At Large  June 30, 2022  Anna Claire Mauney

Discover Turkey's Astonishing Ancient Underground Cities

Wikimedia Commons and Nevit Dilmen.

Interior view of Derinkuyu, an underground city of Cappadocia, Turkey. 

The underground cities of Cappadocia—located in the middle of Turkey’s Central Anatolia Plateau—are one of the most awe-inspiring and curious remnants of the ancient world. Comprised of vast tunnel complexes, these cities are one of many byproducts of the region's historic volcanic activity and resultant plenitude of soft volcanic rock. Other consequent structures include rock-hewn cells and churches as well as erosion-made fairy chimneys (​​or hoodoos), cones, caves, and valleys.

View of Göreme National Park's soft naturally-formed rocky slopes.
Wikimedia Commons and Tamás Kiss.

View of Göreme National Park.

The Goreme Valley. Wikimedia Commons and Karsten Dorre.
Wikimedia Commons and Karsten Dörre.

The Göreme Valley.

Exterior view of the rock-hewn Sandals Church (or Carikli Kilise), named for the two footprints found by the fresco at the entrance.
Wikimedia Commons and Noumenon.

Exterior view of the rock-hewn Sandals Church (or Carikli Kilise), named for the two footprints found by the fresco at the entrance.

Fairy chimneys are tall, slim rocks capped by boulders that are created by erosion.
Wikimedia Commons and Tamás Kiss.

Fairy chimneys in Cappadocia's Göreme National Park.

View of Göreme National Park from the vantage point of a hot air balloon.
Wikimedia Commons and Tamás Kiss.

View of Göreme National Park from the vantage point of a hot air balloon.

Fresco from the rock-hewn Sandals Church (or Carikli Kilise). Primarily blue and yellow Merrill of Jesus on the cross
Wikimedia Commons and Tamás Kiss.

Fresco from the rock-hewn Sandals Church (or Carikli Kilise).

 

The region's underground cities are especially awe-inspiring for their display of human ingenuity and daring. While the specific number of these underground cities varies according to different institutions and parameters, there are approximately thirty-five.

Göreme National Park, which was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1985, is home to two underground cities that are especially popular with tourists: Derinkuyu and Kaymaklı.

© Nevit Dilmen.

The underground city of Kaymaklı.

Derinkuyu is eighteen stories deep and large enough to accommodate up to 20,000 people. It, like many other iterations, was built with a myriad of life-sustaining and enriching features that made long-term refuge underground possible.

In the case of Derinkuyu, these include wells for water, ventilation systems, individual living spaces, stables for livestock, religious halls, and schools.

Rolling stone door in the underground town of Derinkuyu, Cappadocia, Turkey
Wikimedia Commons and user TobyJ.

Rolling stone door inside of Derinkuyu.

Chamber in the underground town of Derinkuyu, Cappadocia, Turkey
Wikimedia Commons and user TobyJ.

Chamber within Derinkuyu.

Underground City in Cappadocia, Turkey. Christians fled the enemies and hid in this underground cities. All digging starts with a ventilation well and afterwards city expands horizontally.
© Nevit Dilmen.

View of deep ventilation well in Derinkuyu.
 

Although we can not be entirely certain about who initially made these underground cities or why, it is clear that they were used by many generations for a similar purpose—to hide for extended periods of time.

We also know that humans have inhabited the area since at least the fourth century, when, according to UNESCO, "small anchorite communities, acting on the teachings of Basileios the Great, Bishop of Kayseri, began inhabiting cells hewn in the rock.” Later on, it is believed that these communities eventually went underground in order to evade Arab forces.

About the Author

Anna Claire Mauney

Anna Claire Mauney is the former managing editor for Art & Object. A writer and artist living in North Carolina, she is interested in illustration, the 18th-century, and viceregal South America. She is also the co-host of An Obsessive Nature, a podcast about writing and pop culture.

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