spring, work will resume to protect the frescoes and restore the church, and the team will remove the humidity.

Cappadocia covers the region between the cities of Nevşehir, Ürgüp and Avanos, the sites of Karain, Karlık, Yeşilöz, Soğanlı and the subterranean cities of Kaymaklı and Derinkuyu. One hundred square miles with more than 200 underground villages and tunnel towns complete with hidden passages, secret rooms and ancient temples and a remarkably storied history of each new civilization building on the work of the last, make Cappadocia one of the world's most striking and largest cave-dwelling regions of the world.

Watch UNESCO’s video about Göreme National Park and the Rock Sites of Cappadocia

Featured image: Two of the frescoes from the church, which is in a region of 200 underground villages and tunnel towns. (AA photo)

By Mark Miller

Mark Miller's picture


Mark Miller has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and is a former newspaper and magazine writer and copy editor who's long been interested in anthropology, mythology and ancient history. His hobbies are writing and drawing.

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