Turkish Team May Have Found Biggest Underground City Yet

 / Updated  / Source: NBC News
Entrances to a newly discovered underground city yawn open in the Turkish provincial capital of Nevsehir. Workers discovered the tunnels under a Byzantine-era fortress Nevsehir fortress neighborhood while they were clearing debris for a housing project.
Entrances to a newly discovered underground city yawn open in the Turkish provincial capital of Nevsehir. Workers discovered the tunnels under a Byzantine-era fortress Nevsehir fortress neighborhood while they were clearing debris for a housing project.Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

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When it comes to hidden underground cities, few people were better builders than the Turks: The Derinkuyu complex in Turkey's Cappadocia region could provide refuge for at least 20,000 people in its carved-out caverns — but now archaeologists are surveying a site they think could be even bigger: a cave complex beneath a Byzantine-era hilltop castle in nearby Nevsehir that may go 370 feet (113 meters) deep.

Cappadocia's soft volcanic rock is well-suited for strange formations such as the fairy chimneys and earth pyramids that rise up from the hills. Centuries ago, the local Christians used caves carved into the rock as churches — and as safe havens when Muslim invaders threatened. More than 250 such sanctuaries are thought to exist, but not all of them have been found.

National Geographic reports that Nevsehir's hidden city came to light two years ago during demolition for a new housing project, when workers discovered entrances to a network of rooms and tunnels. Scientists found a multilevel settlement complete with kitchens, wineries, chapels, oil presses, air shafts and water channels.

Although the survey is still under way, there's a chance that Nevsehir's complex could be one-third larger than Derinkuyu. National Geographic's Jennifer Pinkowski writes that the housing project has been shifted to the suburbs, and that Nevsehir's mayor wants to turn the underground complex into "the world's largest antique park."

"We even plan to reopen the underground churches," Mayor Hasan Ünver is quoted as saying. "All of this makes us very excited."

— Alan Boyle

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