Derinkuyu: the Mysterious Underground City

Tunnels within Derinkuyu | Courtesy of ralucahphotography.ro/Getty Images

It was just a regular day for Mustafa Bozdemir in 1963 as he made renovations to his home in Nevşehir Province, Turkey. That is until Mustafa knocked down a wall of his home and behind it, discovered a whole new room. Connected to this room was an entire city built for nearly twenty-thousand people.1 This city is what became know as Derinkuyu, one of the ancient world’s biggest mysterious.

Tourist Map of Derinkuyu | Courtesy of http://sometimes-interesting.com

What we know about who built and lived in the city of Derinkuyu still remains unknown. According to one theory, the city’s beginning dates to 800 B.C.E. when Derinkuyu was built and inhabited first by the Hittites from the Old Kingdom period for an estimated short one-hundred years.2 After the fall of the Hittites around 700 BCE, historians have come to the conclusion that the Phrygians inhabited Derinkuyu.3 Derinkuyu was a sanctuary for the people who lived above ground in the Cappadocia region of modern-day Turkey. The entire region of Cappadocia above Derinkuyu was under constant attack. Since they were under constant attack, this inspired another theory that the majority of the twenty-thousand people who lived within Derinkuyu were refugees from the war between the Arab tribes and Byzantine Christians who were at war overhead around 650 BCE.4

One of many rolling stone doors | Courtesy of www.captivatingcappadocia.com

Derinkuyu was equipped with amenities, created with technology far beyond their time. Such amenities included housing for livestock, ventilation chimneys, churches, and schools.5 Archaeologists were baffled by the design of Derinkuyu. The engineering used to build Derinkuyu was with a technology that seems to be from a later time. The cities were carved out of volcanic rock found underground. Since protection was their number one priority, multiple mechanizations were put in place in order to ensure their protection.6 Such mechanization included rolling stone doors to close off various tunnels. In the case of an attack, the rolling stone doors would block any entrances to trap intruders within the tunnel. In the roof of the tunnels, what would appear to be ventilation holes, were actually holes to pour oil on any intruders.7

Derinkuyu was a thriving city for an estimated four-hundred years. Another question historians have about Derinkuyu is what happened to its people? Once Derinkuyu was discovered, it did not take researchers long to learn that it was connected to multiple other underground cities in the surrounding area, including Goreme and Kaymakli.8 Historians have come to the conclusion that Derinkuyu must have been under attack, and people fled to one of the surrounding cities; however, it is still uncertain.

Sign outside Derinkuyu | Courtesy of www.captivatingcappadocia.com

The majority of Derinkuyu’s history may never be known; however, this mysterious city is still an important part of ancient Turkey. Derinkuyu has influenced engineers today to consider the possibility of building underground cities as the population and need for living space continues to grow. Today Derinkuyu has become a tourist attraction for people all over the world.9

  1. Vladimír Nývlta, Josef Musíleka , JiĜí ýejkab , Ondrej Stopkac, “The Study of Derinkuyu Underground City in Cappadocia Located in Pyroclastic Rock Materials,” Procedia Engineering 161 ( 2016 ): 2253.
  2. Fitzroy Dearborn, The Hutchinson Dictionary of Ancient and Medieval Warfare (London, UK : Reaktion Books, 2016), 146.
  3. Benedict Anderson, Buried City, Unearthing Teufelsberg: Berlin and Its Geography of Forgetting ( New York : Routledge, 2017), 13.
  4.  Dig into history, February 2016, s.v. “‘Uncovering’ an underground city,” by Catie Steidl.
  5. Dobraszczyk, Paul, Galviz, Carlos López, Garrett, Bradley L, Global Undergrounds: Exploring Cities Within (London, UK : Reaktion Books, 2016), 35.
  6.  C. J. Lim, Inhabitable Infrastructures: Science Fiction or Urban Future? (New York, NY: Routledge, 2017), 279.
  7. Tony Wright, Turn Right at Istanbul: A Walk on the Gallipoli Peninsula (Crows Nest, N.S.W. : Allen & Unwin, 2003), 67.
  8. Henry Herman, Dominance and Aggression in Humans and Other Animals: The Great Game of Life (London, United Kingdom: Academic Press, 2017), 297.
  9. Lynn Levine, Frommer’s Turkey: From the Blue Mosque to the Blue Lagoon (3rd ed. Hoboken, NJ : John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2004), 344.
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59 Comments

  • This article is great and very fascinating. To think that an entire city was built underground is truly astonishing. The use of the map in the article is good because it gives a visual of what the city actually looked like. It would be interesting to see how the city functioned when it was actually up and running. Though we know who the inhabitants were, I would like to know how or why it was abandoned.

  • The ancient city of Derinkuyu is phenomenal, and I am glad that I read this article today to learn about it. The way it was designed and constructed is quite interesting, and the map of it reminds me of ant tunnels, which is why I think this city is still important and interesting for archaeologists to explore and learn about.

  • This is the first and only underground city I’ve ever heard of. Underground cities are something you only expect to come from books, and it is amazing to think that people lived that fantasy. Of course, the city was not out of want, but out of need and the circumstances surrounding the city are not the stuff of fantasies, but it is a very interesting city. Hopefully, some of the questions this city produces are one day answered.

  • Nice article. What a fascinating and unique city. to think that it was built underground is quite extraordinary because it almost seems like something out of a science fiction novel. But no this city was real, and it was quite complex. It could house thousands of people at one time and was even connected to other cities that were just like it. That’s so cool. It may one day become prudent for us humans to live underground again. Who knows.

  • This is the first time that I hear about the city of Derinkuyu. After reading this article, I feel the need to continue looking more into this city just because of how the author captivates their audience. I found it surprising that the technology they used for security was in a sense ahead of their time. I was left in shock when I read that intruder would have oil spilled on them. Overall, this was a great read with a good selection of images. Good work.

  • Discovering this city must have been so shocking and breathtaking. Not only is it discovery astounding, but so is its design and architecture. Like many lost cities, what happened to the people that inhabited it will remain a mystery. It’s crazy to think there’s so many other cities we have yet to discover.

  • I cannot imagine finding a whole underground city under my house! I also feel as if this underground city was built due to war and for protection. I cannot help but wonder how they dug into the ground and how they were able to engineer such a city. I wonder how many more underground cities there are out there in the world.

  • It is incredible what ancient people were capable of! It seems we often underestimated what people were capable of long ago. Given that whomever the inhabitants were, they were likely under constant attack, building an underground city was an ingenious way of ensuring they could defend themselves. It is a shame that we don’t know more about who lived in this city and where they went when they abandoned it. Interesting article!

  • This city looks great! I couldn’t have thought that there was an underground city in such a famous country that almost no one knew about. And it’s great that this kind of constructions inspired architects nowadays and is also cool that it’s going to be preserved to the generations to come!

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