7 Mysteries of Derinkuyu, Turkey’s Underground Marvel

Derinkuyu lies beneath the mesmerizing city of Cappadocia, Turkey. A maze of rooms and tunnels carved deep into the Earth, Derinkuyu, an ancient underground city, remains a mystery of awe and curiosity. Who build it and why?

Let’s explore the small portion of Derinkuyu that is open to the public. There are many more rooms and levels beneath what we can see.

Thu Sep 8: Derinkuyu, Cappadocia, Turkey

Derinkuyu ticket office
Derinkuyu Ticket Office

Entering the Derinkuyu Underground City

Get your tickets at the ticket office, and while you wait, there is a small outdoor museum you can walk through. There is no tour guide, you just enter (at your own risk) and try to stay reasonably close to the rest of the tour group. You start off at the modern constructed level and entrance, but soon enough you get to the real underground city.

Guardians of the Deep: Derinkuyu Stone Doors (Mystery 1)

One of the most iconic features of the Derinkuyu Underground City are the massive stone doors. These circular disk-shaped stones are located throughout the city and can be rolled into place to block the passageway. Supposedly these were defensive measures such that passages could be closed to thwart intruders.

The stone doors are designed to be opened and closed from one side only, the inside. The sheer weight and design or the doors make it near impossible to open from the outside. The doors have a small hole in the center, that could function as peep-holes to check who is on the other side of the door. What do you think were the circumstances that compelled the inhabitants to engineer all these doors?

“In the heart of darkness, beneath layers of rock and time, a city beats with life, undeterred and undefeated.”


Living Underground: Derinkuyu Vertical Shafts (Mystery 2)

In addition to the intriguing stone doors at Derinkuyu, another unusual feature of the subterranean complex are the vertical shafts. These deep, narrow shaves have multiple purposes. Firstly, some of the shafts are ventilation shafts to bring fresh air down to the deepest chambers. These shafts where booby-trapped to prevent intruders from gaining access to the chambers below.

Secondly, the shafts brought natural lighting to the depths of the underground city. Finally, some of the vertical shafts served as water wells. The wells were engineered such that they couldn’t be poisoned from above.

Navigating Derinkuyu Through Passageways and Stairways (Mystery 3)

The Underground City of Derinkuyu boasts an intricate network of passageways and stairways that weave organically through the city. They can be straight, curved, twisty, narrow and wide. These tunnels sometimes intersect with each other providing multiple ways to travel to a destination chamber.

The stairways connect the different levels of the city. There is no formal floor levels, like a building – sometimes the stairwell is short, sometimes very long. Some stairways have a stone door at the top to close off the lower levels from intruders.

Walking through a Derinkuyu passageway

Exploring the Ancient Chambers in Derinkuyu (Mystery 4)

As exciting as the passages and doors are, the chambers are where life actually happened in the day to day living at Derinkuyu. There were chambers for residential living, cooking, sleeping.

There were also religious chambers, livestock chambers, and storage and utility rooms. Some rooms were used to process wine and to press oil. Everything needed to sustain an estimated peak of 20,000 inhabitants is in the underground city. Rooms were constructed with various quality standards and differing architectural styles.

Here are some examples of the Derinkuyu chambers:

Underground Windows of Derinkuyu (Mystery 5)

In an underground city, there are no traditional windows. There is no landscape outside to see from them, aside from the ventilation shafts which are more like skylights. There are window-like openings, where you can peer into another chamber or passageway.

These openings provided visibility and communication between chambers and passageways. They could play defensive roles, allowing people to see intruders as they approach.

“In the deep, where sun’s rays do not reach, the human spirit shines brightest, illuminating the caverns of our underground city.”


Derinkuyu Nooks Nestled in Stone (Mystery 6)

Supplementing the living chambers are the nooks, cavities, alcoves for supply storage and conveniences. These smaller chambers appear throughout the underground city, some equipped with ventilation, were pivotal for the long-term survival of the inhabitants.

The consistent temperature and humidity of the underground city aided in the preservation of perishable goods, and these chambers were designed to take full advantage of that. Here are a few examples:

Functional Carvings at Derinkuyu (Mystery 7)

There are features at Derinkuyu carved into the stone for specific functional purposes. Wine production was important not just for the intoxicating effects, but to preserve the grape juice for later use. Similarly, grain was milled into flour.

There are random holes between levels. They provide multiple functions like ventilation, communication, passage of goods, and could also serve defensive purposes.

Derinkuyu Tour Review

Ever since I learned about Derinkuyu on the Discovery Channel years ago, I’ve been fascinated about seeing it in person. It’s hard to imagine living in an underground city with 18 levels holding up to 20,000 people, and this was a couple thousand years ago. No doubt it started with one guy digging a hole and like a virus, took off from there. Maybe, someone like Mr Tiger’s Cave House. On the Megalithomania Derinkuyu Tour, we spent about an hour and a half in the underground city.

Entering Derinkuyu is like being transported into a mysterious new world. A world of stone where there are no right angles, or defined floor levels. It’s random, chaotic, and organic, like living in an ant colony. And this is with the modern lighting system throughout. It’d be exponentially creepier with the lights out and relying on ventilation shafts and oil lamps. I’d hate to be the guy living 18 floors down with a vitamin D deficiency.

I like that there is no tour guide and you are free to roam wherever you want. There’s a main route to follow with lots of signs, so people don’t get lost. But here are also offshoot paths that go to less traveled areas and dead ends. That’s the fun part for me.

The Derinkuyu tour gives a fascinating glimpse into the lives of people who lived there over the past thousands of years. Even with all the modern conveniences, lighting, signs, stairways, it’s well worth seeing something that is so old, mysterious, and unique. Ultimately, it’s a horrible way to live but apparently better than living above ground at the time. Would definitely recommend a visit should you come to Cappadocia, Turkey.

Now check out one my my favorite sites in Turkey: the Phalluses at Karahan Tepe.

In addition to Derinkuyu, there are a number of other underground cities in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. Some of the more significant cities are:

  • Kaymahkh: which is wider than Derinkuyu, but only has four to eight levels,
  • Özkonak: smaller underground city featuring a pipe system that allowed communication across different levels.
  • Mazi Village: lesser visited site with large community roomes.
  • Tatlarin: site with frescoed churches
  • Dargeçit Underground City: recently discovered in Mardin, in 2017, about 1000 years old.

What are your thoughts about Derinkuyu, have you been or want to go there? Let us know in the comments below.

Part of the Megalithomania UK Gobekli Tepe & Karahan Tepe Turkey Tour

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