The magical underground cities of Cappadocia, Turkey

Hidden beneath beautiful views on the ground, Cappadocia in Turkey is home to an intricate network of underground cities. Thousands of years old and massive, these cities are full of ancient architecture and give us a glimpse of the engineering of ancient times. With working ventilation systems, unique settlements, and even defensive design, these underground cities are a magical sight to behold.

That being said, the mystery is not far away with this marvel and the cities are shrouded in conspiracy theories regarding their inhabitants, their engineering and much more. Even with numerous excavations and investigations carried out, it is still unclear how big this network is and what we can find there. So, let’s discover the magical underground cities of Cappadocia, Turkey!

Location and Geography of Underground Cities

Stone rock cut hotels in Cappadocia, Turkey

The underground cities are located in the Cappadocia region in central Turkey. This area is known for its dynamic landscape of volcanic mountains, soft tuff rock, and many unique rock structures called “fairy chimneys” by locals. Beneath all of this, the underground cities are a vast network of tunnels and chambers that stretch for miles in each direction.

Derinkuyu cave town in Cappadocia, Turkey

In 2022, dozens of underground cities have been discovered, Derinkuyu being the largest at a depth of 85 meters underground. Besides Derinkuyu, some of the key cities in the network are:

  • Tatlarin Underground City – One of the oldest known underground cities in the region, Tatlarin is made up of 2 floors and is located in the district of Acigol.
  • Ozluce Underground City – This town lies 6 km west of Kaymakli town and is known for its main 15 meter rubble walkway.
  • Mazi Underground City – Mazi is located 10 km from Kaymakli and has a unique layout on the western slope of a village.
  • Kaymakli Underground City – It is 20 km from the city of Nevsehir and has a total of 8 floors, 4 of which are accessible to tourists.

That being said, a recent systematic survey of the area with seismic tomography used 33 measurements to estimate that the entire network was larger than 450,000 square meters and reached depths of up to 113 meters. If this information were to be accurate, it would suggest towns much larger than Derinkuyu that could hide time-hidden secrets!

History of underground cities

Town of Guzelyurt and the underground city near Ihlara Valley in Cappadocia, Turkey
Town of Guzelyurt and the underground city near Ihlara Valley in Cappadocia, Turkey

Along with the immense architectural skill and touristic wonder of these underground cities, they are also known for their historical significance. With the first traces of the cities actually dating back to the 8th century BC, the caves are believed to have been formed by the soft volcanic rock of the area. The initial habitats were believed to be the Phrygians who were close relatives of the Greeks. As they began to live in the caves, their rapid downfall gradually saw the caves come under true Greek control. During all this time, the caves developed and many Greek inscriptions describe the construction of multi-level structures and religious buildings.

Over the following centuries, this region changed hands several times due to continuous conflicts. At first the caves were taken under Muslim Arab control during the Byzantine era and later developed into a network connecting several underground cities. Soon after, in the 14th century, the towns were used by Christian natives as the site of temporary residences to hide from Mongol incursions. Followed by the Ottomans who also used the Hidden Cities as a refuge, the underground network eventually became home to the Cappadocian Greeks who were there until the 20th century, after which the tunnel systems were forgotten. It was not until 1963 that the tunnels were rediscovered by mistake when a man found a hidden wall in his house, thanks to which they were later opened to visitors.

Sunset in Goreme town in Cappadocia, Turkey

For thousands of years these underground cities have existed, acting as an important source of refuge across religions and societies. Whether during the Ottoman Empire or for Christians fleeing persecution, these cities managed to hide tens of thousands of people and protect them from harm. Thus, cities are often praised for being well hidden and solidly defensive. That being said, the network of cities being so vast and ancient, many are still uncovered, with major cities such as Derinkuyu making up most of what we know. So, with so little evidence of their original construction, there is still much to discover when it comes to the history of this hidden underground network.

Climate of underground cities

As for the climate of these underground cities, it tends to stay the same all year round. This is mainly due to the fact that the entire network is located 50-100 meters underground and most visitable towns such as Derinkuyu have adequate ventilation. So, although you can feel the heat of the sun above the ground, these cities rarely reach more than 13°C. Moreover, without direct access to the ground, there is no effect of rainfall on Cappadocia’s massive underground network.

Architecture in underground cities

Ancient city and castle of Uchisar carved into a mountain in Cappadocia, Turkey

One of the most attractive factors of these underground cities is the extremely well-designed and intricate architecture that has contributed to their development. Considering the time in which these cities developed and the fact that they are underground, it is amazing how much ancient societies were able to build structures. To shed some light on these masterpieces of ancient architecture, here are some facts about the network’s largest known city, Derinkuyu:

  • The city has a ventilation system which consists of a large shaft 55 meters long that goes above the ground to serve as a passage for air, water, etc.
  • Derinkuyu has different levels which are connected by vertical stairs to indicate a clever use of the raised ceiling.
  • There is a total capacity of 20,000 people and various establishments such as stables, cellars, chapels and even schools for a functioning underground city.
  • Each floor of the city could be closed individually in order to increase the defense of the lower levels in case the entrance is breached.

Tourism and recreation in underground cities

A couple vacationing in Cappadocia, with hot air balloons in the background

Due to the amazing history, architecture and mysterious depths of these underground cities, the attraction is a famous tourist spot in the Cappadocia region. As the region itself is a tourist hub that attracts millions of people a year, the underground cities are also known to be a sight seen by hundreds of thousands of people. While the recent pandemic has slowed tourism, pre-2020 figures indicate between 200,000 and 500,000 visitors per year.

To accommodate such large numbers, the local authorities have put together a short tour that will take you to many key locations in around 1 hour. From now on, the tour covers the two biggest underground cities, Derinkuyu and Kaymakli, through which a guide will show you the houses, the underground church, the defensive gates and even the central ventilation shaft. While the tour currently only covers half of Derinkuyu, recent studies indicate that there is much more hidden beneath these rocks that may soon be open to your eyes!

So, with thousands of years of history fused with natural beauty and architectural intellect, the magical underground cities of Cappadocia are a must visit!

About Ariella McGuire

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