Derinkuyu: An ancient underground city capable of housing 20,000 people

In the province of Nevşehir in central Turkey lies the ancient underground city of Derinkuyu, which is the largest underground city in the world. It consists of 18 levels and can accommodate up to 20,000 people. Derinkuyu is one of a series of underground cities located in and around this province that are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The discovery of Derinkuyu happened by accident in 1963 thanks to a local resident who lost his chickens. He noticed that his poultry had slipped into a small crack that turned out to be a passageway to an underground city. Eventually it was discovered that hundreds of private homes in the town had similar hidden passageways leading to an underground settlement.

The complex consists of rooms that were once used as meeting rooms, stables, kitchens, storage rooms, living quarters, and a mini-prison. It even has a remarkably efficient ventilation system that allows fresh air to circulate deep within the pits of the labyrinthine structure.

The age of Derinkuyu is debated with a wide range of estimates, but some believe that work on the site may have been begun by Phrygians before 2,800 years ago. What is more reliable is that the underground tunnels were used by the Achaemenid Persian Empire, founded by Cyrus the Great in 550 BC, where they were used as a refuge for local citizens fleeing war.

The clearest evidence of age comes from inscriptions, chapels and alterations in the complex which show that it was inhabited by Greek-speaking Christians in the early days of Christianity. It was then used as a refuge for Muslim Arabs during the Arab-Byzantine wars between 780 and 1180 AD, and then again as a refuge for Christians after the Mongol invasions in the 14th century AD.

Derinkuyu was never permanently inhabited for long periods of time, it served as a refuge from war or periods of hardship. There is even some evidence that the complex was used as a refuge as late as the 20th century. Richard McGillivray Dawkins, a British linguist who studied Cappadocian Greek in the area, said that many people hid in the mysterious underground tunnels when they learned of the Adana massacre in 1909.

Derinkuyu has now become a tourist attraction for visitors to see. It continues to amaze people with its scale and complexity as well as its historical significance.

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