As I walked through Cappadocia’s Love Valley in Turkey, dust was blown by a brisk wind. Pink and yellow hillsides colored the landscape with deep red valleys.
Also, smokestack-like rock formations could be seen in the distance. Thousands of years ago, the turbulent volcanic environment naturally formed these towers. Located in central Turkey, millions of people visit this place for sightseeing and hot air balloon rides.
But beneath the crumbling surface of Cappadocia, a subterranean city has been hidden for centuries, housing the secret of 20,000 people.
The ancient city of Elengubu, known today as Teringuyu, was surrounded by 18 levels of caverns more than 85 meters below the earth’s surface. The world’s largest excavated underground city has been in continuous use for thousands of years. The city was abandoned by the Cappadocian Greeks in the 1920s following their defeat during the Greco-Turkish War. Not only are its cave-like chambers hundreds of miles long, but the more than 200 small and separate underground cities discovered in the area are connected to these cavernous passageways, and appear to form a vast underground network.
According to my tour guide Suleman, Deringuyu was rediscovered in 1963 by a local resident. When he renovated his house, his chickens kept disappearing. Chickens that enter burrows dug to renovate, then disappear. As this continued, he discovered a darkened passage when he dug the place.
This is the first attempt to discover the 600 entrances to this underground city of Deringu that are inside private houses.
Excavations that began immediately revealed a complex network of underground dwellings, dry food storage, cattle sheds, schools, wineries and a church. An entire civilization was safely buried underground there. After that, thousands of Turkish tourists started visiting the place. Then, in 1985, Teringuyu was added to the list of UNESCO heritage cities.
There is no definite information about when this city was founded. But, AD Xenophon’s Anabasis, written in 370, contains references to Teringyu. In that book, he noted that the Anatolian people in or near Cappadocia lived in dug-out houses, rather than the well-known hillside cave dwellings of the region.
Cappadocia is well-suited for this type of underground construction because of the region’s soft and malleable rocks, unique to underground construction due to the lack of water in the soil, said Andrea DiGiorgi, associate professor of paleontology at Florida State University.
He says that the terrain of the area is suitable for excavation and these rocks can be excavated with the help of shovel and pickax.
But who built the underground city of Deringuyu remains a mystery. The foundation for a vast network of underground caves can be traced back to the history of the Hittites, who “probably dug the first few levels into the rock when they were attacked by the Phrygians around 1200 BC,” says Mediterranean expert A Bertini. Cave Dwellings In his essay on regional cave architecture, Hittite artifacts were found inside Teringuyu to reinforce this idea.
However, most of the city was probably built by the Phrygians. “The Phrygians were one of the most important early empires in Anatolia,” says De Giorgi.
The Phrygians had spread throughout western Anatolia by the end of the millennium BC. De Giorgi also says they had a knack for monumentalizing rock formations and creating rock-cut facades.
The derringue may have been originally used for storage. But they were a temporary refuge to protect themselves from foreign invaders. Cappadocia faced a series of invasions by empires over the centuries.
These settlements were fully exploited during the 7th century Islamic invasions. Phrygians, Persians, Seljuks and many others lived in the region. The underground city expanded over the following centuries. Teringuyu’s population reached its peak during the Byzantine era, with nearly 20,000 residents living underground.
Today, you can tour the grim reality of underground life for just 60 Turkish lira. As I descended into the cave with charred, stained walls, I was filled with dread. However, the ingenuity of the various empires that invaded Terinquyu was evident. Spectators had to stoop through walkways that were deliberately made narrow to make it difficult for the invaders.
Half-ton circular boulders blocked the doors between each of the 18 levels, so that they could only be moved from the inside. In the center of the doors were small holes for throwing javelins at invaders.
“Life underground must have been very difficult,” says my tour guide Suleman.
The inhabitants lived by torchlight, relieving themselves in sealed clay jars. He added that the dead bodies were disposed of in designated areas.
Each level of this city is carefully designed for a specific use. Cattle sheds are built close to the surface to reduce odors and toxic gases emitted by cattle.
The inner layers of the city contained tenements, cellars, schools and meeting places. Located on the second floor is a traditional Byzantine missionary school, recognizable by its distinctive barrel-vaulted ceilings. Evidence of oin production was in the cellars. These special chambers show that the inhabitants of Deringuyu were willing to spend months beneath the surface.
A complex ventilation system and a protected well located here were noteworthy. It would have provided clean air and clean water to the entire city. In fact, the early construction of Deringuyu is thought to have centered on these two essential elements. The well was drilled to a depth of 55 meters for easy disconnection from the bottom.
Although the construction of Deringuyu was indeed ingenious, it was not the only underground city in Cappadocia. Covering an area of 445 square km, the city is only the largest of the 200 underground cities located beneath the Anatolian Plain. More than 40 smaller cities lie three times as deep underground. Some of them are connected to Teringuyu by cave passageways.
Emergency escape routes for immediate return to the surface have been developed in all these cities. The underground secrets of Cappadocia have not yet been fully excavated. In 2014, a new massive underground city was discovered beneath the Nevsehir area.
The history of Deringu came to an end in 1923 when the Cappadocian Greeks left. 2,000 years after the city was founded, Deringuyu was finally abandoned. Although Deringuyu is in the same place, its existence was forgotten to the modern world until some chickens brought this underground city back to light.
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