Anthropology and History

Turkey's Incredible Lost Underground City

The amazing city beneath a city that protected 50,000 people from the wrath of invading Hittite raiders.

posted on 06/28/2010
mwaldram
Scribol Staff

Derinkuyu sleepsPhoto: Damian Entwistle

In Jeff Wayne’s 1978 musical retelling of HG Wells’s literary masterpiece ‘The War of the Worlds’, David Essex lends his voice to the flawed, cock-eyed optimist Artilleryman whom The Journalist encounters whilst running across an alien-besieged London.

The Artilleryman has a plan to save the human race from extinction; to dig far and deep, and create a brave new world beneath the ground where humankind can hide safely from the nightmares wreaking havoc on the surface.

Ultimately his plans of vast cities under the ground, of houses, schools, churches, transport, armies and cricket matches are all proven to be delusional fantasy. After all nobody could actually create a real underground city could they?

Restricted accessPhoto: Elena Pleskevich

Welcome to Derinkuyu Underground City, located in the Cappadocia region some 18 miles from Nevsehir in Turkey. Derinkuyu is actually one of over 200 underground cities discovered in the Cappadocia region, but it is notable for being the biggest and the deepest. Spanning eleven floors with a depth of 85m, this ancient city can accommodate anywhere between 3,000 and 50,000 people.

Derinkuyu - a split level viewPhoto: Martijn Munneke

Derinkuyu underground city was made open to visitors and tourists in 1965, but to date only around 10% of the city can actually be visited, though teams of archaeologists have been permitted much wider access to the city for purposes of historical research.

A Derinkuyu tunnelPhoto: Sheng-Wei Wang

First excavated during the Hittite times, Derinkuyu was expanded over the subsequent centuries, connecting with other underground cities via miles of tunnels. The city was created as a hiding place from marauding armies seeking loot and slaves.

Further Derinkuyu tunnelsPhoto: Elena Pleskevich

A rolling stonePhoto: Elena Pleskevich

It contains many of the amenities that one would expect to see in any developed city of the time: family rooms, communal areas, stables, churches, wine and oil presses, chimneys to bring fresh air, wells to bring fresh water, a school complete with study rooms, and even makeshift tombs where the dead could be housed until such a time that Derinkuyu’s dwellers felt it was safe enough to venture to the surface.

Hole in the groundPhoto: Martijn Munneke

An underground roomPhoto: CHEN Meng-ping

The cruciform plan church sits on the bottom floor of Derinkuyu and is accessed via one of many, absolutely terrifying looking, ‘vertical staircases’ (shown below) which are used to access all floors from the 3rd downwards.

Vertical StaircasePhoto: Sarah Eriksen

Only selected floors were provided with wells up to the surface, the thought being that this was the best way to minimize the effects of poisoning during any raids.

There are some 600 external doors leading into the city, mostly hidden out of sight in courtyards of above-ground dwellings. If such a high volume of entrances to the city seems churlish when the point of the underground city was to remain hidden and restrict access, then fear not. Every entrance to the city has a corresponding moving stone door devised to quickly seal off entrances should the city find itself under attack. Such stone doors could only be opened from the inside.

Stone-guarded entrancePhoto: CHEN Meng-ping

Welcome to DerinkuyuPhoto: Nick Wadge

HG Wells’s Artilleryman would have been suitably impressed.

Sources:1, 2, 3, 4

mwaldram
Scribol Staff