There are around 200 underground cities in the Cappadocia region of Turkey, but the most impressive of them all is the city of Derinkuyu. Here are the crazy stats: it reaches down an amazing 11 different levels to nearly 280 feet below ground. The city covers an area of over four square miles; it includes 15,000 air shafts and could comfortably house 20,000 people. It was discovered purely by accident in 1963 during a home renovation that revealed a passage underground. Although there are many theories, nobody knows when or how the city was built.
Derinkuyu is the deepest excavated underground city in Cappadocia in the Central Anatolia region of Turkey. A beautiful natural wonder with impressive fairy chimneys and eroded caverns, Cappadocia is an amazing geological spectacle. It is also riddled with extensive subterranean dwellings and secret tunnel passages that various people utilized for shelter across the centuries.
Formation and Discovery
Several million years ago, volcanic eruptions spewed layer after layer of ash, called tuff or tufa. Over time the tuff cemented into a soft, easily carvable, yet relatively stable rock. Inhabitants of ancient Anatolia realized that they could carve out their homes right into the hillsides and underground. Derinkuyu is one of the many rock-cut dwellings in the region, however, it is the deepest one to date.
The discovery of the subterranean dwellings occurred in 1963 during the renovation of a surface home. When a wall caved in, an underground room that led to a subterranean passageway opened up. Upon exploration of the passageway, the workers realized that it led even further into a deep labyrinth. It was an astonishing find.
Features of Derinkuyu
Within the enormous eighteen levels of the city (only eight are accessible), researchers found kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms, food storage rooms, oil and wine presses, wells, weapons storage areas, churches, schools, tombs, and domestic animal stables. There were rooms of varying sizes for different needs. Small spaces turned out to be rock-cut tombs, while large spaces provided the ideal rooms for community meetings and schools. It is evident that the people planned to be completely self-sufficient. More than fifty ventilation shafts brought in air from above, while thousands of smaller ducts distributed that air throughout the entire city.
Some archaeologists believe that an 8-kilometer long passageway connects Derinkuyu to another amazing underground city in Kaymakli. This suggests that there was some degree of cooperation between the various civilizations of the Cappadocia region.
What is the Age of Derinkuyu and Who Built It?
The age of Derinkuyu and who built it is uncertain. It is known that the Hittites dominated the Anatolia region from about 1600 BCE to about 1200 BCE. After this period, the Hittite Empire collapsed into smaller groups, possibly due to multiple invasions and wars. Subsequently, the Phrygians migrated to the area from the Balkans. Thus, if the Hittites built the dwelling, as a number of scholars believe, it may have been well before 1200 BCE.
Other experts theorize that the Phrygians built the subterranean city, which could have taken place between 1200 BCE and 800 BCE. Later, Persians, Macedonians (Alexander the Great), Greeks, Armenians, Syrians, and many other groups had a presence in Cappadocia. The earliest known mention in writing of underground cities in the Cappadocia kingdom came from a Greek historian-soldier named Xenophon in 370 BCE. Xenophon spent time and traveled throughout the region. In his work, Anabasis he says:
The houses here were underground, with a mouth like that of a well, but spacious below; and while entrances were tunnelled down for the beasts of burden, the human inhabitants descended by a ladder. In the houses were goats, sheep, cattle, fowls, and their young; and all the animals were reared and took their fodder there in the houses.
The people who built Derinkuyu designed it with safety features, which indicates that the underground dwellings served as refugees. Doors consisted of a rollable disc-shaped stone with a small hole in the middle that covered entrances and passages during raids. Some people speculate the hole allowed soldiers to shoot arrows out, or perhaps a strong beam through the hole allowed users to open and shut the door more easily. It may also have served as one of the first “peepholes.” Because the doors only opened and closed from the inside, the inhabitants within the complex had complete control. It was much easier to defend the village through a small opening versus a large opening through which anyone could easily walk.
Each level connected to the next level by a hallway with a similar stone door. Additionally, narrow passages forced people to go through in single file. Again, this made it much easier to defend against incoming soldiers.
The underground city had a water containment system that also took safety as a consideration. It appears that one of the main ventilation shafts also served as a large well. However, the wells within the city did not all link together, nor did they all go to the surface. This protected inhabitants from invaders who might think to poison the entire water system from the outside.