CAPPADOCIA / Underground Cities

Nobody knows just how many underground sites there are in Cappadocia although the number has been estimated at around 300. Some say that there is one for every village and settlement in the region but certainly not all of the sites can be described as cities.
This subterranean way of life resulted from several different factors. The dramatic landscape of Cappadocia is formed from tufaceous rock which is easy to work (and actually gets easier the deeper you go) but which dries to a hard surface resistant enough to allow the excavation of wide rooms with horizontal ceilings. Trees producing wood suitable for building use are scarce in Cappadocia (and apparently always have been) so even the surface dwellings are barrel vaulted using squared tufaceous stone.

This negative building culture, making use of existing formations rather than creating specialist building materials, can be found throughout the world but is particularly strong in the Mediterranean region. Cappadocia`s underground cities are however unique in their range, their complexity, their variety and possibly in the time periods in which they were developed.

The first mention of these subterranean sites occurs in the works of Xenophon written around 400 BC. Xenophon was a Greek mercenary who took charge of the Ten Thousand after the death of Cyrus, marching across Cappadocia with them:

The houses were built underground; the entrances were like wells but they broadened out lower down. There were tunnels dug in the ground for the animals wkile the men went down by ladder. Inside the houses there were goats, sheep, cows and poultry with their young [...]
There was also wheat, beans, and barley wine in great bowls [...] When one was thirsty, one was meant to take a reed and suck the wine into one's mouth. This barley wine is exceedingly strong and is best mixed with water; but any man who is accustomed to it and drinks it undiluted enjoys its flavor to the full.

Some authorities suggest that the underground cities were created during the earlier period, as storage areas, by the Hittites and were much later extended and brought into use as refuges for Christians persecuted by the Romans. Others maintain that the cities were created somewhat later, by the Phrygians, as a line of defense against the Assyrians. The most commonly held view is that the cities were excavated during Roman and/or Byzantine times. Certainly during these years the region was often beset by internal strife in the form of persecutions of (and by) local Christian communities, and external attacks by the Arabs. After the region was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire, in the 14th Century, the external threat abated, the Byzantines were forced to leave the area and, with the outbreak of peace, the abandonment of the underground cities began.

It is unlikely that the underground cities were ever intended as permanent, or even long stay, settlements, but they were clearly built to withstand attack and could support large numbers of people and their domestic animals, for long periods of time. The urban organization was very complex, and there was probably always work in progress. Extensive networks of passages, tunnels, stepped pits and inclined corridors link family rooms and communal spaces where people would meet, work and worship. The cities were complete with wells, chimneys for air circulation, niches for oil lamps, stores, water tanks, stables and areas where the dead could be placed until such time as conditions on the surface would allow their proper disposal. Most importantly, carefully balanced moving stone doors, resembling mill stones, were devised to quickly block the corridors in the event of an attack. Of course, these doors operated from one side only!

Cappadocia`s subterranean way of life is not all history. Around Göreme subterranean canals are still used for water regulation on the terraced farmland. In the villages of Zelve, Soganlı, and elsewhere. there are still some semi-subterranean rooms in use. The underground storage of produce is common practice particularly around Ortahisar where large quantities of locally grown potatoes and citrus fruits brought from the South coast are stored. The underground sites are particularly useful for storage because, while the outdoor temperature can vary from minus 20° C to nearly 40° C. the internal temperature of the sites remains constant throughout the year at 7° to 15° C (depending on proximity to the air shafts).

Several underground cities are open to visitors. The largest of these, at Derinkuyu has 8 levels open to the public, there may be as many as 12 more levels as yet unexcavated. There are about 600 outside doors to the city, hidden in the courtyards of surface dwellings. There is some speculation that Derinkuyu may be linked to another underground city, Kaymaklı, which is 9 kilometers away.

Cappadocia Sotteranea Commissione Nazionale Cavita` Artificiali
(A Commission of the Italian Spelaeologic Society)
Murat E. Gülyaz and İrfan Ölmez
Published by Dünya Kitap/Kırtasiye Turizm ve Ticaret, Nevşehir, Turkey
Published by Bonnechi / Net

Özkonak Underground City

The underground city in Özkonak Town that is 14 km to Avanos, is constructed on a location where the tuff layers consisting of volcanic, granite layers are too thick on the northern slopes of İdiş Mountain. The underground city has not been completely cleaned yet, but the galleries spread to cleaned large areas are connected to each other through tunnels.

Kaymaklı Underground City

It is in Kaymaklı Town of Nevşehir Province. It is 20 km to Nevşehir. It has 8 floors and its first floor has been made in the Hittite Period. It has been converted into an underground city by carving and expanding other areas in the Roman and Byzantine Periods. Today, its 4 floors are illuminated and opened for visit.

This underground city, which is carved into tuff rocks, has the necessary shelter conditions for temporary living of a group. They have rooms and halls connected to each other via narrow corridors, wine depots, water tanks, kitchen and provision depots, ventilation tunnels, water wells and large bolt stones that close the door from the inner side in order to prevent any dangers that may come from the church and external environment.

Derinkuyu Underground City

It is in Derinkuyu District that is 30 km to Nevşehir, on Nevşehir - Niğde highway. As in Kaymaklı Underground city, there are locations that can shelter a big group and meet their needs. This underground city consists of 8 floors. Being different from Kaymaklı underground city, there is a missioner school, one confession place, baptism pool and a well drawing the attention of the visitors.

Underground cities are structures special to the geological formations of Cappadocia region and such samples are not met in other regions.

Mazı Underground Cities

Mazı Village, whose archaic name was "Mataza", is 18 km south of Ürgüp and 10 km east of Kaymaklı underground city. 4 entrances could be determined at different locations; its main entrance is provide with the corridor made of irregular stones. The large bolt stone in the short corridor takes the entrance and exit of the underground city under control. The small room in the internal side has been made to provide easy movement of the bolt stone. The stables that are spread to the wide areas of the underground settlement are not different from the others. From the stables, the church of the underground city is reached via a short corridor. The entrance of this place can be closed with a bolt stone. The absis of the church is carved at the corner and its front side is ornamented with relief.

Özlüce Underground City

The underground city in the center of Özlüce Village, whose old name was "Zile" is 6 km west of Kaymaklı town on Nevşehir - Derinkuyu highway.

At the entrance, there is a place having two arches interlocked to each other. After that, through a passage of 15 m made of rubble stones, the main tuff rock is reached. The places made of stone providing access to the underground city are newer in comparison with the rock - carved locations forming the main underground city. At the end of this corridor, the bolt stone made of hard granite stone having a diameter of 1.75 m exists.

The main place at the entrance is the largest area of the underground settlement and consists of two parts. On the right of the large place, there are provision depots and on the left of it there are the living rooms. There are cell - type rooms at the sides of the galleries which are very long, and there are traps on the floors.

In case the electrical installation and layout arrangement are made, Özlüce underground city can be opened for tourism.

Tatlarin Church and Underground City

It is 10 km to Acıgöl District of Nevşehir Province. It is at the slope of the hill of Tatlarin town, which is called as the "Fort". The nartex of the church, which has two nefs, two absissa and cradle vault, has been destroyed. The scenes in the frescos that are protected very well are separated from each other with bands. Grey is used on the floor and purple, mustard and red are used in the representations.

The underground city, which is opened for visit in 1991, reminds the military garrison or monastery complex because of the big number of its provision depots, its large places and the big number of churches. The underground city has spread to very large areas, but only a small part could be cleaned. The most important feature of the underground city, two floors of which can be visited now, is its having a toilet, which is not found in other underground cities.