Unique Underground City Adds New Direction to the Subterranean World of Ancient Turkey
A unique ancient underground city has been brought to light in the Kayseri province of Turkey. Thanks to local residents and shepherds, 52 chambers have been added to the inventory of the country’s fascinating underground sites.
Daily Sabah reports that researchers are examining the recently discovered site in collaboration with the Kayseri Metropolitan Municipality, Obruk Cave Research Staff, and the Foundation for the Protection and Promotion of the Environment and Cultural Heritage (ÇEKÜL). This is one of the latest discoveries since they began a project in 2014 to search for and document forgotten underground settlements in the region.
Openings to Belağası Underground City in Gesi district, Kayseri Province, Turkey. ( Daily Sabah )
A church and some other structures were also found on the surface around the subterranean city. This is interesting because the Obruk Cave Research staff has suggested “that there are many underground cities that were built by Christian peoples especially between 6th and 11th centuries.”
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Called Belağası Underground City, the site measures 80 meters (262 ft) long. There are two elements that set this ancient city apart from other famous subterranean locations in Anatolia. First, Çekül Kayseri Representative Dr. Osman Özsoy explained that Belağası was built in a horizontal manner, unlike the vertical fashion that is found in Cappadocia. This way of building is more common to the underground cities in Kayseri province.
The second aspect that makes Belağası intriguing for researchers is that it may be the first of its kind in Turkey to have more than 50 chambers. Özsoy told Daily Sabah that the site probably expanded as demand increased amongst ancient inhabitants.
One of the chambers in Belağası Underground City. ( CNNTURK)
Why would there have been a desire to live in an underground settlement?
Although no specifics have been provided on exactly who built Belağası Underground City, or the event(s) which may have led to it, underground cities were usually built for protection from attacks, or the elements, or for sacred purposes. Many of the subterranean cities around the world were not just simple caves either; they had drainage systems, space for food storage, housing, and maybe even transportation and shops.
The Obruk Cave Research staff told AGOS about the general purpose for underground cities in Anatolia:
“Underground cities that had been built during Byzantine period are rare. In the process of Sassanian invasions started in 6th century, Arab invasions in 7th and 8th centuries and Seljuks' arrival to Anatolia, many underground cities had been built. It means that people built underground cities in Anatolia between 6th and 11th centuries in order to protect themselves in the face of plunders and great wars. They are not suitable for spending months. People had been hiding in those underground cities when there was an invasion and then they got out. Those cities had problems in ventilation and supplying food. People were able to spend at most 2 weeks there. Local Christians in Anatolia used those underground cities as shelter for almost 500 years.”
Entrances to Belağası Underground City and structures aboveground nearby. ( NTV)
The discovery of Belağası Underground City was not completely unexpected. As the Obruk Cave Research staff told AGOS in a 2016 interview
“In Kayseri, there is abundance of underground cities. Each time we are in Kayseri, we explore at least 5 underground cities. We worked in 30 underground cities in Kayseri so far. There are more than 50 caves that we will work in.”
Another expansive underground city was found in Kayseri in 2014. April Holloway reported that the subterranean city of at least 4,000 square meters (43055.64 sq. ft.) was found by a home owner performing restoration work on his house in the Melikgazi district of Kayseri. More than a hundred truck-loads of soil were removed from the underground structure, revealing multiple rooms, including an iron workshop and a loft, across several levels.
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But the most famous examples of underground cities in Turkey are undoubtedly the Cappadocian sites of Kaymaklı and Derinkuyu. Caleb Strom has provided a concise explanation of Derinkuyu:
“The first levels of Derinkuyu were built possibly around 1200 BC during an uncertain time of conflict and invasion. The people delved into the volcanic rock to make a sanctuary to keep themselves safe. The earliest inhabitants may have been Hittites escaping invaders during the waning days of the declining Hittite Empire. Later it was occupied by Christians during the Byzantine Era, possibly to escape invading Muslim armies. By the time it was abandoned, it was an 18-story complex capable of holding 20,000 people. There were ventilation shafts, granaries, chapels, chimneys, winepresses, and many of the features of an ancient city. Despite its grandeur, after it was abandoned, it was forgotten and not rediscovered until the 1960s.”
An artistic reconstruction of the underground city of Derinkuyu. ( CC BY SA 4.0 )
Like it’s more well-known counterparts, it is expected that Belağası Underground City will be open for tourism.
Top Image: A chamber in Belağası Underground City in Gesi district, Kayseri Province, Turkey. Source: NTV