What’s This Mysterious Ancient Underground City in Turkey?
Deep below the rocky terrain of Turkey’s Cappadocia region is an underground city made of a complex system of chambers and tunnels. Derinkuyu isn’t some modern top secret government project, but an ancient settlement that dates all the way back to the 8th–7th centuries BCE.
Its narrow passageways and rooms look like something out of an Indiana Jones movie, and it’s been an attraction spot for history buffs and adventure seekers since it opened to the public in 1969. Not even half of the city is available for tourists to explore though, with the rest being far too treacherous.
The region of Cappadocia is home to a number of underground cities, and Derinkuyu is one of the most complex with a depth extending up to 200 meters and enough room for 20,000 people. One of the great mysteries surrounding the underground city of Derinkuyu is the reason for its construction. While some theories point to the city being constructed by the Hittites, an ancient Anatolian people or the Persians, most archaeologists point to the Phrygians. The Phyrgians were known to be among the most advanced of the Iron Age, and would have had the expertise to undertake the massive project in the region’s volcanic rock.
During the Arab–Byzantine wars (780-1180), the city likely served as protection for East Romans from invading Arab Muslims. It was around this era that the city was expanded to 13 floors with chapels, kitchens and school rooms added, so that life would function as usual. Besides being hidden below the earth, the city was well protected from intruders with boulders weighing as much as 500 kilos that could only be moved from the inside, sealing off its tunnels.
The name Derikuyu translates to “deep well” which is rather appropriate as the underground city had a river that worked as a rudimentary irrigation system to fill the wells within it. The underground dwellers were able to prevent enemies from poisoning their drinking water, by using water that originated on the first floor and then moving it upwards to the top floors.
Derinkuyu and only five other underground cities of Cappadocia have been excavated, but archaeologists believe the number still unearthed to possibly be in the hundreds. Exploring this subterranean city certainly isn’t for the the claustrophobic. Centuries of burning torches have left miles of its tunnels with blackened walls and while there is some electricity, visitors are often forced to duck down and squeeze through tight passageways one-by-one. The narrowing of tunnels was largely done to deter invaders who made it inside and force them to go through the tunnels single file.
Perhaps one of the most interesting parts of the underground city’s history is how it was discovered. In 1963, a Turkish man knocked down a wall in his home during a construction project. On the other side of the wall was a mysterious room that he was unaware of. Curious, the man dug a little more and found a tunnel that led to more tunnels, And as the saying goes, the rest is history.
You can learn more about Derinkuyu’s history right here: