In 1963, one Turkish homeowner stumbled across a fascinating historical discovery… on his own property. It all began when he discovered something strange while renovating his home. This is his story.
The Forgotten City
There are those who, every few years, decide their home needs a makeover. That means it's time to throw out old furniture, repaint the walls, and maybe get rid of that carpet that's been there for ages.
As we clean out our homes to prepare for the project, it's easy to get distracted by memories that come up as we discover belongings we've forgotten about. But instead of coming across, say, an old T-shirt, one Turkish homeowner, accidentally discovered a lost underground city that had been hidden for centuries…
Renovating the Basement
This person probably never imagined that what he planned to be a simple DIY project would suddenly become a historical discovery. Our story begins where the humble man's adventure all started: the basement of his home. Since he couldn't afford to hire a professional contractor for the job, he took matters into his own hands...
His first task was to knock down a few walls of the basement using a sledgehammer - and he quickly realized it wasn't going to be easy. The man hit wood and stone for hours, which slowly turned to days. Little did he know he was about to get a lot more than he bargained for when he took on this arduous task...
Hammering Through the Wall
After many days - which felt more like years - of hammering through the plaster and hard stone of the wall, the resulting hole was finally large enough to reveal what lay on the other side. Throughout his hard work, he had been surprised to see the space behind the wall was hollow.
But that didn't mean there was nothing on the other side. Stepping closer for a better look, he realized it was too dark to make out any recognizable objects. The spiraling dust from the crumbled stone didn't help, either. He took out a flashlight and peered through the hole - and what he saw left him speechless...
A Strange Feeling
The anonymous homeowner knew he had to find a way to break down more of the stone wall. Quickly resuming the laborious task, he continued to widen the hole in the wall until it revealed a much larger and deeper space than he'd thought. The air that rushed in from the other side of the wall felt different...
The air was stale, yet it felt cool and ventilated - and it stirred his curiosity enough to make him set down his tools and begin his adventure. He didn't have the faintest idea what would be waiting for him on the other end of the mysterious space, but he wanted to find out. And so he began his descent down into the Earth…
The Dark Chamber
As he slowly and steadily stepped further down into the darkness, flashlight in hand, he supposed he would eventually stumble upon an underground cave. However, by the time he had reached the end of the pitch-black opening, he realized he was completely wrong.
Eventually, the man reached a dark chamber. As he looked around, he saw rooms that appeared to be rather narrow and cramped. Disappointed by what he'd found, the man ventured deeper into the chamber, knowing he needed to be careful of the venomous snakes, spiders, and scorpions that could be lurking nearby.
An Eerie Echo
Further into the tunnel our brave explorer went, fascinated by how wide the tunnels were so far under the ground. The chamber was completely silent, except for the sound of his own breath and footsteps. But suddenly, he heard an echo - like a fallen stone - that made him freeze.
Since the stone walls were smooth as can be, the man wondered what could have caused the sudden noise. Plucking up the courage to move forward despite the signs of warning, he held his flashlight tightly and carried on. Deeper and deeper into the tunnels he went, pressing the walls with his hands to find his way...
Consumed by Curiosity
But underneath his bravery was a feeling of apprehension that plagued the homeowner with every step he took. He found himself wondering just how far he could go before his curiosity surrendered to his fear. Would he fall and be left in the dark, unable to call for help? Or would he lose his way in the maze of tunnels?
But the underground caverns weren't only made of tunnels with crossroads and turns. The man was surprised to find stairs and door archways that led him to believe this space wasn't created by nature. Swinging his flashlight around, he soon came to the conclusion that he had just stumbled upon a man-made creation.
Full of Mysteries
The man's flashlight soon revealed more features of the cave that confirmed his suspicions. For starters, the layout of the caverns couldn't have been a coincidence. But the realization only increased the man's curiosity about this massive underground space: who created it? For what purpose? And why did they leave?
Still determined to find the answers to his questions, our explorer went on through the darkness. He soon found himself walking through long shafts, with several underground rooms appearing before his eyes. Soon enough, he realized people used to live in this underground space.
A Shocking Discovery
It was only after reaching this conclusion that the man began to interpret his surroundings correctly. At the start of his journey, he thought he had discovered a small underground cave used as a storage facility or tomb. He now realized that what he originally believed were caverns were actually hallways that led to chambers.
As the Turkish homeowner moved forward, he could taste the sandy air, which smelled like cold well water. Little did he know, he would soon realize that his little adventure was actually a major discovery. This wasn't just a huge cave: it was a long-lost, underground city.
The Turkish homeowner was surprised that he didn't get lost as he made his way back to his house through the maze of tunnels. When he was finally above the ground, he informed the Turkish authorities of what he had discovered. They had to do quite a lot of investigating at the site before they realized what they had found...
The archaeologists soon concluded that what they had been examining was the lost subterranean city of Derinkuyu. For a long time, scholars had believed the city to be mythical, like the fictional island of Atlantis or El Dorado, the city of gold in South America. But this city was real, and it was almost 3,000 years old.
An Ancient History
Needless to say, this information came as a shock to the homeowner. But unfortunately, his questions had yet to be answered. Historians were still uncertain who built the network of tunnels. A theory by the Turkish Department of Culture suggested it was an ancient Indo-European group of people called the Phrygians.
The Phrygians were originally from the Southern Balkans, or southeastern Europe, but inhabited central-western Anatolia in around 1180 B.C. They might just be the masterminds behind the city of Derinkuyu since carbon dating estimates it was constructed sometime between 780-1180 B.C.
It’s All in the Details
Historians believe that when Derinkuyu was originally built, it was smaller than its remains today suggest. It's believed to have been expanded in the Byzantine era to accommodate over 20,000 people. Not only that, but it's one of the largest ancient underground structures created by humans.
The underground city's 18 stories that stretch deep below Earth's surface make it a truly remarkable construction. Its depth extends 200 feet into the Earth - almost the same height as the Statue of Liberty - and a close examination of it shows how immaculate and precise its construction is.
But the researchers insisted on finding out more about Derinkuyu. Soon enough, they discovered that the first known inhabitants of the region were an ancient Anatolian people called the Hittites. The Hittites created an empire that ruled the Fertile Crescent - known today as Turkey - starting around 1600 B.C.
But the downfall of their empire turned the region into a setting where political conflict took place. It wasn't long before the Persian Empire seized control over modern-day Iraq until around 330 BC. It could have been under this political reality that Derinkuyu was built. But researchers needed to know more…
Who Was Behind It?
Archaeologists soon found a connection between Derinkuyu and Hittite settlements. Several Hittite-style artifacts were discovered in the caverns, leading most scholars to theorize that they could have been the original creators of the city. But after the Hittite Empire collapsed, the Phrygians took over the underground caverns.
This could only mean one thing: the underground city could be more than 5,000 years old! And over the millennia, it became the home of multiple civilizations, including the Persians, Macedonians, Greeks, Armenians, and other ancient empires. So who built the mysterious underground city?
Depths of History
Researchers began asking more questions about Derinkuyu, trying to discover as much as possible about its history. Why was it built? One theory suggested that the extensive war across the region in ancient times made it important for people to find safe refuge from invaders.
It seems like an underground city would be a perfect place to seek shelter and protection from the blood battles happening on the surface. And the way it was constructed - with multiple kitchens, large bedchambers, and a place of worship - it appeared its inhabitants could go quite a while without having to resurface.
A Series of Battles
But who were the Phrygians hiding from? A quick scan of Macedonian history just might give us the answer. It was no secret that the ancient empire that ruled the Middle East had its heart set on the great Persian territories. And it wasn't long before the Emperor, Alexander the Great, began to expand the empire.
Once his 10-year-long series of campaigns began, Alexander the Great didn't stop until he reached the borders of India. The fierce emperor conquered several territories throughout his expansion and finally took over Persia sometime between 336-323 BC.
Let's now fast forward our history lesson to 300 years later, when the Byzantine Empire began to collapse. The region then saw the rise of the Arabians, who fought against their Roman neighbors. The bloodshed lasted 400 years, and it was the nation's cities - including Derinkuyu - that paid the price.
The people who resided in these cities sought a way to shelter themselves and their families from the war. Fortunately for the people of Derinkuyu, a huge underground city gave them a chance to live in peace. They could stay safe far underneath the surface of the ground.
100 Different Entrances
In fact, it wasn't only during these wars that the people of Derinkuyu would find refuge in the subterranean city. Their trips to the underground area were frequent, and they included the people's livestock as well. It's no wonder there are 100 different entrances to this hidden city!
Although it might be easy for invaders to locate one of the 100 entrances, it would still be too narrow to allow more than one man to travel through at a time. So even if an entrance was discovered, it still wouldn't be hard for the people of Derinkuyu to take them down, one by one.
More Than Meets the Eye
When we picture a whole civilization of people fleeing from invaders to an underground city, it's easy to believe they were defenseless individuals whose only skill was farming the land. But don't underestimate the citizens of Derinkuyu, who were clever at using the underground labyrinth to their advantage.
Every one of the tunnel-filled levels of the underground city could be sealed by giant boulders to block intruders from coming in. Since most outsiders - like our Turkish homeowner - were unfamiliar with the network, the city's inhabitants could use its inner workings to their advantage.
A Brilliant Design
Their knowledge of the underground tunnels made it easy for these citizens to quickly flee to the lower levels of the 18-story city. The space was also cleverly designed to make sure it could store and provide enough food, water, and ventilation for weeks at a time.
But what makes the construction particularly fascinating is that it was all constructed by firelight. Whoever built it seemed to think of everything - from underground wells that could only be accessed from the underground city to intricate ventilation systems connected to the surface for proper airflow.
Out of Sight
These people were smart about the design of the ventilation system, too. They strategically placed the shafts that connected to the surface in a way that ensured they would remain concealed from invaders. Oftentimes, they would appear as natural divots in the landscape that could potentially host dangerous animals like snakes.
The people of Derinkuyu couldn't ask for a better place to hide. All it took was a one-minute heads up for them to turn the city above the ground into a totally abandoned town. If it seemed there was nothing to take and no one to steal from, the only thing that would make sense for the invaders to do was simply move on.
As archaeologists searched the site, they discovered a lot more than just kitchens and living quarters. They also managed to find stables, wine cellars, stores, and classrooms. It looked like the people of Derinkuyu could camp out in the underground city for months at a time with no problem.
When we think about it, it makes a lot of sense for the underground city to be able to sustain a whole civilization for such a long time. After all, the wars they lived under lasted hundreds of years, so they had to find a way to live through them - and underground bunkers were the solution.
Felt Like Home
But unlike in the WWII bunkers of our modern era, citizens weren't found huddling together in fear in the underground city. They pretty much functioned as a normal society - spending their days at their jobs and with their families. Besides having no contact with the world above the ground, Derinkuyu felt like home.
To ensure their security, these people sacrificed a lot, including basking in the warm sunshine or gazing up at the sky on a starry night. A lot of patience was needed to survive during these times, too. But their determination to make life under the ground work made it possible for them to evade the horrors of war.
A Solution to Every Problem
And when we say these people thought of everything, we mean everything - including the possibility of their beloved underground city of Derinkuyu being discovered. Luckily, the underground tunnels were designed to also connect to neighboring cities for the citizens to directly escape to, should the need ever arise.
On top of that, there was the option to seal off several levels of the underground city if they learned that the enemy had found a way into the tunnels. These citizens also made sure they had the right equipment to fight back if it ever came to a direct encounter with the soldiers.
Disposing of the Dead
And what about the dead? Well, there was room for those, too - even with a large population of 20,000 people. Despite it seeming like a challenge to dispose of deceased bodies in the vast underground city, the people of Derinkuyu knew how to make it work.
The people who built the ancient underground city made room for temporary tombs to be built into the city's plan. Archaeologists researching the site assume that they were used to hold the dead in isolated chambers until they could be brought up above the ground for a proper burial.
The story of the original inhabitants of the ancient underground city remains a mystery to researchers today. As time went on, the region witnessed several major changes, including revolutions, evolution, expansion, and development. More cities were built to house new generations of people, and the years of war decreased.
The mighty Byzantine Empire eventually collapsed and slowly became a part of what would later become the Ottoman Empire in the early 1400s. And once again, people took refuge in the chambers of the underground city as the Turkish rulers took over...
Back to the Modern Era
Jumping out of our ancient history scan back to the 20th century - or 1963, to be exact - our story follows the humble Turkish homeowner whose only plans for that day were to renovate his home. Instead, he went on an adventure that would become an important part of history and research.
And what our protagonist discovered on that day - the ancient underground city of Derinkuyu - wasn't the only one of its kind. In fact, Turkey is filled with several underground cities in the area, which many civilizations across history have used for centuries.
An Underlying Meaning
The Turkish region in which Derinkuyu is located - Cappadocia’s Nevşehir Province - is home to more than 200 underground cities. However, with most of them being merely two to four levels deep, the 18-story underground city is by far more impressive.
So it seems that the residents of this province of Turkey all agreed that life underground for long periods at a time was a good idea. And with that amount of war and bloodshed, who could blame them? All these underground cities had one common purpose: to shield their residents from the dangers above ground.
But it still remains to be discovered who exactly was responsible for the intricate construction of Derinkuyu. While the Turkish Department of Culture believes it was built by the Phrygians, others remain unconvinced. Today, the city still holds the title of the largest underground settlement in the country.
Like the theories surrounding the masterminds behind the Pyramids of Giza, there are those who believe that the ancient city of Derinkuyu was built with extraterrestrial help. According to these people, an underground city designed to accommodate over 20,000 people couldn't have been built merely to escape war.
The Legacy Continues
But whether the underground city was built as a result of wars between nations or as part of an extraterrestrial agenda, there's one thing everyone can agree on: it certainly is miraculous. Its design reminds us a lot of other ancient wonders of the world, like the Egyptian Pyramids.
The idea alone that it was constructed as a strategy for survival could be enough to explain how an astounding structure came to be. And the beauty behind its story is that working together as a community, its residents managed to create a bubble of peace and prosperity that never burst under the horrors of endless wars.