Considered as one of the most beautiful natural wonders of the world, decorated with impressive fairy chimneys and eroded caverns, Derinkuyu is the deepest excavated multi-level underground mega city in Cappadocia region of the Central Anatolia in Turkey. The mysterious city was discovered in 1963, when a Turkish civilian in Cappadocia, engaged in the process of renovating his house, took out a wall in his basement and was surprised to find a complete room hidden behind the wall. As he continued the process of digging, a labyrinth network of rooms was revealed several hundred feet below the Earth.
Millions and millions years ago, volcanic eruptions gathered layer after layer of ash over the surface, which gradually, with the passing of time, turned into a soft, but stable rock. However, after billions of years of steady erosion, it became a magical realm out of a fairy tale, which included rocky hills and stone spires, fondly named ‘fairy chimneys’ that rise up out of the dusty plains of the Anatolian peninsula, while serpentine tunnels meander below.
Riddled with extensive subterranean dwellings and secret tunnel passages, Cappadocia is an amazing geological spectacle. At one point of time, the inhabitants of ancient Anatolia realized that they could carve out their homes right into the hillsides and underground. Derinkuyu situated 40km from Goreme, at a depth of more than 250 feet and with a capacity of about 20,000 people, is one of those rock-cut dwellings in the region and is most famous, as the multi-leveled city contained everything that an entire population would need to survive a history riddled with invasions.
Until today, Archaeologists are not quite sure about the people, who started carving out the enigmatic underground settlement. One group claims that it was the Hittites, who commenced the first construction in the 15th century BC. However, it is mostly agreed that probably, an Indo-European people, known as the Phrygians, started the Derinkuyu underground city during the 8th or 7th centuries BC, with the intention to escape persecution by the Romans. However, when the inhabitants became Christian, they began to expand their caverns to deep multiple-level structures adding the chapels and Greek inscriptions.
Nevertheless, the underground city flourished during the Byzantine period and during the Arab-Byzantine wars from 780 to 1180, Derinkuyu was used as a refuge for the Muslim Arabs and the tunnels connecting the subterranean cities were added. The underground cities were also used by the Christian natives during the 14th century, as protection from the Mongol invasions under the leadership of Timur and after the region fell to the Ottoman Turks, they were used as shelters by the natives Christians.
Hidden in the courtyards of the surface dwellings, the underground city of Derinkuyu is equipped with around 600 entrances. The accessible eight levels, out of the enormous eighteen levels of the city, were found to be self-sufficient. Apart from the stables, cellars, storage rooms, refectories, churches, wineries and other usual rooms, it has specific areas, where the dead could be placed until such time as conditions on the surface would allow their proper disposal. There is also a unique complex, located on the second floor, which include a huge room with a barrel vaulted ceiling, which was used as a religious school and the rooms to the left were used for studies.
Starting between the 3rd and 4th floors onwards the descent is by way of a series of vertical staircases which lead to a cruciform plan church on the lowest floor. The 180 feet (55 m) deep ventilation shaft was possibly used as a well also However, all the floors were not provided with water wells up to the surface, as a safeguard of the dwellers from being poisoned during the raids. There are no less than 1500 ventilation ducts, created to provide fresh air deep within the underground city.
The multi-level underground city of Derinkuyu was carefully designed with safety features. Doors with a hole in the middle, made of disc-shaped stones, were used to cover the entrances and passages during raids, which could be operated from inside only. It is possible that the small holes served as the peepholes to keep watch on the intruders and at the same time they also served as the source of light for the insiders.
Derinkuyu, with its amazing architecture and cave dwellings, was opened to the public, six years after its discovery. However, out of the labyrinth of 18 levels of the underground city, only around 10 percent of the accessible levels can be seen by the visitors.