Saturday, January 28, 2017

in depth history

A few years ago when I read Alan Weisman’s book 'The World Without Us' I came across a paragraph that raised my curiosity:

“No one knows how many underground cities lie beneath Cappadocia. Eight have been discovered, and many smaller villages, but there are doubtless more. The biggest, Derinkuyu, wasn’t discovered until 1965, when a resident cleaning the back wall of his cave house broke through a wall and discovered behind it a room that he’d never seen, which led to still another, and another. Eventually, spelunking archeologists found a maze of connecting chambers that descended at least 18 stories and 280 feet beneath the surface, ample enough to hold 30,000 people – and much remains to be excavated.”

Perhaps you already know about them, but they were new to me and more than a little extraordinary. So for those who don't know about them at all and for those who've had other things on their minds lately, I'll go ahead.

It was in 1963 that a man in central Turkey knocked down a wall of his home. Behind it, he discovered a mysterious room. He continued digging and soon discovered an intricate tunnel system with additional cave-like rooms. What he had discovered was the ancient Derinkuyu underground city, part of the Cappadocia region in central Anatolia, Turkey. The elaborate subterranean network included discrete entrances, ventilation shafts, wells, and connecting passageways. It was one of dozens of underground cities carved from the rock in Cappadocia thousands of years ago - quite likely 5,000 years although nobody knows for certain (the old thing about not being able to date rock).

The Cappadocia region of Anatolia is rich in volcanic history and sits on a plateau around 3,300 feet (1,000m) tall. The area was buried in ash millions of years ago creating the lava domes and rough pyramids seen today. Erosion of the sedimentary rock left pocked spires and stone minarets. Volcanic ash deposits consist of a softer rock – something the Hittites of Cappadocia and the Phyrgians (remember them?) discovered thousands of years ago when they began carving out rooms from the rock. It appears it all began with storage and underground food lockers since the subterranean voids maintained a constant temperature.

Then, as invaders moved into and across the territory, the underground tunnels  served a larger purpose: protecting the people from attack. Miles of tunnels blackened from centuries of burning torches were strategically carved narrow to force would-be attackers to crawl single-file. Eventually the tunnels reached hundreds of caves large enough to shelter tens of thousands of people in separate family quarters.

As time went by Derinkuyu was inhabited by early Christians who expanded the caverns further by adding chapels, churches with ancient Greek inscriptions and frescoes. Over one hundred unique entrances to Derinkuyu are hidden behind bushes, walls, and courtyards of surface dwellings. Access points were blocked by large circular stone doors, up to 5 feet (1.5m) in diameter and weighing up to 1,100 lbs (500 kilos) were installed so each level could be sealed individually. The tunnelling architects included thousands of ventilation shafts varying in size up to 100 feet deep (30m). An underground river filled wells while a rudimentary irrigation system transported drinking water.

Commercial spaces included communal meeting areas, schools, dining rooms, grocers, religious places for worship (even shopping) while arsenals stored weapon caches and stables kept animals safe.

Just recently a housing construction project may have unearthed the biggest hiding place ever found in Cappadocia. Discovered beneath a Byzantine-era hilltop castle in Nevşehir, the provincial capital, the site dates back at least to early Byzantine times. It is still largely unexplored, but initial studies suggest its size and features may rival those of Derinkuyu.

Geophysicists from Nevşehir University who conducted a systematic survey of a 1.5-mile (4-kilometer) estimate the site is nearly five million square feet (460,000 square meters). These studies suggest the underground corridors may plunge as deep as 371 feet (113 meters). If that turns out to be accurate, the city could be larger than Derinkuyu by a third.

Cities, empires and religions have risen and fallen around these unique underground havens - 100 square miles with 200+ underground villages and tunnel towns complete with hidden passages, secret rooms and ancient temples and a remarkably storied history of each new civilization building on the work of the last. There are indications that many of these underground cities were connected by tunnels now collapsed or simply lost (for the moment).

It's an area I'd love to visit, but since that's not very likely (besides, I'm claustrophobic) and just a few are partially open to the public, I've settled for looking at some of the many online photographs and written accounts.

We inhabit a world both old and deeper than we might otherwise imagine.


Sean Jeating said...

A fine example for that the Putins, Trumps and Erdogans are nothing but A fart in the wind.

Should Fish More said...

Fascinating. I knew nothing of this, or if I did it's been forgotten over the decades. Thanks for your really enlightening post. We think sometimes we are so advanced, but other than technologically that's probably not always accurate.

Tom said...

What a wonderful account of something utterly fascinating (to crib a word from the previous comment). Your posts are never anything short of "must read" quality.

susan said...

Not to forget Ivan the Terrible, Tamerlane and Alexander the Great.

susan said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this, Mike. Reading about the accomplishments of our ancestors can provide us with reasons for being a little more humble about current circumstances.

susan said...

Thanks, Tom. Exploring history (and myth) is a good way of keeping a clear perspective. There will be more examples I hope you'll enjoy as much.

marja-leena said...

I learned about Cappadocia a few years ago and was amazed, especially by those conical rocks. I have not seen that illustration of the underground passages. How can people live in dark caves, many so far below ground that there is no light at all? Imagine the terror and difficulties during sieges by warlords! Makes one appreciate our modern homes. Yet so many in our world are homeless and still hurt by wars and dictators. Sigh.

susan said...

Hi Marja-Leena. I think those rocks are known as fairy chimneys, although that sounds like something westerners made up, doesn't it? I agree with you that those caves certainly wouldn't be charming places to spend time without modern lighting. I read one girl's account of a visit saying she was afraid of getting stuck in one of the low winding corridors. Not for me.
As for there still being so much misery you're right that things haven't changed that much for too many. I'll add a sigh of my own.

Ol'Buzzard said...

I never heard of this. Interesting.
the Ol'Buzzare

susan said...

It's always good to find out something new, isn't it?

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan,
This is an interesting, well documented post about the Cappadocia region in Turkey which you have aptly named deep history, for it does represent a place where nature and history have come together and give us these remarkable images. One wonders why such large unique structures were carved out of the rock underground in Derinkuyu, but it seems as you say in the commentary there is a possibility over very long periods the extension underground to cities was to evade ever present marauding tribes.
However the site offer possibilities on unique design and lessons surrounding subterranean living which may be of relevance to day?
Best wishes

susan said...

Hi Lindsay,
It appears there was a convergence in Cappadocia between the needs of the local peoples over the millenia and the relative ease they had in carving the tufa stone to great depths. Considering just how many invaders appeared over the course of all that time it's no surprise they went underground in the literal sense of the word.
While there have been other people (like the Arizona Pueblo) who have made use of caves by extending them it seems that caves that are dry and potentially liveable are few and far between. Besides that, they're very dark - something I wouldn't much enjoy. Nevertheless, the idea of making homes in hillsides that are insulated by the surrounding soil sounds like a wonderful idea. Hobbiton looked delightful in the Peter Jackson movies, didn't it?
All the best.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan,
Temperatures at Coober Pedy in Northern South Australia routinely reach (C: F 47/ 117) so that the subterranean option has been used since the early 1900’s to house people and shops. About 60% is underground with about 1500 homes, 2 church's and the pub undergrown.
The houses can have three bedrooms with walk in robes, a living room, bar, wine cellar, billiard room and even a swimming pool.
The town hosted the 2006 film Opal Dream, 1991 film Until the End of the World, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, The Adventures of Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Pitch Black. Just insert Coober Pedy underground to get the story and the pictures on U-tube.

Need an extra room dear ? I'll bring home my jackhammer and carve one out for to night after work ! - we might even find some Opels in the process !! No worries.
Best wishes

susan said...

Hi again, Lindsay,
Wow, I hadn't known about Coober Pedy until now, so many thanks for telling me about the place. It seems as though there's a not too dissimilar geography there that has allowed for carving living space out of the rock much as in Cappadocia and Arizona. Of course, the climate being so hot as well would make living underground a much more sensible idea than otherwise. The place that actually have windows would suit me better than the ones without as I couldn't imagine having to live under artificial lighting all the time.
A few opals would be a nice treat, wouldn't they?
All the best.

Lindsay Byrnes said...

Hi Susan,
As an artist I think you may even relish living/ staying in one of these dwellings as the tunnelling machines leave a very attractive pattern on the walls with welcoming maroon and rose coloured swirls from the sandstone. They all have a coating of clear sealer to ensure there is never any risk of fine dust, nor is there any danger of collapse.
All rooms are ventilated via narrow vertical shafts, with much larger shafts to allow plenty of natural light in kitchens and living rooms. Travellers staying in the motels or guest houses say it’s simply an amazing experience to sleep underground, in absolute stillness and quiet to have the best night's sleep they have ever had.
Best wishes

susan said...

Hi Lindsay,
Yes, I did notice the beautiful colours and textures of the walls, that they've been sealed to prevent stone dust makes them better still. I appreciate you letting me know they're so well provided with natural light as well. I hadn't seen that when I read about Coober Pedy in wikipedia. In the pictures they did look well lit, but I thought all that was because of the artificial lighting.
One certainly wouldn't have to worry about hearing the neighbours or being awoken by traffic noises either. It sounds okay even though I'm unlikely to have a first hand experience of an overnight (or longer) visit.
Thanks again :)