CAPPADOCIA’S UNDERGROUND LABYRINTHS OF LIFE

CAPPADOCIA’S UNDERGROUND LABYRINTHS OF LIFE

THE UNDERGROUND CITIES IN CAPPADOCIA, TAKING PLACE IN THE ‘WORTH SEEING’ LIST, ARE PLACES NOT TO BE MISSED TO SEE,

ALTHOUGH THEY CAUSE CLAUSTROPHOBIA IN SOME, WITH NARROW TUNNELS AND LABYRINTHS. 

C

appadocia has breathtaking geography. Underground structures, too, leave the same impression on people. Underground cities in the ‘worth seeing’ list with narrow tunnels and labyrinths, although they cause claustrophobia in some people, are not to be missed in Cappadocia. There are 36 confirmed cave cities in Cappadocia to date. However, this number is estimated to reach up to 150-200.

From shelter to production facility

In fact, these underground cities were not built as permanent residences or long-term accommodation but were built to withstand attacks. They had long been a refuge for many people and even animals. It is also known that they were not only shelters but the inhabitants of the city were engaged in productive activities. It would not be wrong to date these underground settlements to the first civilizations in the region, the Prehistoric period. Humans of that age, who knew the stone processing well, could construct a few rooms of underground settlements by carving soft tuff with simple tools. These settlements had always been expanded by various communities coming to Cappadocia and the most widespread use was in the Byzantine period. 

Places of defensive instinct  

These settlements were often built with a deep-engraving of soft tuff. There is not enough information about both the construction techniques and the population, but it is certain that the Cappadocia region was frequently attacked. This gives us important information about the purpose of building these cities. The underground cities where the people temporarily sheltered were also linked to many houses in the region with secret passages. Difficult to reach rooms, traps, new rooms towards the bottom of the rocks were prepared when needed for defense in these rock houses. Over time, the defensive instinct of the local people led to the expansion of corridors and galleries to become underground cities. Galleries were low, narrow and long to create obstacles in front of the enemy. There were candles and oil lamps in the small cavities on the corridor walls for lighting purposes. 

Labyrinth of life

The family rooms and common areas where people met, worked and worshiped were connected by tunnels, stepped pits and sloping corridors. The architecture of the cities was not only consisted of these; wells, funnels for air circulation, niches for oil lamps, storage, water tanks, stables and areas where the dead were kept until the conditions on the ground were appropriate, and areas to be used for long periods of time such as living areas, and even cemetery areas. There were also ventilation shafts, often connected to the ground of the underground settlements, both for ventilation and for communication. They were also used as water wells and their mouths were not intended to be linked to the earth to prevent the enemy from poisoning the water.

Sheltered and strategic 

Derinkuyu Underground City, which is located in Derinkuyu (deep well) district, is 30 km from Nevşehir, the deepest one among the underground cities as the name gives it away. It is highly probable that the first settlement of the Derinkuyu Underground City extends to the Assyrian colonies and that the early Christians may have escaped persecution and oppression and took refuge there. Considering the construction purposes and architectures of the underground cities in Cappadocia, Derinkuyu Underground City appears to be more equipped among them. There were 600 exterior doors hidden in the courtyards of the ground houses, making it possible to reach the eight-story city with a depth of about 85 m. The city, the entrance of which was not very clear from the outside, was designed in such a way that according to some sources, 20 thousand people and to some other sources 50 thousand people could live and remain protected. There were sections such as dining areas, pantry, warehouse, kitchen, barn, fermenting rooms, church and cistern on the floors connected by tiers and narrow corridors. In addition to these places, which can be seen in each Cappadocia underground city, there was also a missionary school in this city. The school’s ceiling was covered with a barrel vault in an unusual manner in the area. The cross-shaped church carved into the second floor of the underground city was reached by stairs from the 3rd and 4th floors. Derinkuyu Underground City is a city built for defensive purposes and has many interesting features. It’s not a coincidence that there is ‘well’ in its name. There were water wells in the city which reached 55-60 meters deep. These wells not only met the water requirement but also functioned as ventilation shafts. These shafts did not have any connection to the earth in order to prevent the enemy from climbing down to mix poison into the water. The city was discovered in 1963 and some of it was cleaned and opened to visitors in 1967.

UNESCO World Heritage 

Kaymaklı Underground City is one of the most important underground cities of Cappadocia. The city was built in the town of Kaymaklı, 20 km from Nevşehir, under the hill known as “Kaymaklı Castle”. Although it has not been fully revealed yet, it provides solid clues about being Cappadocia’s one of the largest and most populous underground cities due to the richness of its discovered sections. The largest city among the underground cities was opened to visitors in 1964 and has been listed in the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1984. The people of the town of Kaymaklı built their houses around a hundred tunnels of the underground city. The people still pass through these tunnels opening to their courtyards, using the underground spaces as cellars, storage or stables. In comparison with Derinkuyu, Kaymaklı is different in terms of both its plan and establishment.

Coppersmith’s work from the prehistoric ages 

The most important part of the underground city is the third floor. There were many supply stores, fermenting rooms, and kitchens in here. One of the most interesting places on this floor is the copper processing workshop. A large amount of andesite stone, a lava formation, was found in these workshops. This andesite stone, which is immediately noticeable with its different structure, was used to break the ore of copper.  There were grooves, 10 cm in diameter, on this hard volcanic rock. The ore of copper was placed into these grooves and hammered and processed. This is the proof that copper processing methods known from prehistoric times have been applied here. The last floor discovered in the underground city, the fourth floor of the wineries, has many food storage rooms reserved for the pottery and plenty of spacious production, processing, and storage places, proving that the people lived in this city had a stable economy and they continued their daily work underground in the same way they did on the ground. Although Kaymaklı is thought to be connected with Derinkuyu, hidden tunnels within 10 km distance between the two have not been found yet.