Where is Cappadocia and Derinkuyu?
Cappadocia is the ancient name of present day Nevsehir province of Republic of Turkey. The Cappadocia state was covering five provinces in Central Anatolian Region of our country in the ancient times. Today, Cappadocia term is used for marketing the tourist attractions located in Nevsehir, Aksaray, Nigde and Kayseri provinces. Nevsehir is the gifted city among the other five cities as it is located in the middle of the rich volcanic landscape of Cappadocia. Proximity to the Red River was an advantage to carry the eroded silt away. As a result, the center of the Nevsehir province is full of world famous fairy chimneys. Derinkuyu is just thirty minutes driving distance from the popular center of Cappadocia. You will see the landscape change after driving ten minutes from any central Cappadocia town. Derinkuyu looks like an ordinary farm town upon arrival. However, underneath the small cubic stone houses, there lies the biggest underground city of Cappadocia.
What is an Underground City?
Underground city is a system of caves located in the underground, obviously. Hittite communities started to expand to South of Anatolia. These wine making farmers used to dig caves into the ground before. Thanks to the iron tools, now they were able to carve the soft volcanic rock faster than before. They started to take advantage from the nature of these volcanic rocks and kept their wine. The volcanic rocks are constantly absorbing the humidity and the heat which creates a stable temperature. There is not a dramatic change in the temperatures despite the weather conditions outside. As a result, underground caves are very convenient for wine making and wine cellar uses. Increasing population required more caves in the underground. Along with Hittites, all the communities who reigned in Cappadocia added caves, ventilation shafts, water reservoirs, storages, tunnels, shelters and wineries to the underground. Starting from the 12th Century BC, people of Cappadocia carved caves into the underground until the 12th Century AD. For more than two thousand years, more than a hundred underground cities were carved in Cappadocia. During history, function of the caves have changed as well as their size and depth. First, Hittites used them for wine making, food storage and animal shelters. When they were disturbed by their middle eastern or east European enemies, Hittite communities started to enlarge the caves into the underground and used them for defensive purposes. Growing population required more shelters so the underground cities were enlarged by the other civilizations once ruled Cappadocia. Phrygians and Romans used them for same reason like Hittites. But the biggest contributors to the architecture of the underground cities are Greek, Roman and Anatolian people who accepted Christianity before the Roman Empire. To protect form the Christian Persecution, underground cities reached to their present day sizes. The main purpose of the underground cities have changed after Turks arrived to Cappadocia. Underground cities did not expand after the thirteenth century because of lack of wars. People continued to use the superficial caves for the very same reasons as Hittites but the deeper caves were forgotten because no one needed to shelter from an enemy. Upcoming generations forgot the underground caves deeper levels. After the population exchange in between Greeks and Turks, Underground cities importance were forgotten. But in 1960s, two underground cities were converted to museums by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. Since 1985, Derinkuyu Underground city is a UNESCO Heritage Site.
Derinkuyu Underground City
Derinkuyu Underground City reached to present day condition during the Roman Ages. The underground city is named after the town which was called Malakopea in Greek. The huge ventilation shaft of the underground city was also a water well to the people living on the surface. New Turkish settlers of Malakopea named after their new home after the well and called it Derinkuyu meaning deep well. This is a very nice coincidence as the underground city of Derinkuyu is the deepest cave dwelling in Cappadocia region. The caves were rediscovered by a curious villager. He started to wonder what was behind the walls in his caves underneath his house. After deconstructing them, he found more caves reaching deeper. A few years later, the dwellings were converted to a museum. The city has more than eight levels, wineries, linseed oil factories, shelters, storages, kitchens, ventilation shafts, grave yards, water reservoirs, waterwells, stalls, churches and most importantly a theological school. The most impressive artefacts of the underground cities are stone wheel doors which will take you to an Indiana Jones movie stage. The numerous stone doors are showing the numerous attacks these people had to shelter from. The circular stairs taking you deeper after entering to the stall of the underground city is like exploring a chateau in Middle Ages. After reaching to storage area, you are able to use the one way tunnel to reach to the bottom of the underground city. The church, grave yard, water well and the bottom of the ventilation shaft can be seen in the deepest level of the underground city. On the way back to the sunlight, you are able to see more storages, wineries and the theological school located relatively closer to the surface. In the high season, the underground city can be very crowded to see in the morning and in the afternoon. We highly recommend you to visit Derinkuyu underground city in the middle of the day to avoid the tourist crowds and strong sun of Cappadocia.
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