The Underground City of Derinkuyu

Nevit Dilmen / Wikipedia

The mysterious underground city of Derinkuyu is one of the best examples of ancient architectural precision. Carved directly in the rock, Derinkuyu is one of five inter-connected underground complexes with a total estimated capacity of 100,000 people. The historical region of Cappadocia (Turkey) where Derinkuyu is located, contains several historical underground cities, carved out of a unique geological formation. Many of them were re-used by early Christians as hiding places.

Archaeologists have discovered over 200 underground cities at least two levels deep in the area between Kayseri and Nevsehir, with around 40 of them having at least three levels.

derinkuyu (1)

The largest of the Cappadocia underground complexes has 18 levels and is 85 meters (278 feet) deep, with ventilation shafts, fresh flowing water and individually separated living quarters, shops, communal rooms, wells, tombs, arsenals and escape routes. It has the potential to house up to 20,000 people. The whole complex was air conditioned, with 52 air shafts discovered so far, one of which is 55 meters (180 feet) deep. Some wells were not connected with the surface, probably in order to protect the inhabitants from water poisoning during raids.

Massive circular doors

These large circular stone doors could be seen at all the local underground sites.


They were rolled across the passages and sealed the citadels from the inside. At Derinkuyu, each level could also be sealed individually, separating it completely from the other parts of the underground city.

Origin of the underground city

According to the Turkish Department of Culture, Derinkuyu was first built by the Phrygians in the 8th-7th centuries BC, and then was enlarged in the Byzantine era. The oldest written source about those underground cities is the „Anabasis“ by Xenophon (circa 431 – 355 BC). He writes that the people living in Anatolia had excavated their houses underground, living well in accommodations large enough for the family, domestic animals, and supplies of stored food.


Alternatively, the underground cities in Turkey were believed to have been constructed at around 1,400 BC by the Hittites. This could be confirmed by archaeological finds, but the exact date remains unknown.

In origin, the cities are thought to date back to Hittite times at least 1900–1200 BC. Hittite-style seals have been found during excavations and other Hittite remains, such as a lion statue, have turned up in the area. It is possible that the underground rooms were used as shelters during the attacks of 1,200 BC, when the Hittite Empire was destroyed by invaders from Thrace.

Later the complexes were enlarged by other civilizations, and the presence of missionary schools, churches and wine cellars would seem to indicate that they were used by Christian communities. No matter who and when built those underground cities, they are considered one of the best examples of ancient engineering thought.