cities in Cappadocia,
Turkey? Surely they're joking, I
thought to myself when I first
heard of them.
had no idea these subterranean
towns extended seven and eight
levels into the earth, carved
from the soft volcanic stone. When
I finally explored them, I felt as
though I was wandering through a gigantic
There are underground
cities at Özkonak, Mazıköy and
several other places, but the most dramatic and interesting ones now open to visitors are the ones south of Nevşehir at Kaymaklı and Derinkuyu,
20 km (12 miles) and 30 km (19 miles)
south of Nevşehir respectively (map).
In 2014 a gigantic underground city, said to dwarf all others known, was discovered beneath Nevşehir's hilltop fortress in the city center. The area, once marked for residential dvelopment, now has protected archeological status. Explorations of this find are continuing, but it will be some years before this discovery is opened to visitors.
can make a day-trip
excursion from Ürgüp, Göreme, Avanos or Uçhisar,
that includes an Underground City,
the hill town of Güzelyurt,
a hike to see the Byzantine cave
chapels in the Ihlara
Valley, and the medieval Ağzıkarahan
Turkish caravanserai (map). Here's
visiting a Cappadocian Underground
try to get to the cave entrance right
when it opens (usually 09:00 am)
so as to avoid the bus-tour crowds that
appear by mid-morning.
cave-cities were excavated
as early as Hittite times,
and expanded over the centuries
as various marauding armies traversed Central
Anatolia in search of captives
doors prevented invaders from
entering. Deep wells provided
water, and tall chimneys ventilation.
Wine presses, oil storage, livestock
pens, cooking-places and even elaborate churches were
carved out of the rock so that
the inhabitants could live for
weeks or months underground until
it was safe to emerge and return
to their ground-level villages.
At Kaymaklı and Derinkuyu you follow a marked, lighted path through the labyrinth. The self-guided tour may take between 15 and 30 minutes, depending on your speed and interest.
The temperature below-ground is a uniform 13°C (55°F), so if you're sensitive to cold you may want to bring a wrap.
The walking surface is uneven, but not extremely so.
The height of the passageways and chambers is often around 170 centimeters (about 5.5 feet), sometimes higher, but unless you are very short you will have to duck your head in some places, and bend well over in others. Most dangerous pitfalls are covered and secured, and tunnels you shouldn't take are blocked.
There are no services (toilets, drinking water, communications, etc.) underground.
Distances & Travel Times (to
km (84 miles) W, 2.5 hours
km (17 miles) NE, 50 minutes
km (12 miles) N, 25 minutes
km (47 miles) W, 1.5 hours
km (56 miles) W, 1.75 hours
km (6 miles) N, 12 minutes
km (42 miles) S, 1.25 hours
km (21 miles) NE, 40 minutes
—by Tom Brosnahan