In the early 1960s, a Turkish man, whose name has been lost in the sands of time, was renovating his home. He noticed that his chickens periodically disappeared into a series of mysterious crevasses, never to return. Attempting to locate one of his chickens, the man began digging near one of these crevasses and stumbled upon a narrow hallway that seemed to stretch endlessly. This hallway turned out to be part of the ancient underground city of Derinkuyu, which was soon recognized as Turkey’s largest underground city.
Due to Turkey’s geographical significance, countless empires have risen, fallen, and vied for dominance in the region where modern-day Turkey stands. Various groups, including Byzantine Christians, sought secret, fortified dwellings where they could remain safe and hidden while opposing forces clashed over territory and cultural differences.
Historians remain uncertain about the exact time Derinkuyu was built. However, most scholars concur that the subterranean city likely originated shortly before 370 BC. The region’s soft volcanic rock made it feasible to construct an extensive network of cave dwellings. Today, archaeologists believe there exists a vast network of interconnected cave cities in proximity to Derinkuyu.
For a modest fee, visitors can traverse the dim, narrow corridors of Derinkuyu. The massive boulder that seals Derinkuyu’s main entrance can evoke claustrophobia. At its peak, Derinkuyu is believed to have sheltered over 20,000 residents. There is evidence of stables for livestock, a Byzantine chapel, food storage areas, and even a winery. It’s astonishing to think that 20,000 individuals resided in a city with stone corridors narrow enough to allow only one person to pass at a time.
Derinkuyu boasts a sophisticated ventilation system and a pristine well, safeguarded from invaders who might contaminate the water supply. The entire city was illuminated by torches, and the walls bear numerous scorch marks from this era. The last recorded inhabitants of Derinkuyu were a community of Greeks who relocated to Greece in the early 1920s following a brief conflict with opposing Turkish factions.
The underground city of Derinkuyu provides a fascinating glimpse into the extraordinary measures that besieged communities undertake to endure. A journey through Derinkuyu’s dim corridors grants a profound appreciation for the resourceful and inventive generations who adapted and persevered amidst immense challenges.