When I first heard of the underground cave cities in Turkey, I was fascinated by the idea that there was a whole city built by ancient people and designed to house thousands under the ground in times of war. When I then discovered that there is not just one of these, but thirty-six different underground cities across the region (though there are links between some of them), I wanted to get over to Turkey to see them at some point.
It was as Felicity and I were trying to decide on our next adventure, following our Honeymoon adventure in Mexico (you can watch the documentary, ‘Mexico: Mayan Mystery and Marine Majesty’ which we filmed on that trip HERE), that Felicity mentioned that she had wanted to take a hot air balloon over the ‘Fairy Chimneys’ of Cappadocia. We had a quick look, and were pleased to find that in a country of over three-hundred thousand square miles, the two things we had first on our list were within thirty miles of each other – and from there our latest travel adventure documentary, ‘Turkey – Fairy Chimneys and Underground Cities’ was born (you can watch it HERE).
Of all of the underground cities the two which compete for the claim of ‘largest’ are Derinkuyu, which is the deepest, and Kaymakli, which is the widest. We decided we wanted to visit both of these, and a third, smaller city named Özkonak.
We had a very different experience visiting each of the three, and it is an order which I would definitely recommend – and a way of visiting similar styles of historical places generally.
Before visiting the first city, we, by which I mean Felicity, of course, had done some research. This gave us a basic idea of the types of things which we could expect to find in the underground cities on our arrival, and it meant that as we descended into Derinkuyu Underground City we were explorers. For the first part we had the tunnels to ourselves, and we were trying to piece together what different holes and areas might have been used for. Even when we started to bump into tour groups coming through, we managed to avoid them enough as we worked together to come up with theories. Some of these were correct – we managed to correctly identify hitching points and eating troughs in the ‘stalls’ – but with others we were wrong. For example, what looked to me to be a big mill-wheel for grinding grain turned out to be a large stone door (although we did find they had smaller mill-wheels, so I wasn’t too far off). We got to have our adventure, and really explore a place which was entirely new to us.
When we arrived at the second of the cities on our list, Kaymakli, we took up the offer of a guided tour from one of the official guides at the site. From here we could learn a little more about the history of the cities, and in particular he could show us how to ‘read’ the cities, and show us what we had got right and wrong with our own interpretations of what we saw. This was a crucial second step to having a fully rounded experience in the underground cities – we had wanted to explore ourselves, but now to reflect on what we had seen in the first city using the information we had received from the guide (who built both on years of archaeological work, and a youth spent sneaking into the tunnels to explore himself) deepened the experience.
By the time we got to our third city, therefore, we were ready to explore on our own once again, but this time armed with a lot more practical knowledge about what we were looking at.
This idea of taking a three step approach to a new experience – investigating on your own, then gaining knowledge from an expert, then applying that knowledge, is (in my opinion at least) a great way to experience a lot of new things.
I would certainly recommend it as a way to visit the underground cities of Cappadocia. If you suffer from claustrophobia, approach with caution, and try to avoid times when crowds will be busiest, but if you can handle being in the cave systems, it is well worth it!