Derinkuyu Underground City, located in Cappadocia, was introduced on the BBC, one of the world’s leading broadcasting organizations. 85 meters below the famous fairy chimneys in Cappadocia lies a huge underground city that has been used for thousands of years. The ancient city, known today as Derinkuyu Underground Cityand hidden for centuries, was built in many floors and had the capacity to hide 20,000 people for months.
Elengubu, with its former name, is an underground city carved into the rocks in Derinkuyu district, located on the Nevşehir-Niğde highway and 30 km from Nevşehir. This structure, which is buried at a depth of 85 meters and consists of 18 floors of tunnels and the rooms they open, is the largest underground city in the world. It has been used almost continuously for thousands of years, from the Phrygians to the Persians and Byzantine-era Christians. Finally, after the War of Independence in the 1920s, when the Greeks of Cappadocia were suddenly sent to Greece by population exchange, the underground city was abandoned.
It is thought that the cave rooms in Derinkuyu Underground Citystretch for hundreds of kilometers, and at the same time, around 200 different underground cities discovered in the region may have been connected to these tunnels, forming a huge underground network. Derinkuyu was rediscovered in 1963 when a dark alley was exposed during the renovation of a resident’s home. This was the first of more than 600 entrances to the underground city found in some homes today. Excavation immediately began, revealing an intricate network of underground dwellings, dry food warehouses, barns, schools, wineries, and a chapel.
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From the Hittites to the Phrygians
It was an entire civilization safely hidden underground. The cave city was soon discovered by thousands of tourists and in 1985 the area was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list. The exact construction date of Derinkuyu underground city is controversial. However, the Athenian Xenophon’s Anabasis, written around 370 BC, is known as the oldest written work referring to Derinkuyu. The book mentions the Anatolian people living in or near the Cappadocia region, in houses dug underground instead of the cliffside cave houses that are well known in the region.
According to Andrea DeGiorgi, an expert in classical studies at Florida State University, Cappadocia was very suitable for such underground structures due to the lack of water in the soil and easily shaped rocks. The pumice stone, also known as tuff, which marked the region, could be easily carved with simple tools such as picks and shovels. The fairy chimneys took their present shape thanks to this geological structure. However, the issue of who first built the Derinkuyu underground city remains a mystery.
According to the Mediterranean cave expert A. Bucci’s article on regional caves, the foundation of the extensive network of underground caverns is usually attributed to the Hittites, who “may have dug the first few layers of the rock when they were attacked by the Phrygians around 1200 BC.” Finding Hittite artifacts in Derinkuyu Underground City strengthens this hypothesis.
Effects of The Empires
However, most of the city may have been built by the Phrygians, who lived in Central Anatolia and were skilled architects of the Iron Age. “The Phrygians were one of the foremost early empires in Anatolia,” explains DeGiorgi:
“They developed in western Anatolia around the end of the 1st millennium BC and tended to monumentalize rock formations and create extraordinary rock-cut façades. Although elusive, their kingdom spread to encompass much of western and central Anatolia, including the Derinkuyu region.”
Originally Derinkuyu Underground City was probably used to store goods. But due to the ever-changing stream of empires in Cappadocia over the centuries, its main purpose was to be a temporary shelter against foreign invaders. “Successive empires and their influence in Anatolia explain the recourse to underground bunkers like Derinkuyu,” says DeGiorgi.
Structure of Derinkuyu Underground City
Although Phrygians, Persians, and Seljuks, among others, lived in the area and expanded the underground city in the following centuries, Derinkuyu’s population reached its peak during the Byzantine period, with about 20,000 people living underground. The moldy, narrow tunnels have been lit by torchlight for centuries and are dark with soot. But the creativity of the various empires that spread across Derinkuyu Underground City soon emerged.
Intentionally narrow and short, the corridors forced visitors to slant and navigate in single file through a labyrinth of corridors and residences; so it was clearly an inappropriate position for intruders. Half-ton circular boulders blocked the passages between each of the 18 floors and could only be moved from the inside. The small holes in the middle of these heavy doors were for the invaders to spear. Wine making compartments Each floor was carefully designed for specific purposes.
Animals were kept in barns closest to the surface to reduce odor and toxic gases and to create insulation during the cold winter months. In the inner layers, there were living areas, cellars, schools and meeting areas. The traditional Byzantine missionary school was on the second floor. According to DeGiorgi, “The presence of cellars, barrels for pressing, and amphorae indicated winemaking”. These special-purpose compartments show that Derinkuyu residents are preparing to stay underground for months.
The most impressive is a complex ventilation system and a sheltered well that provides fresh air and clean water to the entire city. In fact, Derinkuyu’s early construction is thought to have focused on these two key elements. There are more than 50 ventilation shafts that provide natural air flow between the many rooms and corridors of the city. The well dug more than 55 meters deep could easily be cut from below by city dwellers.
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The construction of Derinkuyu Underground Cityis truly ingenious. But this is not the only underground city in Cappadocia. Derinkuyu Underground City, with an area of 445 square kilometers, is the largest of more than 200 underground cities in Central Anatolia. More than 40 of these small cities lie three or more floors below the surface. It is connected to Derinkuyu by tunnels, many of which are carefully excavated, some of which stretch up to 9 km. All of them are equipped with emergency escape routes in case of an emergency return to the ground. However, not all of the underground tunnels of Cappadocia have been excavated yet.