The Secret City: 20,000 Souls living underground - History Key

The Secret City: 20,000 Souls living underground

What would you do, if you’re attacked by invaders intending to steal and burn everything?

One of the most functional solutions for such a problem would be a very practical and simple one: hide underground. History key unlocks for you the story of an incredible subterranean complex discovered in Turkey, more exactly in Cappadocia, a region located in central Turkey, otherwise known for its cave churches or the famous “chimney houses”.

An ancient construction

The regions of Nevsehir and Kayseri are recognized for their “underground history”, considering that in the area, over 200 underground cities were dug by ancient people, forming a complex and mysterious network that is not entirely explored. Among the various underground constructions, the one that was built under the town of Derinkuyu, reveals to be the deepest: it goes down to 250 feet below the Earth’s surface, being formed by several halls, tunnels, and passages.

Detail form the Derinkuyu underground complex
Detail from the Derinkuyu underground complex © Image Source:

Probably, the beginning of the underground cities is directly related to the particular geology of the Cappadocia region, where the Derinkuyu town is located. The city was built using caves and already existed underground structures, so the archaeologists are not able to date during which time the city was raised.

The particularities of the area are connected to the volcanic activity that has taken place there, at the dawn of time. The volcanic eruptions covered the area with layers of thin ash, which transformed into soft rock, which in turn was affected by the weather and especially by the eroding action of the eons. This process, produced an incredible landscape, with rock shaped in the form of columns or pyramids, named by the locals “castles”.

This is the scenario that very probably had inspired the ancient people, making them reconsider the possibilities offered by that kind of unique landscape. Thus, the locals started to crave the soft rock, managing to built all sorts of rooms and spaces, which eventually formed into a real city, the underground city of Derinkuyu.

The city was built in order to cover different situations: residences, storage space or religious temples. There is also a funny side of this story, if we take account that until 1963, no one was aware of the city’s existence. The underground city was discovered by accident in 1963, when the renovation of a modern house, revealed a passage leading to a cave, one of the many caves forming the complex. Visitors were allowed only in 1965, and only in certain sectors of the complex, also considering that most of it is still unexplored.

Passage from the underground city
Passage from the underground city © Image Source: Wikipedia

Freshwater, safety and 20,000 people

Overall, the city could host around 20,000 people, together with their food stocks or other needs. This aspect was confirmed by the discovery of oil and wine presses, located in the underground spaces of the city.

Another interesting aspect related to the city, comes from its structure, similar to the one of a submarine: the city had the possibility to be closed from the inside, using very large stone doors; each floor could be closed individually, in order to separate and protect certain sectors in case of attack.

Reproduction of the underground city of Derinkuyu
Reproduction of the underground city of Derinkuyu © Image Source:

Another useful feature of the city was related to the possibility of guarantee fresh water, coming from the various wells located in the complex. According to the Turkish Department of Culture, the Phrygians initially built the city in between 800-600 BC. During the Roman period, the Phrygian language was replaced by Greek language, and the inhabitants of the area became Christians. It is believed that in this transitional phase, the church was added to the complex’s structure, and the inscriptions were reconsidered in Greek.

What was the purpose of such construction?

The Derinkuyu city was raised during the Byzantine era, being used as strategic and protection point from the Muslims, during the time of the Arab-Byzantine wars (around 780-1180). This defensive role has been used further by the Christians during the Mongol incursions coming from Timur, 14th century. Once the religion of the area turned to the Ottomans, the city was used as shelter from the Turkish Muslims and several waves of Ottoman attacks and persecutions.


The school from the underground city
The school from the underground city © Image Source: Wikipedia

The underground city of Derinkuyu, was used also during the 20th century by the locals now named “Cappadocian Greeks”. Related to the fact, we have the testimony coming from R.M. Dawkins, a linguist from Cambridge University who studied the history of the Cappadocian Greeks located in the that area from 1909-1911. He recorded in 1909:

“When the news came of the recent massacres at Adana, a great part of the population at Axo took refuge in these underground chambers, and for some nights did not venture to sleep above ground.” (Quote from R.M.Dawkins – Wikipedia)

That was the last known use of the tunnels and the underground city. During 1923, a population exchange took place between Greece and Turkey. After this operation, the tunnels were abandoned. What should be noted is that the underground city of Derinkuyu was communicating with other underground structures, like Kaymakli, which was linked by an 8 km tunnel.


Detail from the underground city
Detail from the underground city © Image Source:

(Article was written using references from: Wikipedia,

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