Discover the ancient Derinkuyu underground city in Turkey, the largest excavated subterranean city in Cappadocia, Türkiye.
Extending to a depth of approximately 85 meters (279 feet), the Cappadocia underground city of Derinkuyu is a wildly fascinating cave city complete with stables for domestic animals, graves, communal kitchens, sleeping dormitories, storage rooms, a winery, and even a religious school.
These underground dwellings feature ingenious ventilation systems allowing up to 20,000 people to live beneath the earth’s surface with their livestock, supplies, and food reserves.
After exploring and photographing this fascinating ancient underground city in Turkey, I’ve compiled this comprehensive resource for other travelers and those interested in visiting the city themselves.
- The Ancient Underground City of Derinkuyu: A Quick History
- Where is Turkey’s Underground City?
- How to Get to Derinkuyu Underground City
- Derinkuyu Underground City Map
- What to Expect When Visiting Turkey’s Underground City of Derinkuyu
- FAQs About Derinkuyu Underground City in Turkey
- More Derinkuyu Underground City Tours in Cappadocia
- More Cappadocia & Turkey Travel Guides
I'm Olly, a full-time traveler for the past 5 years. I visit every destination I write about & handpick all recommendations.
The Ancient Underground City of Derinkuyu: A Quick History
While nobody can be sure, the official archeological estimates currently suggest that either the Hittites or the early Phrygians (an ancient Indo-European speaking people) first began carving the soft volcanic rock to form the early underground city.
How old is the Underground City?
This dating varies wildly, depending on which expert you listen to. If it were the Hitties, then it could have been constructed as early as 1000 BCE, while if it were the Phrygians, the 8th century BCE. The Turkish Department of Culture tends to favor the latter, with their estimate making Derinkuyu almost 3,000 years old.
However, it's important to note that this dating estimate is solely based on stories from when populations began living here, with no carbon dating for this date or historical records regarding its actual construction. Therefore, it's entirely possible that this city could be much, much older and that the Hittites and Phrygians were simply one of many civilizations to have used it.
The Official & Disputed History of Derinkuyu
While the initial motives for building this city are mostly unknown, the best-guess official story is that the city's expanders, the early Christians, continued to dig and develop the city to avoid Roman persecution.
However, this view also believes that it wasn't until the Byzantine era that these now Christian natives constructed the city to its full form (convenient for Christians). They believe that the city now could accommodate 20,000 people, their livestock, food supplies, and resources, providing a safe settlement from the Muslim Arabs during the Arab-Byzantine wars of 780-1180 AD.
What is undisputed is that Derinkuyu, along with the other underground cities of Cappadocia, continued to be used by regional inhabitants for centuries, including the period of Mongolian incursion (14th century), and as a Christian refuge during early Ottoman Empire rule.
However, something that mainstream archeology seems to completely ignore is that there was no evidence of above-ground settlement in Derinkuyu until –adding to the mystery of the Derinkuyu underground city
Why Were Derinkuyu, Kaymankli, & the other Cappadocia Underground Cities Built?
The truth is that nobody can be certain about why the underground cities of Derinkuyu were constructed because there simply is no evidence that can tell us for sure. However, archaeologists and historians can make best guesses.
They claim that in order to understand the motives behind the construction of an underground mega city such as Derinkuyu, it's crucial to look at its location. The region of Cappadocia serves as a fundamental historical crossroad between two worlds; Europe and Asia.
As a result, the peaceful farming inhabitants were often the target of ransacking by armies making their way from both continents. While the open plains and rolling hills didn't provide many shelters or cover from invading armies, the soft, volcanic soil of Cappadocia allowed for easy excavation to dig a safe haven hiding place.
The Modern Discovery of Turkey's Underground City
It wasn't until the 1960s that a local Turkish man made the first modern discovery of Derinkuyu. From the ground level, no observer could speculate that an 18-story mega-city existed beneath the ground.
However, this man, after digging in his own basement, stumbled upon a large pit leading to a huge gallery. The resulting excavation revealed the true scale of this lucky man's discovery– a huge underground city connected via a complex labyrinth of tunnels spanning nearly 7,000 square feet.
Did you know? There are actually dozens of underground cities in Cappadocia with as many as 36 cities discovered so far. The most recently discovered is approximately 80 kilometers from Derinkuyu and Kaymaklı and could potentially be the largest underground city yet.
Where is Turkey's Underground City?
The Derinkuyu underground city is located in the Turkish town of Derinkuyu. This settlement lies within the Nevşehir Province in the Cappadocia region of Central Anatolia.
This is approximately 35 kilometers (22 miles) from the popular Cappadocia tourist village of Göreme.
Tourists can access the underground city through a government-operated entrance area within the town.
Below is the exact location of the underground city entrance.
How to Get to Derinkuyu Underground City
For travelers in Turkey, there are three primary ways to get to the Derinkuyu underground city in Cappadocia. These include
- Visiting Derinkuyu on an organized travel tour of Turkey
- Booking a guided tour of the underground city with transport from Cappadocia
- Driving to Derinkuyu (rental car)
Below I'll go into more detail about each option, with suggestions to make your visit easier (and cheaper).
1. Visit Turkey's Underground City On A Travel Tour
Turkey is a huge country where you'll discover many Roman-era ancient sites, beautiful landscapes, rich cultural hubs, and incredible hospitality.
In my opinion, the best way to see Turkey is on an organized tour that includes highlights like Cappadocia, Fethiye, Istanbul, Pamukkale, and Troy. However, due to the vast travel distance required, the best tours are often run with comfortable long-distance coaches.
I recently completed a trip through Turkey with TravelTalk Tours, and I highly recommend them if you want to get the most out of your Turkey travel experience.
2. Book A Derinkuyu Underground City Tour from Cappadocia
For travelers already in Cappadocia, the most cost-effective way to see the underground city is to book the Cappadocia Green Tour. This is a full-day tour visiting Derinkuyu, as well as other regional highlights such as:
- Ihlara Valley (Canyon)
- Riverside lunch
- Selime Monastery
- Pigeon Valley
- Uçhisar onyx factory
This tour costs less than 46 euros per person and includes all entry fees and transport. You'll get a professional guide to walk you through the city, explain its wonders, and show you the most fascinating rooms and quarters. This is very beneficial as there are no signs or plaques explaining anything once you get down there.
Best of all, this tour prioritizes an early start, kicking the 7-hour tour off with an early morning visit to Derinkuyu underground city before the crowds roll in.
3. Visiting Independently - Rent a Car in Cappadocia
Independent travelers looking to explore the underground city on their own also have the option of renting a car in Cappadocia and driving the 35-minute journey themselves.
Driving a car in this region of Turkey is quite manageable, and much easier than in Istanbul. For rental cars in Turkey, I highly recommend comparing prices in advance on DiscoverCars. This website compares car availability and pricing across dealerships by region, making sure you get the best price from a reputable provider.
Note, you will need to drive along the Nevşehir Niğde Yolu highway to reach Derinkuyu. Therefore, taking a scooter or ATV here is not possible.
Derinkuyu Underground City Map
Looking for a map to better understand the magnificent scale of this incredible subterranean metropolis? Below is a Derinkuyu map showing the complete Derinkuyu Underground city cave system.
Remember to Book Your Balloon in Advance!
Don't be one of those tourists paying up to €950 for a black market ticket because they forgot to book their Cappadocia hot air balloon in advance!
Click the link below to book a balloon with the top hot air balloon company in Cappadocia– who will secure the experience for you in advance & at a cheaper rate than the tour shops in Göreme or Istanbul.
What to Expect When Visiting Turkey's Underground City of Derinkuyu
Let me tell you, reading about, and seeing photos of the Derinkuyu underground complex is incomparable to actually seeing it yourself. So, if you find yourself in Turkey, I highly recommend making a stop at this incredible ancient site a top priority!
Below, I'll do my best to provide a summary of what to expect at the most famous ancient underground city of Turkey by walking you through some of the main highlights and features of the cave settlement.
Opening times: 8 am to 7 pm during summer, and 8 am to 5 pm in winter
Derinkuyu Underground City Entrance Fee
Upon arriving at the underground city entrance, international visitors will need to pay the Derinkuyu Underground City entrance fee of 65 Turkish Lira. Due to crippling inflation, this price changes often but is quite cheap for such an incredible site.
This site has been open to tourist visitors since 1969 and was added to the World Heritage List in 1985. However, archaeologists have blocked off the majority of the rooms, channels, and hallways. The result is only 10% of the underground city accessible to visitors.
Don't worry though, this 10% is still A LOT to explore, and will likely take at least a couple of hours.
After paying your fee, you'll walk through some turn styles and begin your descent down a very narrow and near-vertical staircase.
Underground Barns for Domesticated Animals
The first chamber near the entrance is one of the most fascinating. Early inhabitants used this huge gallery as stables and housed their goats, horses, cows, chickens, and other domesticated animals and livestock here.
Also, if you look closely at the rocks, you'll see large loopholes carved into the pillars. This was intentional, and most likely served as attachment points for ropes to tie animals.
From a functional point of view, keeping livestock at the top of the city was a smart move, as it meant no animal waste made its way down to the living quarters.
#1 Top-Rated Underground City Tour
Want to experience the Cappadocia underground cities for yourself? Make sure to book this top-rated small-group tour in advance as it usually sells out.
Large Rolling Stone Doors
Walking through the narrow hallways and tunnels on the upper levels, keep an eye out for the huge, wheel-style rolling doors. The city inhabitants used leverage to roll these huge, heavy doors across the tunnels to seal off invaders from the outside world.
This, combined with the low ceilings served as a primary defense mechanism to ensure invaders couldn't storm through the city.
Derinkuyu Church (Chapel)
One of the largest galleries in the Derinkuyu underground city is in fact a Christian church. If you look closely, you'll see that this large hall and meeting room splits off into tunnels forming a cross leading to a small chapel or Cruciform church.
There's also a punishment pillar in the middle of this chamber. As you could imagine, a city housing 20,000 people needed an order of discipline. Rulers or leaders would use to whip those who committed misdeeds.
Underground Storage Rooms
While many of the tunnels and rooms are closed off to the public, you'll likely notice dozens of large, empty rooms. Many of these served to store the city's food, produce, tools, olive oil presses, and other work and life necessities.
The Underground City Water Supply
For a city built thousands of years ago, it sure seems that these ancient populations had things figured out. On the lower floors of Derinkuyu, you will discover water wells connected to huge underground reservoirs. This allowed 20,000 people access to a pure water source in an underground city! However, these reservoirs are now dry.
Lower Floors and Deep Ventilation Shafts
Making your way down to the lower floors, you'll likely come across the primary air shafts or ventilation shafts. These run directly up towards the surface and are ingeniously designed to provide fresh flowing air in one shaft while circulating foul air through the other.
Early Christian School
One of the most unique features of Derinkuyu which historians and archaeologists have not discovered in other Cappadocia underground cities is a wide, vaulted ceiling religious school. This was constructed by early Christians and its presence indicates that these subterranean settlers would live underground for quite some time.
Yes, there's even a wine cellar at Derinkuyu! You'll find this huge room near the school. It contains a large basin where early winemakers would crush grapes and store wine.
Where to Stay in Cappadocia
Cappadocia is a large region with plenty of accommodation options spread across the area. However, the best area to stay is around the town of Göreme. This village is close to the sunrise balloons and the majority of attractions.
If you're up for a unique and one-of-a-klind experience, I highly recommend staying in one of these incredible Cappadocia cave hotels. Below are the top three hotel picks for various budgets.
- Kayakapi Premium Caves Cappadocia - Easily one of the top-rated cave hotels in Cappadocia– especially if you want an amazing hot air balloon view. Features beautiful cave rooms (some with a private pool), heated flooring, air-conditioning, and coffee machines. There's an onsite spa, large outdoor swimming pool and a free shuttle bus to the city daily.
- Artemis Cave Suites & Spa - Conveniently located in Göreme and close to all the main attractions, this cave hotel and spa offers beautiful terrace views over the city and sunrise balloons. The Open Air Museum is just 1 km from the hotel and there are Turkish Bath services at the onsite spa.
- Divan Cave House - A more budget-friendly cave hotel run by a local family. Magnificent terrace views and a small Turkish restaurant on site. Additionally, guests get access to the hot tub and bike hire to explore the city and surrounding area.
FAQs About Derinkuyu Underground City in Turkey
Yes, visiting the underground city of Derinkuyu in Cappadocia is completely safe. The city has remained carved into stable rock for thousands of years. Even the bottom levels show very little signs of erosion. However, there are some dangers involved including getting lost (those without a guide), and the risk of panic from claustrophobia as some of the tunnels get quite narrow.
The Derinkuyu underground city was built by early Phrygian people who inhabited the Central Anatolia region of Turkey. Due to population exchange, the city was likely expanded by several other groups after this.
As early as 600 years ago, the commanding rule of Ottomons in Turkey put a stop to invading forces crossing Cappadocia to access Europe and Asia. This stability meant there was little use for the underground cities as a hiding place. However, some historians suggest that Christians still used these tunnels to avoid persecution until they were expelled from Turkey and moved to Greece in the early 1900s.
Derinkuyu, as well as other underground cities in Cappadocia were built as a safe haven hiding place for farmers. These communities sought to avoid conflict with European people and Asians as their armies marched across the lands between continents.
No, people no longer live in the underground cities of Turkey. Early settlers used the city to avoid invading armies in the Byzantine period.
Derinkuyu's tunnel system was discovered by an unsuspecting Turkish man renovating his basement. He was digging in the soft soil when he struck a large opening connecting to a series of tunnels.
More Derinkuyu Underground City Tours in Cappadocia
More Cappadocia & Turkey Travel Guides
I hope you've enjoyed this useful travel guide and informational blog post about the fascinating Derinkuyu underground city in Cappadocia, Turkey.
For more Cappadocia travel guides and inspiration for travel in Turkey, take a pick from the blog posts below.
If you have any questions about visiting the underground city for yourself, feel free to leave a comment as well.