Derinkuyu in Nevsehir is the largest discovered underground city in Turkey. The city takes its name (Derinkuyu literally means “the deep well”) from the 55 meter deep well that supplies air to the underground city. According to Turkish Department of Culture; Derinkuyu’s history dates back to Hittites circa 1200BC. The site was later used by Indo-European Phrygians between 8th and 7th centuries B.C., and was used by the local people until the 13th century AD at which point it was not needed except for storage on the first couple of levels. The site was later discovered in 1960s by German archaeologists.
Other ventilation wells connecting to the city were also found but these were covered to prevent potential gas poisoning.
The size and the structure of the underground city is truly impressive despite only 10% of it has been unearthed. The underground city contains many labyrinths and an escape tunnel rumoured to be 10kms long.
The first level underground was used for storing livestock and horses. As it was more difficult to transport animals into lower grounds, first level is usually reserved for animals in most underground cities.
The stairs of Derinkuyu underground city
The stairs going down the mysterious underground city becomes deeper and narrower after the 4th level. The architects building the city made sure it was not easy to be occupied or broken into by enemy forces. The stairs narrow down to let only one person pass and the passages between levels are protected by a door made from large wheel shaped millstones which can have a diameter of 1-2 meters and would weigh between 300 to 500 kgs. In times of danger, these millstones would be rolled over to block the passage.
The underground city was built to host up to 5000 people. As well as having multiple rooms for accommodation, the underground city has a missionary school, confession rooms and a baptism pool which are not usually seen in similar constructions. All sections and rooms also have triangular shaped niches to host the oil used for the illumination system.
The kitchen and storage areas contain tandoori ovens and special sections designated to hold different types of food, wine and oil. There is also a wine distilling area, and a special atelier for processing copper.
8 levels of the city have been unearthed but the archaeologists believe there are 3 more levels making the underground complex to be made of 11 levels.
Even in the warmest central Anatolian summer days, the underground city stays cool. It is advised to wear a life jacket while visiting. The complex can be quite cold for the children especially.
The ventilation system of Derinkuyu underground city
Despite its age, the ventilation system is state of art. Even on 4th level, you don’t get to notice any difference to the atmosphere we have outside on the ground. The fact that thousands of people once lived underground like ants is truly amazing.
Across from the entrance of Derinkuyu underground city, there is a massive historical church. The exterior of the church has been protected over centuries however the interior is going through restoration.
You can visit the Derinkuyu underground city at Derinkuyu town which is located on the highway between Nervsehir and Nigde about 29 kms away from Nevsehir.