Underground City of Cappadocia, Turkey

Many regions of the world seem to hold more archeological sites than others. Such is true of the Cappadocia Region in Turkey. Ancient cities and settlements have been found throughout the region, the newest one surpassing all the rest.

While excavating for an urban renewal project, construction workers came upon a honey-combed arrangement of cave entrances. Little did they know, through mere happenstance, that they had stumbled upon one of the largest underground cities in the world. The government suspended work immediately and phoned archaeologists, historians, and geophysicists.

Archaeologists have managed to date the caves to around 4000 B.C though they are not entirely sure for a few reasons. The system of caves spans over 7 kilometers under Earth’s surface, and reaches depths of almost 400 feet with its 18 levels that could once house 20,000 people. A large circular boulder could cover each entrance to the caves in order to enclose the system. This led archeologists, historians, and geophysicists to infer that these systems were not only used when environmental/natural disaster occurred, but when there were raids or times of war and conflict. Included in the 18 levels are residential areas, tombs, kitchens, ventilation shafts, chapels, bathrooms, wells, well tanks, and at least 30 major water tunnels. Due to the peoples’ way of life and composition of the caves, archaeologists can infer that they were sedentary and more focused on farming and livestock than on being a nomadic and conquering group.

Internal organization of the underground city

The government called in archaeologists for help in studying this site and learning from it. Archaeologists have not yet identified who built  the caves, but they have hypothesized they could be Phrygians, Persians or 15th century B.C. Anatolian Hittites. Dating has been particularly difficult for archeologists, as each aspect of the caves was carved from natural rock. They were also consulted due to the persistence of archeological sites in nearby regions. There are many sites that date back to 3000-5000 B.C., so archeologists are identifying whether the cave systems and nearby archaeological sites are related. Archaeologists have hypothesized that such an extensive cave system may have a purpose other than protection: transportation. Having an underground tunnel system would help with the transportation of people, goods, or livestock (instead of transportation in inclement weather, over difficult terrain, or during raids.)

Entrances to the cave system. Some are large enough to fit passenger vehicles.

Sites such as this provide a wealth of knowledge not only about the time they were occupied, but also about today’s times. For instance, the peoples of the cave system possessed novel technologies and ways of living that their ancestors and others most likely used or tried to elaborate upon. Could kitchens, ventilation systems, and waterways of the Cappadocia Region and nearby regions be based off the precedents set by these cave systems? Use of archaeology alongside other fields has provided insight, revelations, and countless hypotheses about the cave systems in the Cappadocia Region that would not exist had archaeology not been used to its potential.

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1 thought on “Underground City of Cappadocia, Turkey

  1. Besides protection from warfare you mentioned that these tunnels were used for transportation. What made the caves systems obsolete, was there a better way for transporting people and goods? is there anything in the archaeological record that showed reasons why keeping these cave systems fell out of favor?

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