Hidden City Under the Hills of Cappadocia inhabited by 20,000 People

Suara.com – Geena Truman

BBC Travel

More than 85 meters below the hills of Cappadocia lies a large underground city that has been inhabited almost continuously for thousands of years.

Strong winds blow dust into the air as I hike the Valley of Love in Cappadocia, Turkey. Hills with a tinge of pink and yellow stretched between red valleys and chimney-like rocks in the distance.

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The climate is dry, hot and windy, but the views are amazingly beautiful. A thousand years ago, this volcanic area shaped the rocks around me into cones and mushrooms that now attract millions of people to hike or explore in hot air balloons.

However, beneath this hilly area of ​​Cappadocia lies a gigantic network that has been hidden for centuries; an underground city that could keep the whereabouts of up to 20,000 people a secret.

The ancient city of Elengubum or what is now called Derinkuyu, lies more than 85 meters below ground level and includes 18 different tunnels. The largest underground city in the world is almost always inhabited for thousands of years and continues to change hands from the Phyrygians, Persians, to Christians from the Byzantine era.

The city was finally abandoned in 1920 by the Cappadocia Greeks when they lost the Greco-Turkish war and fled to Greece in droves.

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The city contains caves that stretch for hundreds of kilometers and it is believed there are more than 200 small underground villages. The villages were connected to each other by various tunnels forming a giant underground network.

According to my guide, Suleman, Derinkuyu was “re-discovered” in 1963 by an anonymous resident who always lost his pet chickens. While he was renovating his house, the birds disappeared into small crevices and never appeared again.

After conducting investigations and excavations, the Turk found a dark road which turned out to be one of the 600 or so entrances to the city of Derinkuyu.

A massive excavation then took place and revealed a network of rooms, ranging from dry food storage rooms, cattle pens, schools, wine storages, to the chapel.

The underground city was then bustling with tourists and in 1985 it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list.

Exactly when the city was built is still debated. However, the underground city of Derinkuyu is mentioned in the book Anabasis written by Xenophon of Athens around 370 BC. In the book, Xenophon mentions that the Anatolian people around the Cappadocia region lived in underground houses, not in hilly caves.

According to Andrea De Giorgi, professor of classical studies at Florida State University, Cappadocia is a suitable place for underground housing construction because the water content in the soil is low and the rocks are easy to shape using simple tools such as shovels and axes.

“The geomorphology of the area is conducive to the excavation of underground spaces,” he explained.

This also causes the rocks in the area to be easily shaped by nature so that they are shaped like chimneys and mushrooms.

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However, who created Derinkuyu City is still a mystery. The Hittites are often cited as the people responsible for the initial work on the underground tunnels. “They probably excavated the first few layers of rock when they were called the Phrygians around 1200 BC,” says A Bertini, an expert on Mediterranean cave dwelling, in his essay on cave architecture in the region.

This hypothesis is corroborated by the fact that a number of Hittite artifacts were found in Derinkuyu City.

However, most of the city appears to have been built by the Pyrenees who had Iron Age architectural skills and had the ability to construct complex underground facilities.

“The Phrygians were one of the leading early kingdoms in Anatolia. They flourished throughout western Anatolia around the end of the first millennium BC and had the ability to form rock formations and create extraordinary pieces of faade. Although traces of them are hard to find, the kingdom spread to covers western and central Anatolia, including the Derinkuyu area,” said De Giorgi.

Initially, Derinkuyu was very likely to be used as a place to store goods, but its main function was as a temporary hiding place from foreign attacks considering that Cappadocia had always been ruled by a powerful kingdom for centuries.

“The change of kingdom and its impact on the Anatolian region explains the changing function of underground hideouts such as Derinkuyu,” said De Giorgi.

“On time [abad ke-7] when the Islamic government attacked [Kekaisaran Kristen Byzantine] this hideout is being used to its fullest,” De Giorgi added.

Although Phrygians, Persians, and Seljuks inhabited the region and developed underground cities in the following centuries, the population of Derinkuyu reached its greatest extent during the Byzantine period. At that time nearly 20,000 people lived underground.

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You can now taste the experience of living in the underground city of Derinkuyu by paying 60 Turkish Lira or the equivalent of IDR 50,000.

I also tried to get into the narrow tunnels in the underground city. The walls were blackened by centuries of torches burning. Sensation of claustrophobia was slowly felt.

However, despite those feelings, I can witness evidence of the intelligence of the various kingdoms that developed Derinkuyu. Short, purposefully narrow passageways force visitors to navigate the maze of corridors and residences hunched over and in line – clearly an inappropriate position for an intruder.

In the dim light, round stones weighing half a ton block the access doors between each of the 18 levels and the stones can only be moved from the inside.

This small, perfectly round hole in the center of this hefty door would allow residents to stab intruders while maintaining a safe boundary.

“Life underground can be very difficult,” said Suleman, my guide. “Residents defecate in sealed clay jars, live by torches, and dispose of corpses in the area [yang disepakati].”

Each city level is carefully designed for a specific use. Cattle are kept in pens closest to the surface to reduce odors and toxic gases produced by livestock, while providing a warming layer to survive the colder months.

The inner layers of the city contain residences, cellars, schools, and meeting rooms. There is also a traditional Byzantine missionary school on the second floor, complete with an adjacent study.

According to De Giorgi, “evidence of winemaking is based on the presence of cellars, vats for pressing, and amphora [guci tinggi bergagang dua dengan leher sempit].”

These particular chambers suggest that the inhabitants of Derinkuyu are ready to spend months underground.

Most impressive, however, are the complex ventilation systems and sheltered wells that supply the entire city’s residents with fresh air and clean water. In fact, it is thought that the early construction of Derinkuyu centered on these two important elements.

More than 50 ventilation holes, which naturally circulate air into many residences and passageways, are distributed throughout the city to avoid fatal attacks on their air supply. The well was dug more than 55 meters deep and could have been easily cut from below by the townspeople.

While Derinkuyu’s construction is genius, it’s not the only underground city in Cappadocia.

With an area of ​​445 square kilometers, Derinkuyu is simply the largest of the 200 or so lower cities beneath the Anatolian Plain.

More than 40 of these small towns lie three levels or further below the surface. Many are connected to Derinkuyu via carefully dug tunnels, some stretching for nine kilometers. All of them are equipped with emergency escape routes in case of immediate return to the surface. But Cappadocia’s underground secrets haven’t been fully explored.

In 2014, a a new and potentially larger underground city excavated beneath the Nevsehir wilayah region.

Derinkuyu’s life story ended in 1923 when the Greeks of Cappadocia were evacuated. More than 2,000 years after the city was thought to have been formed, Derinkuyu was abandoned for the last time.

Its existence is forgotten by the modern world until some stray chickens bring the underground city back to the public’s mind.

You can read this article in English with the title Turkey’s underground city of 20,000 people on BBC Travel

Source: Suara.com – Informasi Berita Terkini dan Terbaru Hari Ini by www.suara.com.

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