A Man In Turkey Uncovered A Historic Underground City Below His Basement

There’s history all around us; if you know where to look. In 1963, a man in Turkey was doing some renovation work in his basement and stumbled upon something he could have never imagined. He soon discovered an entire lost city just below his home. Continue reading to learn more about this historic find and the people who lived there thousands of years ago.

A Wall Comes Down

It was just like any other day for an unnamed Turkish man. The year was 1963 and he decided that it would be a good idea to start renovating his basement.

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YASIN AKGUL/AFP via Getty Images
YASIN AKGUL/AFP via Getty Images

One of the first things to come down was one of the basement walls. As soon as it was removed, the man knew he was in for more than he bargained for.

An Underground City Emerges

As soon as the wall came down, the man figured out there was something below his home. It might be some extra storage or a secret room, but he realized it was much more.

Derinkuyu Underground City in Turkey
Claudio Beduschi/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Claudio Beduschi/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The man discovered that it was actually a lost underground city. Specifically, it was the Derinkuyu Underground City.

What Was The Derinkuyu Underground City?

After the man searched through multiple tunnels under his home, he saw that they connected to various halls and chambers.

Cappadocia, Turkey at night lit up
Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

The underground area had obviously been abandoned for many years, so the man wondered just how old it really was. He would need some guidance from geologists and historians.

This Was A Gigantic Underground City

To understand just how massive this underground city was at the time that the man found it, people should know that it had a total of 18 stories.

Derinkuyu underground city in turkey
Claudio Beduschi/AGF/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Claudio Beduschi/AGF/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

This equated to being about 280-feet deep and large enough to house an estimated 20,000 people. So, this begs the question as to why it was abandoned.

Finding It On The Map

Looking at the Derinkuyu Underground City through a geographical lens, it is located in the Cappadocia region of Turkey.

A Turkis-flagged hot air balloon the earth pillars
Murat Asil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Murat Asil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The area is surrounded by colossal stone towers that formed due to erosion of a rock called tuff. While its name may make it seem powerful, the actual stone is pretty weak.

Tuff Made It Easy To Dig

Since most of the area of Cappadocia is pretty malleable, locals were able to dig holes in the soft stone to protect themselves from all kinds of weather.

aerial view of Turkey
Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

For thousands of years, different holes were dug to make refuges, temples, storage rooms, underground dwellings, and more. There are at least 40 of these underground rooms that are at least two levels.

Archaeologists Start Researching Derinkuyu

Since Derinkuyu is by far the largest underground city in this Turkish region, some local archaeologists wanted to learn more about it.

underground tunnel
Morse Collection/Gado/Getty Images
Morse Collection/Gado/Getty Images

There are many speculations about how old the city is and who built it. There are three possible theories about how the Derinkuyu Underground City came to be.

Could It Be The Hittites?

One of the possible theories about how the underground city was built led archaeologists to the Hittites. They think it was built around 2000 BC when the Hittites ruled the region.

hittites carving from 8th century
DEA / M. SEEMULLER/De Agostini via Getty Images
DEA / M. SEEMULLER/De Agostini via Getty Images

While the Hittite Empire was very sophisticated for its time, the cities in the empire were often overrun by outside forces. This led to their collapse.

It Might Be The Phrygians

Another theory made by the archaeologists was that the Derinkuyu Underground City was actually built by the Phrygian people around 700 BC.

phrygians with their trousers, tunics, and conical caps play music, dance, and clap
Heritage Arts/Heritage Images via Getty Images
Heritage Arts/Heritage Images via Getty Images

Phrygians were the most accomplished builders and architects of the Iron Age and were responsible for completing several large and complex buildings in Turkey. However, scientists aren’t able to date the tunnels because they are made from stone and not organic material.

Local Christians May Be Responsible

After the archaeologists looked into the Hittites and the Phrygians, they then considered local Christians. It’s estimated that Christians may have built the underground city in the first centuries AD.

Nicodemus visits Jesus by night
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Derinkuyu was a massive feat no matter who built it. The city could house tens of thousands of people and was made to last.

It Took Great Skill

Building a meticulous structure is a lot easier nowadays than it was back then. The builders needed to acquire great skills to make it work.

cappadocia aerial view with hot air balloon
Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

They were able to use the surrounding soft rocks to their advantage by making tunnels. The people who built the city even used large support pillars, so none of the floors would collapse.

Derinkuyu’s Purpose

Another big mystery surrounding Derinkuyu was its main purpose. During the time of its construction, it was likely that those building it would need a way to hide from enemy armies.

A view of Anatolian Houses Hotel
Yoray Liberman/Getty Images
Yoray Liberman/Getty Images

They were able to utilize rolling stones that would close off the city from the inside, so no outside forces were able to penetrate it.

Some Finishing Touches

While it’s not known if the Christians were the ones who initially built Derinkuyu, there is some assurance that they were at least a part of the later construction.

jesus illustration
Antony Raj/Pinterest
Antony Raj/Pinterest

The Christians were able to make final additions and alterations to the underground city during the sixth and 10th centuries AD.

How Did They Breathe?

Derinkuyu was at least 18 stories, so it may sound preposterous that people were actually able to breathe down there.

Cappadocia, Turkey fairy chimney rock formations
DEA / L. ROMANO/De Agostini via Getty Images
DEA / L. ROMANO/De Agostini via Getty Images

The underground city had more than 15,000 shafts that measured about 10 centimeters wide. These reached down into the first and second levels and ensured sufficient ventilation at least to the eighth level.

How The Levels Were Used

Since the upper levels were closer to the ventilation system, they were usually used as living and sleeping quarters.

cappadocia, turkey fairy chimney rock formations
PHAS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
PHAS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

It was still possible to breathe in the lower levels, but it was a bit harder. These were often used as storage or even as a dungeon. The middle levels had all kinds of rooms including a convent, an animal room, and a church.

Water Was Provided

The people living in Derinkuyu were able to get multiple uses out of their shafts. Some doubled as wells.

Turkey, Cappadocia. The town Ortahisar with castle
PHAS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
PHAS/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The English translation for “derin kuyu” is actually deep well. So, water was provided without anyone having to go out and bring it back, which was pretty high-tech for the time.

A Shelter From Harsh Conditions

While some speculate that Derinkuyu was a refuge for hiding from enemies, another possible purpose was an underground area to protect them from extreme seasons.

Derinkuyu underground city in turkey
Lanzellotto Antonello/AGF/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Lanzellotto Antonello/AGF/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The winters in Cappadocia were very cold and the summers were very hot, so staying below ground keeping the temperature stable. It was also easier to store and keep harvest yields away from moisture and thieves.

Derinkuyu Was Used During Major Wars

Since Derinkuyu dates back thousands of years, it’s likely that people would use it for refuge during many of the major wars that occurred in the area.

underground tunnel construction
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

It was there during the wars between the Byzantines and the Arabs during the eighth and 12th centuries, the Mongal raids in the 14th century, and after the region was conquered by the Ottoman Turks.

The City Was Still A Refuge In The 20th Century

While most people had stopped using Derinkuyu as a primary residence long ago, it was actually utilized as a shelter up until the early 1920s.

cappadocia Tourists ride hot air balloons
Chris McGrath/Getty Images
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

A Cambridge linguist who visited Derinkuyu shortly after the Greco-Turkish War noticed that people were finally leaving after the two countries agreed to exchange minorities in 1923.

Derikuyu Today

Since Derinkuyu is one of the most historic places in Turkey, it now acts as one of Cappadocia’s biggest tourist attractions.

Derinkuyu underground city with tunnels
Nevit Dilmen/Wikimedia Commons
Nevit Dilmen/Wikimedia Commons

After its discovery, there have been a lot more excavations in the area looking for other underground cities. Archaeologists are pretty sure there are tons more out there that are just waiting to be found.