Along with hot air balloons, underground cities are another sight eponymous with Cappadocia. In fact, there are even underground cities here in Kayseri. There’s one in old Talas, really close to where we live and one recently discovered – under a residential house! Read the story here. It was once such underground city, this one called Kaymakli, that was our destination on a hot August day.
If you are at all claustrophobic, you won’t like it down there. You might feel faint just looking at the photos. Why does everything look so.. tight? Well, there are two reasons for that. According to our tour guide, Hittites, the first people who inhabited the underground city, were much shorter than we are now. Also, at some later time underground cities of Cappadocia served as a sanctuary for first Christians, and narrow tunnels with low ceilings meant that soldiers pursuing the refuges would be forced to go in one by one, making it easier for refuges to defend themselves. Seeing as how we had to bend double when going through the tunnels and sometimes almost crawl on all fours, I couldn’t imagine doing all that with a spear or a sword in my hand!
When we were researching underground cities, we came across many recommendations to hire a guide. (I also found a very informative and detailed post on visiting Kaymakli with some practical information on how to get there, prices etc, so have a look). We decided to follow the advice and we didn’t have to look far for a tour guide. They were congregated by the entrance in an area weirdly resembling a holding cell in jail. Sitting there, the small group of tour guides looked somewhat forlorn and I wanted to hire all of them.
Our guide set the price at 70 lira for the four of us, which seemed reasonable, so we set off. Once underground, he recruited 2 more tourists and gave us a 10 lira discount. I was impressed with his entrepreneurial spirit especially considering the other tourists weren’t even looking for a guide in the first place!
In the photo below, the tour guide is in the middle, between Michael and his dad.
He seemed knowledgeable about the area, however as we stopped at each of the 4 out of 8 floors open to the public (90% of Kaymakli was damaged in an earthquake and collapsed), he would repeat the same things over and over again, made hilarious by his strong Turkish accent. However, I wouldn’t have any other tour guide – he made our experience really special. I still get the urge to say, “Hello, how are you, good night” with a strong Turkish accent whenever I pick up a phone. Why? Watch the short video where I recorded some of his gems to find out:
Now, a little bit of history. According to the website of Turkish Heritage Travel, “Underground Cities? These troglodyte cave-cities were excavated as early as Hittite times, and expanded over the centuries as various marauding armies traversed Central Anatolia in search of captives and plunder. There are 36 underground cities in Cappadocia and the widest one is Kaymakli underground city, while the deepest is the Derinkuyu Underground City.
Kaymakli underground city is built under the hill known as the Citadel of Kaymakli and was opened to visitors in 1964. The people of Kaymakli (Enegup in Greek) village have constructed their houses around nearly one hundred tunnels of the underground city. The inhabitants of the region still use the most convenient places in the tunnels as cellars, storage areas and stables, which they access through their courtyards. The Kaymakli Underground City has low, narrow and sloping passages. While the underground city consists of 8 floors below ground, only 4 of them are open to the public today, in which the spaces are organized around ventilation shafts.
Now, I found another website detailing the history of Kaymakli Undeground City, written in not so great English, but it otherwise informative and interesting (all spelling mistakes belong to the site):
“The first three floors were probably carved out by Hittites about 2000 B.C. After that; Assyrians, Lycians, Persians, Kimmerians settled down in the region.
By the forth century B.C. the world famous greek comander Alexander the great occupied the region and become dominant. İn the year of 1000 B.C. Cappadocia Kingdom was established. The kingdom made war against Mecodomans, Galatians, Romans and Pontuses.
The Romans occupied the region in the beginning of the 1st. Century B.C. Roman empire accepted Christran Religion in 376 A.D.
Before that romans didn’t have official religion, Eraly Christian suffered a lot from the romans, Pagans and arab invaders. There fore they refugied in the Underground cities and they enlarged them.
First floors of the underground city served as stables for the domestic animals, because upper floors were higher and convenient for this use. On the second floor a lying down blocking stone, some living rooms, cometery and Christian Church are available.
On the third floor too many storage rooms, mill stone to make flour, wineries to make wine and wine cellars to store wine. In some of the wine cellars, some of the broken wine jugs can be seen.
On the forth floor, there are some more wineries and grape storages. A long gallery leads people to the communial hitchen, In the kitchen too many food storage areas, ovens, a kind of hard stone which served multi functions, such as morter, melting copper, barricade to block the passage to stop enemies (bazalt or andezit stone).
In the underground city there are some main galleries and inside them same sub division were carved out make the city very complicated to make the enemies confused.
There were also some wide areas where some of the important matters were talked and ceremanies were hold. The ventilation shaft is vertical and passes all floors down like on the elevator in an apartment. The depth of the ventilation shaft is abaut 120 meters in total.” (Read more)
You can see some of the things described above in the photos, although if not for the tour guide, we wouldn’t know what we were looking at.
The enormous stone door, which required 10 people to move it. The guide invited us to sit on it and took a photo of us.