Derinkuyu, Turkey’s Ancient Underground City

Limestone tunnels below Cappadocia, Turkey 📸 Wikimedia Commons

Wherever you go, you can be sure that someone else was there hundreds or thousands of years before you. There are incredible ancient places hiding all around us. Let’s go find them!

Hidden below Turkey’s magical region of Cappadocia, there are hundreds of miles of winding tunnels. But these aren’t natural tunnels; these are ancient underground cities that once provided shelter to thousands of people, and which look more like something from a fantasy worlds than this one.

The biggest of these cities is Derinkuyu. Abandoned since 1923, this site (which could easily pass for a set on Game of Thrones) was rediscovered in 1963 when a local resident stumbled into it while renovating their basement.

Carved directly into the rock, this labyrinth stretches over 11 floors, reaching up to 200 ft in depth. Like the cities above, Derinkuyu is kitted out for everyday life, complete with underground schools, meeting rooms, chapels, stables, kitchens, and even wineries – all fed by an impressive network of wells, water channels and air shafts.

But why would people want to live underground? It’s estimated that the tunnels could provide shelter for up to 20,000 people – plus their animals – during times of invasion or religious persecution. Sealed by massive, circular stone doors and protected by a series of traps, people could hide out in Derinkuyu until the overhead threat had passed.

Ventilation shafts at Derinkuyu 📸 Wikimedia Commons

Archaeologists still aren’t exactly sure who first built these cities, or when. Some say it was the Phrygians – an Indo-European population who lived in the region around 800-600 BC – who first started hollowing out the tunnels. What is certain, however, is that they were certainly in use by the Roman period, when the city gained new residents, who expanded the tunnels and added the Christian chapels that we see today.

The city was used until 1923, when its inhabitants, Cappadocian Greeks, were expelled from the region. After their departure, this beautiful complex was left abandoned and forgotten until its remarkable rediscovery in 1963.

Nowadays, Derinkuyu is one of Cappadocia’s most amazing tourist spots and a must-see for history lovers! With its beautiful setting and unique fantastical feel who could say no to a trek through this ancient labyrinth?

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Georgina Cole

Written by Georgina Cole

Ginny is a Community Archaeologist with DigVentures and recent Durham University graduate. She has a passion for speaking to the public and she especially loves British archaeology and forensics. In keeping with archaeological tradition, when she isn’t in the trenches you can often find her grabbing a pint at the local pub!

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