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Myths & mysteries: The caves of Derinkuyu

July 28, 2012

It is most interesting how sometimes a simple or normal task leads to a most extraordinary and strange mystery. In this case, a routine house renovation leads to one of the most puzzling and intriguing archaeological discoveries in the world.

The family that was having their house repaired hardly knew what they were sitting on, literally speaking. Workers, while digging in one of the rooms, found a strange opening. After clearing up the opening they found, to their amazement a kind of room, which had been carved from rock. They were taken aback by their discovery and the family called the local authorities who were quite astounded as the room that had been found led to yet another and then another.

What they had actually found accidentally was an entire underground city. Experts and archaeologists all wanted to know what this most amazing find was and thus Derinkuyu, a district in the Nevshehir province of Turkey, became yet another mystery of the ancient world.

Who built it and why? Carved out of soft volcanic rock, what slowly came to be seen was a huge underground complex of multi-level living quarters that went many levels and stories underground.

Fully equipped with enough room for men, women, children and even their livestock. In fact, enough space to house 20,000 people! If that isn’t mind-boggling what is? Why would people want to leave their homes on the ground to go and live in a cave underworld, which had to be built from the most difficult building material, which has to be carefully dealt with — soft volcanic rock.

Even today, engineers state that with such a geological formation, constructing or cutting could cause a cave-in at any time. But no such evidence of something collapsing has been found here. Discovered in 1962, the first five floors were open to the public in 1969.

According to underground radar technology, the entire structure or housing project is 18 levels and 85 meters deep, beneath the ground! Additionally there are ventilation shafts, which are capable of providing fresh air to the lowest of floors. And fresh flowing water. There was a tributary of the river Euphrates running through it as well.

Then there are huge round stone doors, which could have been rolled across to close the important sections. Interestingly, they could only be opened from inside. And more surprising is the fact that the so-called doors weigh 200-500 kilograms! Then there are tiny crawl-through passages, which are thought to be for security in case an enemy was to come in they could only crawl one person at a time.

The question that Klaus Schmidt, the German archaeologist who has undertaken the task of solving and the excavation of the huge complex with the Turkish authorities, is asking is who could have built this and it is “weird” for someone to opt for an underground life when there are ways to ward off enemies even by living on the surface.

The entire project must have been a massive and most difficult undertaking even by today’s standards with ultra-modern equipment. According to researchers, Derinkuyu was built it in the 8th or 7th century BC by the Phrygians, an Indo-European people. Then there are records that the Hittites, who were a Bronze Age people in Anatolia at that time, constructed it around 1,400 BC. This is because of some Hittite seals, which were found during excavations, including a lion statue. It is assumed that the Hittites hid here to be safe from attacks by the Thrace, another ancient tribe of the 6th century BC, who had invaded the empire.

Then there is evidence that later, it was a Christian shelter. This was ascertained due to the fact that some of the rooms have the remains of a chapel, missionary schools and wine cellars. But experts say that none of these people or cultures were the original builders of this underground wonderland. It is supposed to have been built before the last Ice Age! Truly shocking to say the least.

Well, this is how the research goes; If the builders were looking to hide from an enemy on the ground, meaning on horseback, the easiest way to defeat the people who had taken shelter underground, is to close the ventilation shafts from above. There is a reference to an underground city built on the instructions of the Persian King Yima. According to Zoroastrian texts, Yima, who was a kind of prophet, told his people that the Earth was going to be destroyed by a global catastrophe. But unlike the Great Flood, which took place in Noah’s time, this was going to be a long-lasting climate of ice.

So, it is presumed that just like in Noah took his followers in a giant Ark that he buildt, King Yima, had an underground city built to save his people. As during those times the knowledge to construct such a sophisticated city 18 levels under the ground did not exist. And then later on many cultures made use of these underground settlements to find refuge.

More interesting is the fact that the area comprises almost 200 such cities connected by a series of tunnels. Now whether they are all as old as Derinkuyu, no one can say. But none of them is as gigantic an undertaking as this one.

Is it really that old? Could people build and live in such a place 18,000 years ago? There is definitely more to this beneath the mystery, deep down.