You might think that the world is all discovered, all explored, and all figured out. You might be right, but I doubt it – people have thought that for a long time, but as recently as 1963 one of the world’s most amazing discoveries came to light in the Cappadocia region of Turkey.
Was it found by a team of intrepid archeologists?Nope. Was it found by a group of explorers or spelunkers? Nope. It was found by a guy who wanted to knock down a wall of his house and build a better one. He knocked the wall down – and found a room behind it. And then another room, and another – in fact, he found one of the largest underground city complexes the world has ever known. He found the Derinkuyu Underground City.
Even today, the full extent of the underground city is unknown. Archaeologists have penetrated as far as 40 meters beneath the surface but they suspect that the city goes much further down – to a depth of 85 meters. To put that in perspective, that’s about the same as the height of the statue of liberty and the pedestal it stands on which is 91 meters combined. So far, there have been 20 levels discovered. Visitors, like us, are allowed into the first eight levels. Less than 10% of the total that has been explored is open to the public. I can tell you first hand – that 10% is vast.
At full capacity, the city, built by the Hittites sometime around 14 centuries before the common era (that’s before Christ without Christ or B.C.E) , could house between 3000 to 10,00 people, their livestock, and their possessions. As I said, the full extent of the city is still unknown and some scholars believe that it is actually connected to other underground cities in the region by tunnels that stretch for miles!
It’s not as outlandish as it may sound as there has already been one such tunnel discovered which stretches 8 km (about 4 miles) to another underground city, Kaymakli near Nevsehir. When you consider that there are at least 200 underground cities that have been discovered thus far in the region… the possibilities become incredibly fascinating.
While it’s fun to think of thousands of people living underground like ants, most historians suggest that the cities were built for defensive purposes and were never meant for long term inhabitation of a large population. For short periods, Derinkuyu is large enough for 10,ooo people (though some say it is large enough for 50,000) . On the day we were there, it felt like it was pushing pretty close to that. Tour buses arrive constantly and since the entire city isn’t open to the public, they are all crammed into the same sections. Luckily the ventilation systems designed by the ancients are incredibly effective still, although there was actually a bit of panic when groups coming down to the 8th level wouldn’t make way for groups who wanted to get back up to the top. The galleries began filling with people and at one point a woman actually began to scream. Finally, the guides managed to make the way clear and there was an exodus for the exit eight levels above.
One thing we didn’t have explained to us was where all those people used the toilet – we had to go back up to ground level for that, which, when you think about it, was a relief. Pun fully intended.
To get to the Derinkuyu Underground City, you will need to go to the above ground city of Derinkuyu which is about 40 km from Goreme. While there are about 600 doors to get in the underground city, as a visitor you will need to wait in line and buy a ticket. Your best bet is to hire a tour from Goreme or Uchisar. If you plan on visiting, I can recommend the right people to contact. Shoot me an email or contact me on social media.