People always rave about Cappadocia’s landscape, and rightly so – it can feel like you’re on a totally different planet. However, Cappadocia’s beauty and awesomeness isn’t just skin deep as its underside is pretty cool, too! Did you know that there are over 200 underground cities in Cappadocia? Wherever you step, there could be a city under your feet! Most are not open to the public, though. While I was in the area, I did manage to visit the two most famous ones: one is the deepest and the other is the widest underground city in the Cappadocian region.
Derinkuyu Underground City
Derinkuyu is a multi-level underground city in Nevşehir Province, Turkey. It extends to a depth of about 60m (18 stories), making it the deepest of the known underground cities. It was opened to tourists in 1969 and about half of it is available for visiting. It isn’t confirmed who built Derinkuyu but it’s believed to have been the Phrygians in the 8th-7th centuries B.C and then was enlarged during the Byzantine era. It would have been used as an underground refugee settlement and also as a hiding place from invaders. The city was connected to Kaymakli, another underground city, by an 8km tunnel.
Derinkuyu was prime commune real estate. It was large enough to provide shelter for about 20,000 people along with their livestock and food stores. Chickens and goats didn’t have to stay out and face invader slaughter! And as for people, life would have been pretty luxurious as the complex had more amenities that most apartment buildings today: well water, chapels, stables, and cellars. Wine and oil presses! Communal rooms to hang out with friends! Storage rooms! On top of all this, Derinkuyu had a security system on each floor – heavy stone doors weighing up to 500kg. The builders of the city thought of everything. They even realized that breathing was important. As such, there are shafts that provide ventilation, some as long as 180ft, throughout the city.
Kaymakli Underground City
Kaymakli was connected to Derinkuyu by a tunnel, a making them conjoined twins. The latter is known as the deepest city, the former is known as the widest underground city in Cappadocia. Kaymakli was first opened to the public in 1964 and it is located about 19km from Nevsehir. It would have held about 3500 people. This city is somewhat different from Derinkuyu in its structure – the tunnels are lower, narrower, and it can get quite steep inside. It feels more like a maze than it did at Derinkuyu. Only four flours of the existing eight are opened to the public and one can see a stable, living spaces, churches, storage rooms, wine and oil presses, and the kitchens.
Both cities are fascinating to see but you will need to have a great deal of imagination to get a feel of what it would have been like to live in them. It is obvious that it would have been crowded, smelly, noisy, and sheer hell. But to imagine how the cities actually functioned, well, that’s harder. This is because nothing really looks like what they tell you it is. Except for the kitchen – the black soot permanently staining the ceilings makes it obvious that centuries of fires occurred in there. But for the cubby holes that make up everything else? I’ll just take the archeologists’ word for it… If you visit either or both of the cities, be prepared for the following:
Signs: Practically none. Therefore, unfortunately, a guide is probably a good idea. You can visit as part of a tour or you can show up and hire a guide at the entrance of the cities. Don’t forget to negotiate the price if you hire a guide!
Sightseeing Time: I would say give yourself about an hour to see each place. And pray that you don’t get stuck behind an obnoxious tour group (or with obnoxious people if you’re part of a tour group). Nothing would be worse than being stuck with a large/loud/slow group in tight underground spaces…
What to bring: A light sweater – it is rather cool underground! A tripod – the poor lighting makes it hard to get good photos and I wished I had a tripod (though a tripod would only work if you get lucky and have areas to yourself).
Tunnels: If you are claustrophobic, you may want to give the sites a miss. Many of the tunnels are narrow and a couple of times, I saw people barely make it through an area and once, a larger guy took one look at the hole and said, “nope”. And the other thing – watch your head!
Question: Anyone know if these underground cities are supposed to be haunted? Seems like they’re ripe for such things. I didn’t see anything…but that could just be because I’m a skeptic…