Under the ground in Türkiye is Derinkuyu, an entire underground city carved into the rock

Credit: Nevit Dilmen

The mysterious one underground city Of Derinkuyu in central Anatolia, Türkiye, is a real urban center underground: develops for 85 m deep on eight different levels and could accommodate a population of up to a maximum of 20,000 people. It is located in the province of Nevşehirin Cappadocia. The oldest part of the city dates back toVIII-VII century BC but the center reached its greatest expansion inHigh Middle ageat the time Byzantinebetween 7th and 11th centuries AD The complex, rediscovered by chance in 1963was used to hide during wars and invasions.

Who built Derinkuyu

The oldest part of the city of Derinkuyu was carved into the volcanic rock betweenVIII and VII centuries BCwhen the area was controlled by the people of Phrygians, a people who inhabited today's central Türkiye. We don't know why these people chose to build this underground complex, but in the Cappadocia region the phenomenon ofhypogeism (the construction of environments carved into the rock) has always been widespread since prehistoric times. Even the Greek historian Xenophon (lived between 5th and 4th centuries BCand who passed through these places) says that the inhabitants of the region used to dig their homes into the rock.

Over the centuries, Derinkuyu became more and more large and complexcoming to develop on eight levels and deeper and deeper, arriving at 85 meters. One of the largest and most recognizable elements of the city is the grande central wellwell wide 55 meterswhich was used for the ventilation of the complex. The name of the city itself, in Turkish literally means “deep well”.

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Derinkuyu ventilation shaft. Credit: Nevit Dilmen.

Why was the city built?

Derinkuyu reached his maximum expansion and complexity over the course ofHigh Middle ageat the time of the Eastern Roman Empire or Byzantine Empire. From 7th century ADthe aggressive expansion of Arabs had led the empire to give up ground and the lands that are now part of Turkey became a battlefield where i Byzantines they tried for centuries to stick up for give them their empire tooth and nail first Arabs and then come on Turks.

The populations of Cappadociaat the time Christian and of Greek language and culturethey chose to defend themselves from the invaders by exploiting the large quantity of hypogeal structures present in this rocky region to hide. The city at the time was known by its Greek name Malakopea.


Malakopea/Derinkuyu was expanded, housing up to 20,000 peoplewith lots of ventilation systems, churches, stables for animals, wells, systems for pressing grapes and olives. At the time the entries were sealed with large round stonesthe inhabitants of the underground city were totally self-sufficient and capable of maintaining itself for a long period of time. Derinkuyu was connected by a system of tunnel almost 9 km long to another nearby underground city, Kaymakli.

Sliding stone door. Credit: TobyJ.

Abandonment and rediscovery of Derinkuyu

Even after the end of the Arab and Turkish threats Malakopea/Derinkuyu remained a refuge for fugitives. The last uses of the underground complex date back to end of the 19th century and early 20th century. During this period the Derinkuyu tunnels were used by Greek and Armenian communities to hide from ethnic persecution promoted in the last years ofOttoman Empire on the part of Turkish nationalists.

In the 1923after the chaos of the First World War, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Turkish War of Independence and the birth of the new republic, Greece And Türkiye they signed a peace treaty that included one population exchange. This process caused a serious migration crisis: i Muslims who lived in the Balkan peninsula would have left Greece to move to Turkey, and the Greeks who lived in the Anatolian peninsulaIn the Pontus (along the Black Sea coast) and in Cappadocia. After the abandonment of the region by the Greek population, Malakopea/Derinkuyu soon came forgotten.

The city came rediscovered by chance in 1963when a man who was renovating the cellar of a house he discovered that behind a wall there was a secret tunnel. The underground areas were explored in the following years, leading to the opening within a few years to the public. To date, though not being fully exploredDerinkuyu is one of the best known and most visited archaeological sites in Cappadocia.

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