Underground City: Deep Down into Derinkuyu


Through history, Anatolia’s rarely been the most peaceful region – just between Europe and the Middle East, it’s seen a stream of invading armies and battling creeds over the centuries. Little wonder, then, that beginning a long damn time ago (8,000 B.C. or 1400 B.C. depending on who you believe), someone around the small town of Derinkuyu decided on an obvious solution: if the other guy’s got an army and you don’t want to die, go underground.

Yes, this is obvious. Notice that in the popular imagination secret societies and super villains love, in all their chthonic splendor; underground passages, catacombs and hidden chambers. So too did the embattled denizens and dissident religious sects of Cappadocia, and there’s been over 200 such refuges located in this region, with 40 having more than three levels.


But Derinkuyu is different. This is a veritable city under the earth.


While Derinkuyu’s wikipedia entry is extremely contradictory, some more clarity is provided by this handy rumination, which notes that according to author Alan Weisman of The World Without US fame, Cappadocia’s underground cities might be the last thing to survive the sudden extinction of humanity.

Quoth Weisman:

No one knows how many underground cities lie beneath Cappadocia. Eight have been discovered, and many smaller villages, but there are doubtless more. The biggest, Derinkuyu, wasn’t discovered until 1965, when a resident cleaning the back wall of his cave house broke through a wall and discovered behind it a room that he’d never seen, which led to still another, and another. Eventually, spelunking archeologists found a maze of connecting chambers that descended at least 18 stories and 280 feet beneath the surface, ample enough to hold 30,000 people – and much remains to be excavated. One tunnel, wide enough for three people walking abreast, connects to another underground town six miles away. Other passages suggest that at one time all of Cappadocia, above and below the ground, was linked by a hidden network.


Massive millstones would be rolled in front of the entrance in time of attack, and there were, reportedly, many attackers, with Derinkuyu’s labyrinthine rooms serving as a refuge for early Christians persecuted by the Roman Empire (including other Christian sects), Byzantine Greeks fleeing Arab raids. Going back much farther, it’s not hard to imagine the site being used by fleeing Hittites in the nigh-total social collapse of the first dark age.


The sheer engineering prowess necessary to create and maintain something like this is even more incredible when you think about the primitive technology and limited resources available (Cappadocia’s never been a rich place). Derinkuyu had a large church, many separate living quarters, space for livestock, a winery, a religious school, wells, ventilation ducts that doubled for communication purposes (the original system of tubes). If you want to go check it out for yourself, a portion of Derinkuyu is a popular tourist site, with visitors from around the world. Excavations continue.


Seeing something like this should dispel some prejudices about what primitive societies are capable of, as well as giving cause to wonder what’s beneath our own feet. Maybe the fantastic isn’t so unbelievable after all.

And if this sort of complex can be made by cash-strapped villagers working with almost no modern technology, what could be done today?

(Thanks, Warren Ellis)

17 Responses to “Underground City: Deep Down into Derinkuyu”

  1. Jami Says:

    This is really cool. It reminds me of a post I saw on Environmental Graffiti recently about Britain’s fallout shelter city. Which you can see here: http://www.environmentalgraffiti.com/featured/britain-secret-underground-city/5162

    I love that they would move millstones into the passages and that they still haven’t found all of this city of Derinkuyu.

  2. Mer Says:

    This. Is. Incredible. Thank you, David. (Yet another reason I need to get those “I BLAME WARREN ELLIS” tee shirts made.)

  3. Elora Says:

    When I was younger, my dad taught at one of the larger universities in Ankara (Bilkent, to be more specific), and we visited Derinkuyu one summer. Out of the five of us, only my dad and I ventured in. This brings back memories, aside from being quite a historical marvel. Thank you for this post!

  4. Jon Munger Says:

    Wonderful. About six years ago I’d heard a playground rumor about these massive middle eastern cities, but I never got a name or location, and so filed them away in the plausible but unconfirmed category. Thankfully nothing stays buried forever, and the internet is nine-tenths cultural anthropology.

    On a related note, I’ve heard that Moscow is riddled with thousands of underground tunnels, a disreputable source mentioned in the order of hundreds of miles. Does anyone have any good intel on those?

  5. Mer Says:

    Jon, I think your disreputable source may have been talking about this:


  6. Cass Says:

    This has got to be one of the coolest posts I’ve seen on Coilhouse – I love underground tunnels and this is now on my list of Places to Visit Before I Die.

  7. Jenny Bowen Says:

    Fantastic article –
    I now desperately want to go visit, take pictures, and play hide & go seek in the tunnels. :-)

  8. V1 Says:

    I love this- underground cities are the perfect addition to any post-apocalyptic wasteland!

  9. Ben Johnson Says:

    Wow! The world is now more interesting.

  10. Jerem Morrow Says:

    So…Dig Dug was based on a true story?

  11. Tequila Says:

    One day I will live in such a place…and be utterly at peace. This above ground living sucks.

    A graphic novel I’m workin on takes place exclusively underground like this and it’s been amazing to do the research on places like this and naturally formed areas. There is such a comfort and primal feel to the underground world…very intimate and reassuring in some cases even if you’re the claustrophobic type. Some have been able to transform such places to the point you’re mind and body forgets where it really is…some modern underground houses really make it seem all the more natural. A shame we’re so attached to the above ground world…lame.

    @Jerem…dude all old skool arcade games are based on real places and historical events.

  12. The General Says:

    The wife and I visited one of the underground cities in Capadocia last year as part of our round the world trip we took. They are an amazing, claustrophobic, underground warren and worth the visit…


  13. Boltonian Says:

    I have visited here, it goes down I think to about 8 levels but the tourists are guided round the top 3. You have to walk bent double some of the way. The rock round there is soft and easy to dig.

  14. Jon sker Says:

    Photoshopped. So obvious.

  15. vermindust Says:

    I read a pravda article about the Moscow Sewer Wunderland that was written like the best Pulp of the 1930’s with crocodiles and automatic weapons, a constant war between the tramps and the satanists, the author digging himself out of a collapse. Real Life is much better. I do wonder if some of the african underworks have not been official discovered because Bad Guys do not want their smuggling/drug-lab/guerilla base known.

  16. Compression Shirt Says:

    Wow! Looks like a series of dungeons from a game or movie. Still hard for me to believe it with just photos. I need to see that underground city with my own eyes! =)

  17. Al Phelps Says:

    This underground city sounds like it was used to protect the population from “something” on the surface. In the light of all the speculation around Ed Dames (remote viewer) and his Killshot event (a massive solar flare), I would like to propose a theory that this site was used for a similar purpose in antiquity. With the Killshot event looming on the near horizon, this underground city could very well become another sanctuary location.