Friday, November 2, 2012

Derinkuyu Underground City

 Monday, 22 October 2012
Morning of the 4th day of our group tour
As always, click on any image for larger view.
A photo of the dawn balloon ride taken by someone in our tour group

This was an exhausting day!  I am breaking this day into 3 postings because we did so much.  Underground city; Soganli for more rock churches and hiking again through fairy chimneys and up mountainside; Turkish carpet weaving and sales pitch; topped off by Turkish Night celebration with Whirling Dervishes and belly dancing. And the rest of our group started out 3 hours earlier than us because they did the hot air balloon ride at dawn.

We knew little about the underground cities except that early Christians built and lived in these cities to avoid persecution.  We had no idea how extensive these underground cities were.

Per our Lonely Planet guide for Turkey:
"During the 6th and 7th centuries, when Persian and Arabic armies set off to vanquish the Christians, beacons were lit and the warning could travel from Jerusalem to Constantinople in hours.  When the message reached Cappadocia, the Byzantine Christians would escape into secret tunnels leading to vast underground cities.

Some 37 cities have already been opened, and there are at least 100 more.  Excavations have not proceeded further because they have uncovered little more than graves and pottery pieces, as the cities' inhabitants took their possessions with them when they returned to the surface.

Some 20,000 people lived at Derinkuyu and 5,000 at Kaymakli, spending months at a time down there.  They cunningly disguised the air shafts as wells.  The Persian horsemen might throw some poison into the 'wells', thinking they were contaminating the water supply.  They would not notice any smoke from the fires burning beneath their feet, as the soft tough rock absorbed most of it and the remaining fumes dispersed in the shafts.

The shafts, which descend almost 325 feet in some of the cities, also served a construction purpose.  As rooms were made, debris would be excavated into the shaft, which would then be cleared and deepened so work could begin on the next floor.

Touring the underground cities is like tackling an assault course for history buffs.  Narrow walkways lead you into depths of the earth, through stables with handles used to tether animals, churches with altars and baptism pools, walls with air circulation holes, granaries with grindstones, wineries, and blackened kitchens with ovens.

Visiting the cities is fascinating, but be prepared for sometimes claustrophobic passages and sometimes an overabundance of tourists."

One of the 15,000 ventilation shafts.  This one made to
look like a water well at the surface ground level.
That sums it up pretty well -- EXCEPT for a few minor (?) details.  

These underground cities were first constructed back during the Hittite era -- about 1800 BC.  The  underground cities were then expanded by the Phrygians in the 8th to 7th centuries B.C.  Much later, the Christians expanded the cities to far deeper levels.  And the capacity was 50,000 rather than 20,000 persons.  This city was not built for permanent habitation but to serve as temporary living quarters for months in case of attacks. 

Guide book map of the underground city levels

Our guide and the museum ticket attendant stressed to everyone before we entered that people with heart conditions or high blood pressure or who suffer from claustrophobia should be very careful and not proceed below the 3rd level, and should return to the surface if feeling the slightest bit of distress or anxiety.  It was well-lit and well-ventilated and it is possible to go down to just the 3rd level and then return to the surface if one feels any stress.  We were surprised to note an ambulance parked right beside the entrance.  They were prepared.  Good thing considering the average age of the participants in our particular group.  I do have a minor heart valve condition and high blood pressure, and have had one panic attack of claustrophobia when placed into an MRI machine; but I was willing to give it a go anyway.  Turned out it wasn't really a problem at all.  Nothing more stressing than any of the caves I have visited elsewhere.  

The 2 of us....way down there!
Once below the surface it doesn't make any difference whether one is 20-ft down or 320-ft down; you lose all sense of depth when the surface is no longer visible.  Upon descending the first set of steps I thought for a few moments that this might not be such a great idea because there was a musty smell.  But within minutes that smell was no longer noticeable at all.

Water well at 11 levels down

This tour visited Derinkuyu because it is the deepest underground city discovered to date.  Unbelievable that up to 20,000 (or 50,000 if one believes the more recently published revised number) people at a time sought refuge down there, sometimes for months without surfacing.  They were fully equipped to be self-sufficient for months.  There are 13 levels or stories beneath the surface but tourists can only go down to the 11th level today for safety reasons.  Derinkuyu is connected below the surface on a few levels to another nearby underground city.  Archaeologists believe that most, if not all, of the underground cities that were located near one another had connecting tunnels.  One reason was for possible escape.  Some of these tunnels go for miles.

Bill inspecting one of the movable stones

There are some 600 external doors leading into the city, mostly hidden out of sight in courtyards of the above ground dwellings.  Every entrance to the city had a corresponding moving stone devised to quickly seal off entrances should the city find itself under siege.

Note the movable stone tucked into wall on left

As we descended the narrow passageways (all bent over because folks back then were short), our guide pointed out several large grinding stones placed on their sides and built into the walls of the passageways.  On the lower side of each of these stones was built an alcove where someone (or several people, more likely) could roll the large stone out to block the passageway to block pursuers.  Clever idea and obviously would be very effective.  

Tas showing how the stone was rolled out of  this alcove
 to block the passageway where Bill was standing

I wondered how they could have managed to roll that stone back into the wall slot when they wanted to re-surface.  It appeared to me that would be a major task.  But our guide was at the head of the group and I was at the rear of the group at that point, so did not have the opportunity to ask this question.  One of the websites I researched stated that these stones could only be moved from the inside.  Wish I knew how that was accomplished.

This is a fabulous site:  Derinkuyu Underground City  On this site is a link for a virtual tour of the underground city.  When you click on the Virtual Tour link, notice the smaller images on the lower left side.  These provide virtual tours of the different levels of this large city.  Neat!  You can see what it is like down there without having to do all the walking and bending.

Vent shaft down.  This is looking downward from 3rd level.
While down there I was especially impressed with how deep the shafts were.  Even when down on the 11th level, the shafts went so far further down that it was impossible to see the bottom even with our brightest flashlights.  Also interesting were the water wells.  The water wells were all well below ground.  So when attackers thought they were poisoning water wells, they were simply pouring poison down empty air shafts.  The real water wells were protected well below the surface.  Not every level had a water well.
Another vent shaft down.  This is looking downward
from 11th level beneath the surface.  How deep does
this shaft go!  What a lot of work through solid rock.

Derinkuyu contains at least 15,000 ventilation ducts that provide fresh air deep within the underground city.  The city was opened to visitors in 1965 but so far less than half of it can be visited by tourists.

Resting 11 levels down.  With Dorothy and Mark Hazlett
from Hawaii, members of our tour group.

This is one of those places that require a tourist to be physically able.  There are no considerations for disabled or physically challenged visitors.  Another one of those special experiences for which we feel fortunate for having the opportunity.

Our camera batteries died less than half-way through this underground tour and the spare batteries we brought were in my backpack up in the bus, so these are the only photos I managed to get of this unique place. 

The Cross Church, 6 levels down.
The rooms were carved out into a cross shape.

We made our way back to the surface (with me huffing and puffing up the steep inclines and steps); stopped for a rest and beverage (tea for all the Brits and fresh pomegranate juice for me); then drove on to Soganli to see more rock churches.  

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I've learned so much from your travels! Looks like a really cool tour. Love the photo of the hot air balloons!


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