Derinkuyu: A Huge And Ancient Underground City

On October 11, 2014 by Tim Newman

Derinkuyu - underground city - tunnel 2

Sometimes I’m angry with myself for not knowing enough about the ancient world, but on other occasions I’m as pleased as punch that I know naff all about it, because that means I get to discover incredible historical things that I really should have heard of, and get excited about them.

I’m assuming most people have heard of the underground Turkish city of Derinkuyu? How can you not have heard of a massive city that could house 20,000 people completely underground? Surely everyone knows about that? 20,000 people? Underground? Come on:

Derinkuyu - underground city - Split Level

I’m hoping I’m not the only person who wasn’t aware of Derinkuyu. Why isn’t this taught in schools? It probably is, the question should be “why didn’t I listen in school?” Anyway. If, like me, you’ve never heard of this place, it will amaze and astound.

Derinkuyu - underground city - tunnel

No one is 100% sure who built Derinkuyu, some believe it was built by the Phrygians in the 8th–7th centuries BC but others reckon the Hittites were involved as far back as the 15 century BC.  Either way it seems the complex was later enlarged in the Byzantine era and possibly tweaked along the way.

Thanks to a high number of fresh water wells and oodles of space, scholars estimate that the city could have comfortably supported 20,000 people (I just want to reiterate figure: 20,000). The deepest point of the complex is 60 metres. Look at this incredible map:

(click to enlarge)

Derinkuyu - underground city - Map

Derinkuyu is dug into the soft rocks of Turkey’s alien looking Cappadocia region and was probably based on an existing network of caves, which is one of the reasons it’s so difficult to date. Derinkuyu contained everything a society of the time would have needed to maintain the same lifestyle below ground as they had on the surface.

There were wine and oil presses, stables, cellars, storage rooms, refectories, and chapels. This was a winery:

Derinkuyu - underground city - winery

The Derinkuyu complex also boasted a spacious room with a barrel vaulted ceiling which was possibly used as a religious school:

Derinkuyu - underground city - school

It wasn’t until 1963 that Derinkuyu was rediscovered when a local man found a concealed room behind the wall of his house whilst renovating. Further digging unearthed a network of tunnels and this mighty impressive rabbit warren was reborn.

Derinkuyu isn’t the only underground dwelling place in the area of Cappadocia, although it’s probably the largest and deepest. There are some 200 cities in the area between Kayseri and Nevsehir with two or more subterranean floors, and 40 of those have four or more levels. Amazingly there’s a tunnel that runs from Derinkuyu to Kaymakli some 8km away.

Derinkuyu - underground city - stone to cover entrance

Travel Collection on LAZERHORSE

These ancients probably used the submerged cities to hide from enemies and avoid persecution throughout the years; the picture above shows one of the large rocks used to seal themselves off from the outside world, it weighs about 1000 pounds. And let’s face it, the sun is pretty aggressive in that part of the world, so the cool of a submerged cave might have been your best bet on a scorching summer’s day.

Roughly 50% of Derinkuyu is now open to the public if you’re not concerned about tight spaces.







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