10 Interesting Facts You Didn’t Know about Derinkuyu

As kids, we dreamed of secret escapes, passages behind doors, or stairs that dip down into secret chambers hidden under the floorboards. Most of us had to rely on our imaginations until we grew out of it. Still, others, whether you consider them lucky or unfortunate, actually found something hidden in their homes, out of sight from prying eyes—treasure chests, dungeons, safe rooms, or even entire cities.

That is right, an entire city hidden behind a trapdoor in your home, just like the city of Derinkuyu found under the world-renowned Cappadocia, Turkey. Being one of the most fascinating discoveries in our relatively short history, the discovery of Derinkuyu showed us a world few (perhaps no one) knew existed. Here are ten interesting things you didn’t know about the Lost City of Derinkuyu.

Related: Ten Bizarre Discoveries about Ancient Civilizations and Our Ancestors

10 Discovered by Accident

After remaining untouched and undisturbed for decades, the city wasn’t discovered by some team with chisels and brushes sent from the Archaeology Department of a prestigious university but rather by an unassuming local looking for his poultry. The craziest thing about the discovery was that it was found by accident.

In 1963, an unassuming Turkish man noticed the number of chickens in his flock was diminishing and decided to do a closer inspection. At the time, he was busy with some renovations when he witnessed his chickens jump through cracks in the wall of his basement, never to return. He grabbed his tools and started the excavation of the site, hammering down a few walls before he stumbled upon a dark passageway under his home.

It was the first of almost 600 entrances found in private dwellings, buildings, and caves in the area, all leading to the mysterious city. [1]

9 More Than 2,000 Years Old

What makes this discovery so much more interesting is the fact that it has withstood the ravages of time.

Built in the year 7-8 BC (more than two thousand years ago), the Hittites began construction on the first caves, which later formed part of the city, with the Phyrigians likely building what we see today by adding the bulk of the city. From the earlier days when the city was nothing but a few holes in the ground, it took quite a long period for the inhabitants of the caves to begin expanding as their needs changed by adding rooms, chapels, and chambers.

Compared to other lost cities of its time, it is quite remarkable that Derinkuyu has remained intact and mostly untouched, with cities of a similar age often falling to ruin. The city of Pompei is a perfect example, founded around the same time as Derinkuyu. Yet it could not survive a massive volcanic eruption that leveled the city and all who remained within its borders.[2]

8 Hiding Place

Although evidence suggests that the underground chambers and rooms might have been used as storage space for goods, its primary purpose was safety.

During the second century, Christianity was not yet recognized as a real religion. It was, therefore, prosecuted as a cult or sect, with its practitioners having to worship in secret. Generally, they took shelter in underground rooms, sometimes with secret places of worship, particularly to escape Roman prosecution. A world on its own, safely tucked away under rock and stone.

But seeing that Derinkuyu was also used by Jews (many early Christians were also Jews), the city included various places of worship as the religious went underground seeking refuge. It was at the time of the Islamic raids (7th century) that the city experienced its boom as people headed underground in the hopes of avoiding imprisonment or worse.[3]

7 Similar Cities

It might come as a surprise, but Derinkuyu is not the only underground city on earth. In fact, it’s not even the only one in the region. Cappadocia is ideally suited for underground formations as the lack of water in its soil and the malleable nature of the rock allow it to be easily formed into something useful.

After excavation of Derinkuyu commenced, it became pretty clear that the extensive network stretched for miles, leading some experts to consider the possibility that there are more cities like it. It’s thought that more than 40 separate underground cities have also been discovered in the region, which may all be connected by the tunnel system known to us today. A series of linked channels creates a giant subterranean network.

One such city is Kaymakli, which, similar to Derinkuyu, boasts many interesting discoveries but on a smaller scale, with narrower passages and claustrophobic rooms.[4]

6 Largest of the Underground Cities

Although there are quite a few like it, Derinkuyu is by far the largest of the underground cities based on sheer size and historical population.

At one stage, the city hosted 20,000 people, which required a lot of space and some inventive architecture. In total, the city descends 18 stories (or 85 meters), deeper than any other underground complexes found in the region. It was fitted with stables, churches, lodging, and storage space for food and wine.

The upper, well-ventilated levels were mostly used as lodging for the tired refugees, while the lower levels were used for purposes other than lodging. They even had a dungeon if things got too rowdy in the confines of the city.[5]

5 The City Was Secure

Apart from the fact that the entire city was built underground, hidden by trapdoors and secret entryways, the city was also uniquely designed to withstand an attack.

Protected by large doors made of stone wheels that could be rolled in front of the major entrances, the doors formed a wall-like defense two feet thick that made it nearly impossible to penetrate from the outside. There were also divider doors and stairs between the various levels of Derinkuyu that complicated matters further.

The best defense of all was that the narrow tunnels acted as bottlenecks, funneling enemy forces and forcing them to attack single-file, allowing them to be picked off with ease. A violent claustrophobic nightmare that nullified superior enemy forces to the point where a head-on attack would be almost futile.[6]

4 Ventilation Shafts and Water Wells

In order for humans to survive in one specific place for a prolonged period, there must be enough fresh water to sustain the population, and seeing that the city was built underground, a reliable oxygen supply is also vital.

When sealed from the outside, the city was well-ventilated by more than 15,000 perfectly planned shafts, about 10 centimeters wide and reaching down all the way to the first and second floors of the city. This ensured sufficient ventilation (for long-term human presence) down eight levels.

They also devised a means of transporting water through the various levels, with some of the ventilation shafts also doubling as wells that supplied the city. Ironically a few of the surface dwellers even used the vents to get water, unbeknownst that there is an entire hidden city below.[7]

3 Barrel-Vaulted Ceiling

On the second floor of Derinkuyu, you will find perhaps its most distinguishing quality.

Although there are many valuable historical curiosities, Derinkuyu is the only city in the world built entirely underground that has implemented barrel-vaulted ceilings. A type of decorative ceiling used to soften to edges of a room or make it appear larger, the architectural design was also traditionally found in Byzantine missionary schools. The city boasts impressive high ceilings with adjacent study rooms or lodgings.

Reportedly, these unique rooms were used for religious schools, which makes sense considering the purpose of the city was perhaps necessitated by attacks on religious freedoms.[8]

2 Abandoned

All good things must eventually come to an end, even if the good thing in question is a city of solitude for your family and friends.

When the Greco-Turkish war (1919–1922) ended, the two countries involved in the skirmish agreed to trade minorities in 1923, a move that was slated as an attempt to make their populations more “ethnically homogenized.”

This meant that the Cappadocian Greeks that had populated Derinkuyu at that time packed up and left, taking with them the knowledge of the underground city and leaving only shadows and hints that the tunnels were once a densely populated city. They never returned to the city, but who blames them, considering life underground wasn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be?[9]

1 Not the Biggest

What makes these discoveries so exciting is that it seems that the exploration is not over.

In 2013, archaeologists exploring the area found what they believed to be a newly discovered city in Nevsehir, in the same region. It’s fascinating to imagine that there might be another city that is even larger with a more extensive network of tunnels than Derinkuyu. Said to be nestled below a hilltop castle, this newly found ancient city might go as deep as 370 feet (113 meters).

The unearthing came to light during demolition for a new housing project, and scientists have since uncovered a multi-level sanctuary with kitchen chapels, oil presses, air shafts, and a winery. Results from surveys done in 2015 suggest that the new city can be up to a third bigger than Derinkuyu, although this is not yet open to the public.

Perhaps it’s time to take a hammer to your basement wall in search of other hidden cities.[10]

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