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Explore Derinkuyu, the Ancient Underground City in Turkey

Updated on August 30, 2017

The very old subterranean cities of Turkey could be used by future generations


First people lived in caves, and then they built underground cities. This seems a logical development, doesn’t it?

The modern nation of Turkey holds some of the greatest archeological treasures of the world, including underground cites. Also known as Asia Minor and Anatolia, Turkey is a country of crossroads for modern nations as well as that of the various fabulous civilizations of the ancient Middle East. Greeks, Romans, Hittites, Medians, Persians, Assyrians, Byzantines and many other peoples roamed over this rocky, mountainous land for thousands of years, building empires and/or conquering that of others.

Perhaps one of the most interesting archaeological sites in Turkey is the mesmerizing underground city of Derinkuyu. Located in the Nevsehir Province in central Turkey, Derinkuyu is the largest subterranean city in Turkey and may have housed from 20,000 to 50,000 people when inhabited in ancient times.

Let’s explore this startling achievement of ancient engineering and find out what Derinkuyu can teach us about the past in one of the most fascinating locales of the world.

Stone winery
Stone winery

History of Derinkuyu


Built in the soft volcanic rock of the Cappadocia region, it is widely believed that Derinkuyu was built by the people of the Median Empire from 1,400 to 1,000 B.C.E., though nobody knows for certain who built it and when. Xenophon, a Greek soldier and writer, mentioned Derinkuyu in his book, Anabasis, written as he ventured through Cappadocia with an army of 10,000 Greek mercenaries about 400 B.C.E.

Unfortunately, these mercenaries, hired by the Persian Cyrus the Younger, was killed while trying to usurp the throne of his brother, Artaxerxes II, leaving the army with no leader and in hostile territory, a “lost army” story often burrowed by writers of fiction, incidentally.

A succession of empires may have inhabited the Derinkuyu over the ages. Around 500 B.C.E., the Persian Achaemenid Empire may have used the city as a refugee settlement, and centuries later the Byzantines may have enlarged parts of it; some of their artifacts have been discovered in the miles of winding tunnels that comprise Derinkuyu.

The lowest levels of Derinkuyu descend from 60 to 85 meters, and it was a very nice place to live – at least by ancient standards – having many ventilation shafts, water wells, wine and oil presses, stables, cellars, storage areas, dining rooms and chapels. A vertical stairway leads to the fifth level of the city, where a cruciform church had been dug from the rock.

All Cities Need Doors

Circular stone blocks five meters high and weighing up to 500 kilograms were used to close-off areas of the underground metropolis, presumably during times of war or inclement weather. Holes had been drilled into the blocks, perhaps so the occupants could see who had come for a visit and thus keep out enemies.

Only eight levels of the city have been visited by archaeologists, anthropologists and other scientists, but as many as 20 levels have been discovered and these lower levels may eventually be cleared of debris, explored and perhaps opened to tourism.

Fascinatingly, some 600 ground-level entrances have been located that lead down into the city.

Links to Other Underground Cities

There are numerous underground cities in Turkey, perhaps as many as 200 or more. In fact, Derinkuyu connects via an underground tunnel with Kaymakli, another subterranean city some eight kilometers distant. Interestingly, at least 40 of these netherworld settlements contain three levels or more.

Why Derinkuyu Was Built

Nobody knows for certain why these underground cities were built. Perhaps they were constructed so the people in the area could play an underground game of hide-and-seek. This has actually been suggested! Underground habitats would also be very quiet places filled with solitude. But the most likely reason is that the people of ancient Anatolia may have felt safer living underground.

Moreover, many religious people in the area wanted to build churches that would be hard to find and therefore more easily protected from vandalism. The Eskigumus Monastery, the southernmost of the Cappadocia monasteries, remained unknown to the European world until 1963! In times past, the monastery held numerous priceless artifacts and relics and these days offers some of the most impressive Byzantine frescoes in the region.

The simple convenience of constructing such areas may be a reason too, because many sections of these underground cities are still occupied by people and/or used as storage areas and stables.

At any rate, building such cities is a great way to create habitable areas that will last for decades, centuries and even thousands of years. In a land where earthquakes are common, the underground cities of Turkey are still in good condition – they simply need a little tidying up so scientists and tourists can enter and gape at such wonders!

Ancient Aliens and Derinkuyu

On the History Channel’s program Ancient Aliens, one expert suggests that in terms of engineering complexity the construction of Derinkuyu rivals that of the building of the Pyramids of Egypt and that surely the people of another more advanced civilization - perhaps one from outer space - must have built it. The producers of the show suggest the followers of Ahura Mazda, the sky god in Zoroastrianism, built it as a refuge from the Ice Age, which ended some 10,000 to 12,000 years ago.

Well, it’s hard to date rock using modern archaeological techniques, but it seems safe to write that most reputable scientists think Derinkuyu couldn’t be much older than three thousand years.

Wouldn't you like to live here?
Wouldn't you like to live here?

The Future of Derinkuyu


Derinkuyu and other underground cities in Turkey are great tourist attractions, and it seems certain many in Turkey profit much from their continual visitations. But places such as Derinkuyu could one day be occupied as they were in ancient times. As the world explodes with civil strife, Derinkuyu may once again be used as a refuge of last resort. And then there are natural disasters from which people may need to flee. During terrible times, what would be a better place to live than an underground city with plenty of living room, fresh air and drinking water?

Please leave a comment.

Take a walk through Derinkuyu

© 2013 Kelley Marks

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    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      3 years ago from California

      Thank you for the well-written comment, Kevin Goodwin. Those tunnels in Turkey are truly out-of-sight, ya know? Later!

    • profile image

      Kevin Goodwin 

      3 years ago

      The well written Kosmo I really enjoyed reading your hub.

      Caves may have first been built in the soft volcanic rock of the Cappadocia region by the Phrygians, an Indo-European people, in the 8th–7th centuries B.C., according to the Turkish Department of Culture.When the Phrygian language died out in Roman times, replaced with its close relative, the Greek language, the inhabitants, now Christian, expanded their underground caverns adding the chapels and Greek inscriptions.

      The city at Derinkuyu was fully formed in the Byzantine era, when it was heavily used as protection from Muslim Arabs during the Arab–Byzantine wars (780-1180).Then they were connected with other underground cities through miles of tunnels. Some artifacts discovered in these underground settlements belong to the Middle Byzantine Period, between the 5th and the 10th centuries A.D. These cities continued to be used by the Christian natives as protection from the Mongolian incursions of Timur in the 14th century.

      After the region fell to the Ottomans, the cities were used as refuges (Cappadocian Greek: καταφύγια) from the Turkish Muslim rulers. As late as the 20th century the locals, called Cappadocian Greeks, were still using the underground cities to escape periodic waves of Ottoman persecution. R. M. Dawkins, a Cambridge linguist who conducted research on the Cappodocian Greek natives in the area from 1909-1911, recorded that in 1909, "when the news came of the recent massacres at Adana, a great part of the population at Axo took refuge in these underground chambers, and for some nights did not venture to sleep above ground." When the Christian inhabitants of the region were expelled in 1923 in the Population exchange between Greece and Turkey the tunnels were abandoned.

      The tunnels were rediscovered in 1963, after a resident of the area found a mysterious room behind a wall in his home. Further digging revealed access to the tunnel network.

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      3 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, Greensleeves Hubs. These subterranean cities definitely are amazing places to read about and visit. As for me, I haven't seen them in person, but I'd love to do so if they weren't so far away! Later!

    • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

      Greensleeves Hubs 

      3 years ago from Essex, UK

      Although I know of the intriguing surface geography of Cappadocia, I knew nothing of these underground cities. With so many of the sites and levels unexplored, one wonders what may be discovered in the future?

      Looking at the video, tourism may be limited by the cramped, dark and narrow tunnels and staircases - maybe in the future these will be made more tourist friendly, though hopefully only if this can be done in a way which does not damage the architecture or atmosphere of these sites. I would certainly visit if I had a chance. They look fascinating.

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      4 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, hamdani85. I also think the article is nice. Later!

    • hamdani85 profile image

      cep engking 

      4 years ago from indonesian

      nice artikel

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      4 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, fordie. I'd like to visit some of these underground lost cities too. Later!

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      4 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, Gypsy Willow. Regarding your questions, they probably used oil lamps and torches for light; as for fresh air, they had numerous ventilation shafts; and for sanitation they probably had something like chamber pots, with places to dump the poop. I couldn't say for sure about that, however. Later!

    • profile image

      fordie 

      4 years ago

      I've been to Kaymakli and was very impressed. You have fired me up to visit Derinkuyu next time. Thanks for the hub

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 

      4 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      Fascinating, never heard of it. Would love to visit. 3 questions, what did they do for light, sanitation, and fresh air?

    • Kosmo profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelley Marks 

      4 years ago from California

      Thanks for the comment, Randy Godwin. For many reasons, living underground really isn't such a bad idea and will almost certainly be done much more in the future. Later!

    • Randy Godwin profile image

      Randy Godwin 

      4 years ago from Southern Georgia

      A fascinating hub about a subject I've heard very little about, Kosmo. I'm of the opinion that future cities will be constructed underground to allow surface areas to be used as farms and other projects to feed and sustain life for the world's population. Well written and very informative article!

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