Derinkuyu – The Cappadocian underground city
The largest excavated underground multi-level Turkish city.
Almost three thousand years ago, people were digging the soft volcanic rocks of Cappadocia (a central part of today’s Turkey) and found their hiding places there. In these, we could say, cities, people lived throughout the centuries. Some because of their fears, some because of their needs or just because of strange destinies. They lived there until 1920, and then moved out to the surface of the Earth.
They left us underground cities of Cappadocia, about thirty-five of them, dug into the rock and interconnected with kilometers of corridors. One of them – Derinkuyu, attracted me with its eight underground floors, fifty-five meters below the surface. This one is the largest underground city discovered in Turkey. Today, for nearly 15 USD, we can enjoy the half of the city, in which twenty thousand people used to find their shelter together with the cattle and the necessities for life. Of course, we can go inside only if we don’t suffer from claustrophobia, asthma, if high humidity don’t bother us and if we aren’t some NBA basketball players. At least I am not the basketball player, so I dared to take narrow passage to deep underground.
That deep draw-well (Derinkuyu means just that) is made for the people of lower growth, in which I was assured several times hitting my head against the low hallway’s ceiling. Because the city inhabitants were probably not suffering from obesity, there was no need to build a broad corridors. In those passes only medieval kings and some modern visitors might have some problems. But I would not bet that Derinkuyans (we would probably call them that way today) were deprived of joys of life. The wine tank was right beside the water one and common pantry was pretty big.
Anyway, life underground must have not been easy, and the circumstances that people made living so deep below the surface must have been terrible, relentless, vicious. The “stone gates” at the entrance to each of the basement floors, equipped with a large millstone which is managed only from the inside can make us imagine why they were forced to protect themselves that way. Picture of a huge round rocks is sitting on my mind ever since the Croatian old-school traveler, late Zeljko Malnar, discovered this interesting area to me. Now I’m touching a cold surface damp stone so proudly, to feel a connection with the former inhabitants of the city, or with our explorer, adventurer and a unique phenomenon in the last century world of travels.
Here begins the magic that creeps me out, even today, one year after I left Cappadocia. That feeling, entering to the underworld, is not measurable with my memories of different dugouts and caves of Croatia, Slovenia, Lebanon or central Israel. It was a city that lived its life of thousands of people, a place of their love and fear, of birth and death. Sitting on a rock and resting of hunched walking, in the dark corner of the room I saw a cat watching me with glittering eyes. When she turned her head I instinctively did the same and looked in the same direction, but a second after that I turned my head back and realised that cat was gone. Maybe it was just fatigue, maybe a lack of oxygen deep underground, but tingling I feel even today when I’m writing my story, occurs every time when I remember that moment. If you would travel to Cappadocia, just take a look, maybe she’s still there.
Generations of inhabitants of this place didn’t left us any furniture to see how they arranged their underground life. We only have bare, empty and somewhat creepy rooms. What remained is, however, the memory of a world in which I wouldn’t like to live. I, somehow, prefer the surface of the Earth.
December 25, 2018
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