Derinkuyu Underground City—Living Below in Times of Peril

Our group at the entrance to Derinkuyu underground city.

About 35 km south of Göreme, Turkey is Derinkuyu, a small city with a fascinating history. At the southern end of town is the entrance to the 6th century underground city, which is the largest in this area. There are at least 130 more underground cities in Cappadocia, about 30 of which are open to the public. For a general map of the area, click here.

The low, narrow passageways in Derinkuyu–they must have had one-way traffic rules! Some of the passageways are quite long and steep.

These underground cities were built to provide protection for the Byzantine Christian villagers during raids by the Persians and Arabs in the 6th and 7thcenturies. Derinkuyu housed 10,000-20,000 people, plus all kinds of animals during periods of raids (up to 3-4 months at a time).  It has 8 levels, most of which can be visited. Features include air shafts, kitchens, a well, baptistery, church, confessional and rolling stone doors to seal off lower sections in case of invasion.

A rolling stone door to seal off portions of the underground city in case of a breach at the upper levels.

Although a little hard to tell, this is looking up through an air shaft over one hundred feet up – the little light spot in the lower center of the picture is the opening at ground level.

An intersection between levels of the underground city.

The confessional booth–the priest would go in the passageway on one side and the sinner on the other side to share his/her confession (the hall is connected but totally dark).

Baptismal font–the font is deep enough to stand in (notice the spout in the middle of the picture), meaning the Byzantines must have practiced baptism by immersion.

A meeting room – for the town council?

When you have 10,000 people living together for a few months in crowded conditions, some will not live to see daylight again. This photo is in the necropolis, reached down a long passageway separated from the living areas.

Going down into this carved-out city was fascinating; however I cannot imagine living down there for months as the Byzantines did with thousands of people on top of each other with animals, a graveyard, and all the associated issues of waste, water, fires, air, food, and just about everything we take for granted. Coming back up to the surface must have been a very joyous occasion!

The entry fee is 15 TL per person and parking was 2 TL per car (1.80 TL per 1 USD).  Allow about 2 hours for a visit to this fascinating site.