02. Underground City of Derinkuyu
The underground city of Derinkuyu reaches a depth of 60m (200 feet) and used to shelter as many as 20,000 people. It’s the largest of the 200 underground cities discovered in Cappadocia, Turkey. Here is one vertical slice from the map.
Caves may have been built initially 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). It was at this time that most of the chapels and Greek inscriptions were added. The city was 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 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 Cappadocian 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.
The underground city at Derinkuyu could be closed from the inside with large stone doors. Each floor could be closed off separately.
The city could accommodate as many as 20,000 people and had all the usual amenities found in other underground complexes across Cappadocia, such as wine and oil presses, stables, cellars, storage rooms, refectories, and chapels. Unique to the Derinkuyu complex and located on the second floor is a spacious room with a barrel vaulted ceiling. It has been reported that this room was used as a religious school and the rooms to the left were studies.
Between the third and fourth levels is a vertical staircase. This passageway leads to a cruciform church on the lowest (fifth) level.
The large 55 m (180 foot) ventilation shaft appears to have been used as a well. The shaft also provided water to both the villagers above and, if the outside world was not accessible, to those in hiding.