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Uderground Cities of Cappadocia

Underground Refuges

Of the currently known 36 underground cities of Cappadocia, the ones that are open to visitors are Derinkuyu, Kaymaklı, Özkonak, Mucur, Örentepe, Gümüşkent, Gelveri, Tatlarin, Mazı, and Acıgöl. These settlements were of enormous value to the development of Christianity as they provided the early Christians with shelter and a place to worship. They were in use util the end of the seventh century A.D.. Because they were deserted in the centuries that followed, with the passage of time they were filled with deposits of soil from rain and flooding. Apparently, there are many other underground cities in the region today that have not yet been excavated.

It is not known precisely how long these underground cities resembling giant ant colonies were occupied or by how many people, and any idea on the subject cannot proceed further than guesswork since there is no documentary evidence. However, it is ackowledged that large cities like Derinkuyu and Kaymaklı accommodated a population of approximately 4,000.

When the upper and lower floors of Derinkuyu underground city are compared, the upper floors are rough and disorganized in plan, whereas lower floors are planned and supported by columns. This seems to indicate that different people in different ages used these structures.

To construct the underground cities it was necessary to choose points where the volcanic tufa layer was soft and easy to excavate. The south, east and west sides of high hills were chosen for these settlements; because winter months in the region are very cold and snowy. The North faces of the hills were not used. The temperatures of both summer and winter months in the underground cities were reasonable. One of the most important issues in the underground cities was ventilation. To solve this problem, first ventilation shafts 70-80 meters deep were dug, then the galleries and rooms that would constitute the city were excavated.

The removal of soil and debris in the course of digging was another important issue. It is believed that the piles of debris and soil dumped into the valleys was lost with erosion. One descended to lower storeys in the underground cities by small inclines, which graddually deepened, and at the base of the ventilation chimneys would be wells for water.

Small towns were founded above some of the underground cities. It is conjectured that these people who lived under constant threat became accustomed to living in the face of enemy hordes, and that they were able to warn one another of oncoming dannger by means of a system of smoke signals and mirrors that they had established on the heights. Large heavy cylindrical rocks were used as doors at the entrances of tunnels to guard against danger; once in place, these doors could only be opened from the inside.

Because the corridors that connected the various floors are only 1.6 to 1.7 meters in height, it is supposed that this was because either the inhabitants were rather short in height or because of the desire to maket The excavation easier. In addition, there were holes for communication between levels that were 3-4 meters long and about 10 cetimeters in diameter.

Only a few kitchens have been discovered in the uderground cites. The people who stayed in these cities were living in the manner of small family groups, and collective kitchens were envisioned. It is also likely that, in order to prevent smoke from cooking fires being detected, cold foods were geerally consumed. However, traces of smoke can be clearly seen on the walls of the rooms used as kitchens in the underground cities.

The first storeys of the underground cities were used for animals. And like the depots for the storage of foodstuffs, caves for storing wine were not forgotten.

Also a form of underground settlement, the many cave churches and monasteries of the area are open to the public today. You can visit numerous churches, many of which contain peerless frescoes, in the present-day Göreme Valley, part of which has been designated as an open-air museum. It is believed that there are as many as 200 churches here, including those that are not a part of the museum. Some sources maintain that a different church was provided for every day of the year. Unfortunately, a significant number of them were unable to resist the ravages of time and rugged conditions.

At least one account claims the increase in the number of churches occurred when Saint Paul (10-67) decided to make use of this area for the education of missionaries, but it is not clear that Paul actually spent any time here. However, it is true that Cappadocians were present on the day of Pentecost shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus. Upon returning these residents perhaps began to worship. Once Christianity spread across the region through the work of St. Paul and others, Cappadocia became a center for the budding religion. Then, with the emergence of the Cappadocian Fathers in the 4th cnetury, more and more churches were made to serve the growing community that clearly flourished through the 12th century. In fact, Christians lived in the area until the people exchange of 1923-24 living side by side with their Muslim neighbors during the Ottomans centuries.

In some churches in the region, primarily those in the Ihlara Valleys, there are inscriptions that display the date of construction. However, the inscriptions in those of the Göreme have not survived, and it is only possible to date them according to their architectural characteristics or iconography. We can separate the churches that can be visited into two categories: those within the open-air museum area and those outside it. The churches that are outside te museum limits are the Saklı Kılıse[Church], Meryem Ana [the Mother Mary] church and the Kılıçlar and El Nazar churches.

- Derinkuyu, Cappadocia’s largest underground city
- Kaymakli underground city, beneath a cemetery
- Ozkonak underground city and its doors