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How to Visit Turkey’s Derinkuyu Underground City

By Greig Santos-Buch
Woman visiting Derinkuyu Underground City

Tucked away deep underground in the historical region of Cappadocia, central Turkey, lies a marvel of ancient engineering and human resilience — the Derinkuyu Underground City. This subterranean city, capable of sheltering as many as 20,000 people in its prime, speaks to the ingenuity and survival instincts of its builders. Located approximately 40 kilometers from the town of Nevşehir, Derinkuyu is not just a historical site; it is an invitation to explore a world hidden beneath our feet.

Historical Background

View of the underground city of Derinkuyu
Image courtesy NIna Gili.

The construction of Derinkuyu dates back to at least the 8th century B.C., attributed to the ancient Phrygians, known for their architectural ingenuity. Over centuries, it was expanded by various Anatolian peoples, including early Christians during the Roman persecutions. This underground sanctuary served not only as a refuge from invaders but also as a permanent settlement equipped with everything from wine and oil presses to stables and chapels.

Derinkuyu’s architecture is a marvel of ancient engineering, featuring extensive tunnel systems, ventilation shafts, and access points that ensure stability and livability. The city is carved from the soft volcanic rock of the region, which provides both insulation and malleability. Each floor can be isolated by large stone doors, designed to roll across the passageways and seal the city from invaders or dangers.

The daily life of Derinkuyu’s inhabitants would have been marked by a community-oriented lifestyle, with designated areas for cooking, sleeping, religious worship, and social gatherings. Despite the confined spaces, the layout reflects a highly organized social structure and a community capable of thriving under challenging conditions.

When compared to other underground cities in Cappadocia, such as Kaymaklı, Derinkuyu is deeper and more complex. Globally, similar subterranean habitats can be found in places like the ancient city of Petra in Jordan, although they differ significantly in layout and purpose.

RELATED: The Best Things to Do When Visiting Cappadocia in Turkey

Discovery of Derinkuyu

The modern world got its first glimpse of Derinkuyu in 1963 when a local resident renovating his home stumbled upon a mysterious room behind a wall. This discovery led to further excavations, revealing multiple levels of a vast underground network. The city’s depth reaches up to 85 meters, comprising intricate passages, tunnels, and rooms, all carved from the soft volcanic rock characteristic of Cappadocia.

How to Visit Derinkuyu

Today, Derinkuyu is open to the public, offering a glimpse into ancient life. The city is accessible through the Nevşehir-Nigde highway, with regular bus services available from major Turkish cities. You can explore eight of the eighteen levels, wandering through narrow corridors and discovering rooms designed for different functions, including communal living spaces, kitchens, and religious sites.

What to Expect: The temperature inside the underground city remains cool and stable, but the passages can be narrow and occasionally require stooping, so comfortable clothing and sturdy shoes are recommended. Lighting within the tunnels is minimal, enhancing the atmospheric experience of exploring this ancient hideaway. The site is equipped with modern safety features, including reinforced walkways and emergency exits.

Guided Tours of Derinkuyu and Unique Packaged Experiences

If you’re considering visiting Derinkuyu but wary about doing it yourself, there are several tour operators we recommend that can make the experience seamless. Some of the tours on offer also merge the magic of Derinkuyu with Cappadocia’s other intriguing sites and experiences. From the famous balloon rides that soar above the city to hiking along the river in the Ihlara Valley.

Cappadocia, Derinkuyu Underground City, Ihlara Valley, Selime Monastery, Pigeon Valley and Göreme Day Tour

Go on an immersive full-day tour of Cappadocia’s southern region, expertly organized by Gorgeous Travel (over 657 5-Star reviews!!). Starting from Goreme, this small-group excursion takes you into the subterranean marvels of Derinkuyu Underground City, wanders through the scenic Ihlara Valley beside its tranquil river, and explores the expansive Selime Monastery carved directly from the rocks. Admire the panoramic views of Pigeon Valley and Göreme, and get a closer look at local craftsmanship with a visit to an onyx stone factory. Enhance your experience with an authentic Turkish lunch included, along with all museum entrance tickets. Convenient door-to-door transfers ensure a seamless journey, picking you up directly from your hotel to discover Cappadocia’s iconic landscapes and historical treasures.

Book This Cappadocia and Derinkuyu Tour with Gorgeous Travel. Reserve now and pay later. Free cancellation up to 24 hours in advance.

2 Day Cappadocia Trip from Istanbul Including Derinkuyu, Camel Safari & Balloon Ride

Staying in Istanbul but want to visit Derinkuyu and Cappadocia’s wonders? Experience the magic of Cappadocia with a comprehensive two-day tour, starting from Istanbul and brought to you by Travel Experts Tours. This adventure covers the region’s top attractions, including the Derinkuyu Underground City, the Kaymakli Underground City, the enchanting Rose Valley, the majestic Uchisar Castle, and the Goreme Open Air Museum. For a truly unique experience, stay overnight in a traditional cave hotel, right in the heart of Cappadocia’s captivating landscape. Optional upgrades include a breathtaking 1-hour hot air balloon ride, offering panoramic views of the region’s surreal terrain. The tour includes all entrance and national park fees, along with meals including lunch and breakfast. Enjoy the convenience of round-trip transportation from your hotel in Istanbul to the airport, ensuring a seamless and unforgettable exploration of Cappadocia’s wonders.

Book This 2-Day Tour of Cappadocia with Travel Experts on Viator. Free cancellation up to 3 days in advance.

Fun Facts About Derinkuyu Underground City

  1. School Rooms: There are several rooms deep within the city believed to have been used as study areas or schools.
  2. Security System: Each level could be closed off separately with large stone doors, essentially acting as giant rolling barricades.
  3. Ventilation Brilliance: The city includes over 15,000 ventilation ducts, ensuring fresh air deep within the underground city.
  4. Religious Sites: There are numerous chapels and a large church located on the lowest level, showing the religious significance of the site.
  5. Strategic Location: Derinkuyu was strategically placed to connect with other underground cities via tunnels, some running several kilometers.
  6. Water Wells: The city had multiple wells, which are not connected to the surface to prevent poisoning during sieges.
  7. Community Rooms: Large communal rooms were used for gatherings and as places to discuss community matters.
  8. Wine and Oil: There are several rooms used for storing wine and oil.
  9. Livestock Pens: Separate sections were designated for livestock, including cattle and sheep.
  10. Escape Routes: Hidden passages provided emergency escape routes, leading to the surface or connecting to other nearby underground cities.

Ongoing archaeological research and excavations continue to reveal more about Derinkuyu’s past. Future studies aim to uncover more about the social hierarchies and daily routines of its inhabitants. Exploring Derinkuyu offers a unique perspective on ancient defensive strategies and community life. The site not only reflects the historical and cultural dynamics of its era but also stands as a tribute to human ingenuity and the enduring will to survive against the odds. If you’re considering visiting Turkey, a trip to Derinkuyu is a profound journey into the literal depths of history.

Frequently Asked Questions About Visiting Derinkuyu Underground City

Is it worth visiting Derinkuyu Underground City?

Absolutely! Derinkuyu is not only a fascinating display of ancient engineering and architecture, but it also offers a unique glimpse into the ingenuity of past civilizations. It’s perfect for history buffs, architecture enthusiasts, and anyone interested in exploring one of the most extraordinary underground constructions in the world.

What can you expect when visiting Derinkuyu?

Expect to explore a multi-level subterranean city that once housed up to 20,000 people. You’ll navigate through narrow passages and discover rooms that served various purposes from wine cellars and stables to chapels and schools. The temperature inside is cool, and the spaces can be quite narrow, so wear comfortable clothing and good walking shoes.

Do you need tickets to visit Derinkuyu?

Yes, you will need to purchase a ticket to enter Derinkuyu Underground City. Tickets are available at the site’s entrance, and it’s wise to arrive early to avoid the crowds, especially during peak tourist season. You can also purchase skip-the-line tickets to Cappadocia’s underground cities ahead of time right here.

What are the best times of year to visit Derinkuyu?

The best times to visit are during the spring (April to June) and fall (September to November) when the weather in Cappadocia is mild and pleasant, making it easier to explore the underground city comfortably.

How long does a tour of Derinkuyu typically take?

A typical tour of Derinkuyu Underground City lasts about 1 to 2 hours, depending on how much time you spend at each section and the overall pace of your exploration.

Is Derinkuyu accessible for visitors with mobility issues?

Due to its ancient construction, narrow tunnels, and uneven floors, Derinkuyu may present challenges for visitors with mobility issues. It’s important to prepare for some physically demanding navigation.

Can I take photos inside Derinkuyu?

Yes, photography is allowed in Derinkuyu, so feel free to bring your camera. However, using flash is generally prohibited to preserve the ambiance and integrity of the site.

Can you tour Derinkuyu Underground City?

Yes, you can tour Derinkuyu Underground City. Guided tours are available, and they can enhance your experience by providing historical context and pointing out features you might otherwise miss. We recommend this particular tour operated by Cappadocia Info, which includes visits to other key sites along with Derinkuyu. Highline Cappadocia Travel also offers a similar tour (very highly-rated), that includes hotel pickup and drop-off. Self-guided tours are also an option if you prefer to explore at your own pace.

How much does it cost to go to the underground city in Cappadocia?

The entrance fee for Derinkuyu Underground City typically ranges from 50 to 100 Turkish Lira (approximately $3 to $6 USD), depending on the season and any changes in local pricing policies. Prices are subject to change.

Which underground city is better: Kaymakli or Derinkuyu?

Both Kaymakli and Derinkuyu offer unique experiences. Kaymakli is wider and not as deep as Derinkuyu, making it somewhat easier to navigate. It also retains more of its original artifacts, giving a better sense of how people lived. Derinkuyu is deeper and has a more extensive network of tunnels and chambers, providing a more adventurous experience. Your choice depends on what you’re looking for: Kaymakli for a less physically demanding exploration, or Derinkuyu for a more in-depth underground adventure.

How do I get to Derinkuyu Underground City from Istanbul?

To get to Derinkuyu from Istanbul, you can either fly or take a bus to Nevşehir or Kayseri, which are the closest major cities in Cappadocia. From there, you can rent a car or take a local bus or taxi to Derinkuyu. The distance from Istanbul to Derinkuyu is quite significant, so flying is the fastest and most convenient option, with flight times around 1.5 hours followed by a 1-hour drive from the airport to Derinkuyu.

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