November 09, 2014

Going Underground. Derinkuyu City

Discovered by chance in 1963 when a homeowner, renovating his cellar, broke through an earth wall and discovered a passageway, Derinkuyu is a huge subterranean city in the Cappadocia region.The region has many of these cities which were built in the seventh century and used to hide from marauding armies, particularly the Romans who had a tendency to raid the Anatolia region to procure slaves.

Derinkuyu is one of the largest, with over 20,000 people able to live in during times of emergency. It is the deepest city discovered, with a depth of 85 metres and with 9 floors open. Archaeologists believe that an un-excavated area could have  many further levels. Over several centuries it was dug out of the soft volcanic rock of the region, which is stable and not prone to collapse, continually being expanded to house more people.

To see it, you travel to the modern city of the same name and stop at an unassuming small building, resembling a shed. And there you start to walk down steps and into the underground world. The roof of the tunnels is blackened from the torches the inhabitants carried around with them. This is definitely not for the claustrophobic, the passages are well lit but tiny, and you have to bend as you walk between levels. Despite ventilation provided by small shafts, you may find breathing is harder in the lower levels as the air is stale.

Life continued as normal underground, rooms open up off passageways. In one there is a basic stone system to crush grapes and pour the juice into vats to create wine. Food storage areas, a church, school, prison and even pens for livestock can be discovered. A large cave appears at the end of one passage, this is where the people slept. Even graveyards were built underground, with the dead returned to the surface and properly buried when the danger had passed.

Water came from an underground stream, and was stored in containers. There are even signs of an irrigation system providing running water to caves on the lower levels. Food came from the animals kept below, and was also stored in specially designed caves. The temperature is cool, around 13c (55 F), the whole year round.

The entrances were guarded by huge round stone doors (see the photo above) which could be rolled into position and wedged shut. These were placed on every level for added protection. If the enemy did get inside traps were placed. Deep holes, which would contain spikes at the bottom, were placed in the middle of the tiny passageways, protected by wood covers until removed at a time of danger to seriously injure any attacker running in the darkness.

Do get a guide, they are essential to bring the city back to life and point out what each area and cave was used for. I enjoyed wandering around the many passageways, tunnels and caves, but was quite happy to return to the surface. It would be interesting to live there for a few days (a possible accommodation idea for the Turkish Tourist Board!) but I would not easily be able to handle living there for weeks at a time as the original inhabitants did.
courtesy of

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