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istorians and other professionals spend a lifetime looking for lost cities and interesting finds without having any success. Yet for some, all it takes is knocking down a random wall to unfold one of the biggest finds in history. In 1963, a guy in Turkey’s Nevşehir Province broke down a wall in his basement and discovered a massive underground metropolis.

The man (who was not identified in news accounts at the time) sledgehammered his wall and discovered a tunnel behind it, as well as further tunnels beyond. Exploration would subsequently reveal that it was an 18-story-deep underground metropolis complete with chapels, schools, and stables.

The city of Derinkuyu had been abandoned for generations, much to the relief of the guy who’d just pounded his way in. According to researchers at the Turkish Department of Culture, construction on the city, which is expected to contain up to 20,000 people, may have begun as early as the 8th-7th century BCE.

A tourist map of Derinkuyu (Source: Public Domain)

During the Byzantine period (from 395 CE to 1453 CE), the city was transformed into a labyrinth of tunnels, chambers, and rooms measuring 445 kilometers2 (172 miles2). The tunnel and passageway network included hidden entrances, ventilation shafts (to avoid dying in your mole cave), and wells and water conduits.

People in the area most likely first exploited the soft rock for storage, preserving food at cool and steady temperatures. However, the cities they became were most likely due to their defensive value.

Those on the lower levels, for example, were able to cut off the water supply to the upper and lower levels, preventing opponents from polluting the supply. The tunnels could be closed from the inside by spherical rolling stone doors, and the passageways themselves were tiny enough that any invaders would have to line up one at a time – an attack scheme so dreadful that it is only seen in movies when the good man is besieged.

A “ventilation well” in Derinkuyu (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Various people have sought refuge in the city over the centuries. Early Christians stayed there to escape Roman persecution, while Muslims utilized it for safety during the Arab-Byzantine wars of 780 and 1180.

Similar caves were used to seek refuge from danger as late as 1909 – Derinkuyu isn’t even the largest underground city. It is interesting to see how well-hidden these underground cities were, showing that they have been built for their purpose. It is said that such similar underground cities are still hiding all over Turkey as well as some other Western Asian countries.

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