The allure of the underground city
August 31, 2007 8:21 AM   Subscribe

Derinkuyu wasn't discovered until 1965, when a resident cleaning the back wall of his cave house broke through a wall and discovered behind it a room that he'd never seen, which led to still another, and another. Eventually, spelunking archeologists found a maze of connecting chambers that descended at least 18 stories and 280 feet beneath the surface, ample enough to hold 30,000 people. [flickr]. [wiki].
posted by dersins (48 comments total) 74 users marked this as a favorite

 
*packs up his fifty feet of rope, 10 foot pole and iron rations, warms up his infravision, and heads to Turkey*
posted by dersins at 8:23 AM on August 31, 2007 [2 favorites]


Very nice! Thanks for posting this.
posted by zerobyproxy at 8:25 AM on August 31, 2007


What the hell? It's like a Heinlein lunar colony, but in Turkey.
posted by DU at 8:31 AM on August 31, 2007


dersins, buddy, you might wanna pack a longsword.

...and a cleric, as long as that place sat unoccupied...
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:33 AM on August 31, 2007


When I visited Cappadoccia a few years back we stayed in Guzelyurt, which has carved churches and an underground village (rather than a city). A couple of small children served as our guide of the underground village in return for a few million lira, carrying lightbulbs in with them.
posted by handee at 8:35 AM on August 31, 2007


That's like some kind of dream (what's the opposite of a nightmare?) "I walked around the side of my house, and there was a four car garage I'd never seen, then I looked through the bushes in the yard and there was an Olympic sized pool..."
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:36 AM on August 31, 2007


Not going to Cappadoccia was one of my few regrets from my short trip to Turkey. Can you imagine how awesome it would have been to have just kept quiet about this and gone from a two room cave house to a 12,000 room cave house? Also, I love MeFi posts that use quotes from books. Kudos dersins.
posted by jessamyn at 8:37 AM on August 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


Can you imagine how awesome it would have been to have just kept quiet about this and gone from a two room cave house to a 12,000 room cave house?

It would be like Snoopy's or Oscar's (the Grouch) house. You'd go knock on the guy's door and you'd hear all this walking and stair-climbing and elevator sounds and doors opening and closing and like 15 minutes later he'd open the door. Inside is just this one-room hovel. Where were you??
posted by DU at 8:42 AM on August 31, 2007 [11 favorites]


I have been inside this underground city. Along with some of the other geological features nearby, it probably justifies the smoky fourteen hour bus ride from Istanbul.

If you find yourself staying in the nearby town of Goreme, the Goreme Restaurant has excellent mezze and provides ample opportunity to drink raki and play backgammon in the evenings.
posted by sindark at 8:44 AM on August 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


I almost checked out the underground city when I was in Cappadoccia a few years ago. However, an intense bout of Ataturk's Revenge required that I not stray further than 20 feet from an outhouse. I did enjoy my stay in a hostel that was carved into a fairy chimney, and I was eventually able to wander a little bit around the Goreme Valley. An amazing, unique place.
posted by otolith at 8:49 AM on August 31, 2007


A flickr search for Goreme Valley also yields some incredible photos of the area.
posted by otolith at 8:57 AM on August 31, 2007


If you'd like to learn more about underground cities, watch Cities of the Underworld on the History Channel. Or visit your local library. [end Blossom-very-special-episode-mode]

They've done a Cappadoccia episode too, one of the better episodes, if I recall correctly.
posted by John Kenneth Fisher at 8:57 AM on August 31, 2007


Arg, I can't believe I went to Turkey and missed this! Though I wasn't there very long...

A well-written article, decent pictures and an amazing subject -- definitely, "best of the web" -- thanks!
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:59 AM on August 31, 2007


This happened to me.
posted by Henry C. Mabuse at 9:06 AM on August 31, 2007


Goddamn I wanna go back there. I hate you now.
posted by aramaic at 9:15 AM on August 31, 2007


Wow! I'm following Dershins. This is too cool, I must see it!
posted by dejah420 at 9:42 AM on August 31, 2007


Brilliant post, thanks.

(So wish I didn't have coward's claustrophobia. Not the real deal, just tediously unyouthful timidity about caves...)
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:49 AM on August 31, 2007


Sweet post.

I love BLDBLOG. Consistently interesting and well written and sometimes from far far far out of left field.
posted by From Bklyn at 9:56 AM on August 31, 2007


I've been to Goreme and into many of these nearby troglodyte features and really, this is one of the most amazing places you can go to on Earth. Turkey is such a vast and amazing land.
posted by Rumple at 10:00 AM on August 31, 2007


The Rock Churches of Ethiopia are also extremely cool.
posted by Rumple at 10:05 AM on August 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


You know who else went to Turkey and missed this?

Billy Hayes
posted by Smedleyman at 10:10 AM on August 31, 2007 [1 favorite]


I'm booking a trip to Turkey as we speak.
posted by smackwich at 10:10 AM on August 31, 2007


I was just going to pimp the Cappadoccia episode of Cities of the Underworld but I see I've been beaten to the punch. It really is a very cool documentary.

It's stories like this that keep me digging in my back yard. I'm certain that eventually, I'll find some ancient Indian burial tomb that leads to a massive underground complex filled with adventures.

Of course the wife's opinion on the subject is "will you please stop putting all those holes in my garden..."

She's no fun sometimes.
posted by quin at 10:13 AM on August 31, 2007


Been there. done that. Amazing place. People lived there for YEARS. Really claustrophobia-inducing.
posted by lalochezia at 10:13 AM on August 31, 2007


Not going to Cappadoccia was one of my few regrets from my short trip to Turkey.

Same here. Thanks for this amazing post!
posted by languagehat at 10:26 AM on August 31, 2007


I'm not sure I trust my sense of direction underground. I'd like a geolocative system that works everywhere. Maybe an accelerometer (underground) & a GPS system (above ground) together could work.
posted by Pronoiac at 10:31 AM on August 31, 2007


The thing that really startles me about this.... these things are gigantic! They must have taken thousands of people working for decades to dig them all out.

How on earth were they just... forgotten? Was it deliberate, where one generation of parents simply didn't tell their kids? Or did something really terrible happen?
posted by Malor at 11:05 AM on August 31, 2007


Great post!
posted by andythebean at 11:09 AM on August 31, 2007


Great post. If you go, though, dersins, make sure you don't lean against the skull sitting on the lip of the well as one of your companions reads about the fate of this relatives down below...
posted by Arch1 at 11:51 AM on August 31, 2007


"How on earth were they just... forgotten? Was it deliberate, where one generation of parents simply didn't tell their kids? Or did something really terrible happen?"

A very good question, Malor.

One Turkish commenter from the post's first link wrote:
"For example there are lots of tunnels in Istanbul, lots of them are closed by nature or by humans and no one investigates them much."

(I couldn't find anything else, and I haven't seen the TV series about similar cities).

I 2nd your query - was it some natural disaster - like an earthquake -that blocked the old entrances until they faded from memory?
posted by Jody Tresidder at 12:11 PM on August 31, 2007


handee: A couple of small children served as our guide of the underground village in return for a few million lira, carrying lightbulbs in with them.

To insert into the lightbulb sockets the ancients carved into the living rock?
posted by notyou at 12:50 PM on August 31, 2007


This reminded me of a novel that was sorta popular a few years back: House of Leaves.
posted by notyou at 12:54 PM on August 31, 2007


When we were visiting Cappadoccia we took a tour of the underground city. A couple folks in the group found out they were claustrophobic just at the wrong time and really freaked out. The place was amazing though, I'm glad I went.

You really get a feeling for the size of them as you walk and walk and walk. At one point during the tour, a 12 year boy with the group stepped backward into the darkness and dropped down a foot, but you could tell that he wasn't sure if he was about to fall down a bottomless pit from the look on his face as he started to go. Watch your step.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 12:54 PM on August 31, 2007


Pronoiac: I'm not sure I trust my sense of direction underground. I'd like a geolocative system that works everywhere. Maybe an accelerometer (underground) & a GPS system (above ground) together could work.

Maybe dershins could loan you a sheet or two of his graph paper.
posted by notyou at 12:57 PM on August 31, 2007


Awesome post.I too did not finish Foucault's Pendulum.
posted by BrotherCaine at 12:59 PM on August 31, 2007


It needn't have been anything particularly sinister, Malor. You'd be surprised by how quickly a society can forget cool subterranean caverns.

After the 60 miles of freight tunnels beneath Chicago were closed off in the late fifties, people simply forgot or were incurious about the locked and boarded tunnel entrances in their basements. When the river broke into the system in 1992, the city was completely surprised when those same basements and the subways were flooded with fish-filled water.
posted by Iridic at 1:00 PM on August 31, 2007


You'd be surprised by how quickly a society can forget cool subterranean caverns.

Another case in point: The Cincinnati subway, which I just posted about the other day.
posted by dersins at 1:21 PM on August 31, 2007


I'm sure I had a dream once about exactly this, breaking through some wall in my basement and entering a huge underground complex.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:31 PM on August 31, 2007


Kinda looks like the caves in the City Museum in St. Louis, only way, way bigger.
posted by zsazsa at 2:54 PM on August 31, 2007


Amazing post. Thank you. I can't wait to see this someday.
posted by Espoo2 at 3:57 PM on August 31, 2007


Another great post from dersins--now I can add this place to my list of must-see attractions, after the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 6:19 PM on August 31, 2007


Do these date from Byzantine times? Or are they Turkish?
posted by nasreddin at 6:48 PM on August 31, 2007


Those Ethiopian rock churches are awesome.

And speaking of awesome, anyone having trouble with "Foucault's Pendulum" would do well to seek out the talking book version, with none other than Tim Curry reading.

It is unfortunately abridged, but still, I'd highly recommend it.
posted by stinkycheese at 7:05 PM on August 31, 2007


nasreddin: early Christian hideouts, as I recall.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:00 PM on August 31, 2007


nice post.
posted by advil at 11:20 PM on August 31, 2007


"For example there are lots of tunnels in Istanbul, lots of them are closed by nature or by humans and no one investigates them much."

Well, good.

They sealed them in order to contain SHUB-NIGGURATH, THE BLACK GOAT OF THE WOODS WITH A THOUSAND YOUNG!

Iä! Iä!

Sheesh.
posted by exlotuseater at 11:58 PM on August 31, 2007


Do these date from Byzantine times? Or are they Turkish?

Much earlier. From the Wikipedia article: "First built by the Phrygians in the 8th-7th centuries B.C according to the Turkish Department of Culture, the underground city at Derinkuyu was enlarged in the Byzantine era."
posted by languagehat at 5:42 AM on September 1, 2007


Wow. Move over Diefenbunker, I've got a new dream house!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 5:36 PM on September 2, 2007


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