Lonely Planet Writer

An ancient underground city in central Turkey has been discovered by shepherds

An ancient underground city has been discovered by shepherds in central Turkey  – and soon you could go and visit it. Researchers have been working in Turkey’s Kayseri province since 2014 to catalogue the underground settlements in the area, and locals told them about the existence of a cave in the Gesi district. This cave has 52 chambers, is 80 metres in length, and has been named Belağası Underground City. Authorities are planning to open the cave up for tourists to visit.

Cave at Kaymakli underground city
Underground city of Kaymakli, Cappodocia, Turkey. Photograph by Getty.

A church and other buildings have also been discovered on the mountainside around the city. That gives a clue to its age, as according to the Obruk Cave Research organisation, “there are many underground cities that were built by Christian peoples, especially between the 6th and 11th centuries.” The area has other similar caves, but it is thought this could be the first one with more than 50 chambers. The size of the city was probably increased in line with the growing population of the ancient settlement.

Underground settlements were often inhabited in ancient times as they offered protection from invasions and bad weather; they were not designed to be long-term abodes. Cave cities contained drainage systems, food storage, homes and even transport and shops. Like other underground cities in Kayseri, Belağası was built in a horizontal fashion.That style marks them out from caves found in nearby Cappadocia, which with its fairytale landscape is one of Turkey’s top tourism destinations.

Thought to have been first carved out by the Hittites, the vast network of underground cities in Cappadocia was first mentioned by the ancient Greek historian Xenophon in the 4th century BC. During the 6th and 7th centuries, Byzantine Christians extended the cities and used them as a means by which to escape persecution. Four of the most interesting to visit are Kaymaklı Underground City, with a maze of tunnels and rooms carved eight levels deep into the earth (only four are open); Derinkuyu Underground City, which has large, cavernous rooms arrayed on seven levels; Gaziemir Underground City , where you can see churches, a winery with wine barrels, food depots, hamams and tandır (clay-oven) fireplaces; and Özlüce Underground City, which is less developed and less crowded.