Among the most interesting cultural assets of Cappadocia are the underground cities hollowed out of the soft tufa.
Cappadocia was frequently subjected to foreign raids, and for this reason the underground cities were built to act as short term refuges in times of danger. Nearly every house in the area had a secret entrance into the city. To increase security the local people dug out rooms which were hard to pass, and built traps. With time they dug further into the rock opening more and more rooms and corridors resulting in underground cities
In the underground cities there are dwelling rooms, storage areas, stables, churches, wineries, mill stones and even graves. Shafts for ventilation and communication run between the floors, and huge stone doors blocked off the tunnels in time of danger. Most of these stone doors were carved in situ.
There are around 200 seperate underground cities in Cappadocia. Although evidence of Prehistoric life has been found in the area it is not known whether the underground settlements have any connection with that age.
The earliest record of the underground cities is to be found in Xenophon’s “Anabasıs” According to this book Hellene communities lived in the cities of Kaymaklı and Derinkuyu, which makes it possible to date the cities back as early as the end of the 4th century BC.
There is also evidence that the development of the underground cities owes much to the Hittites. Rock imprints and inscribed monuments on the rocks from the Hitite empire and the Hitite period, the presence of underground passages, known as “Potern”, in Hitite towns, and the superior building techniques are all evidence of Hitite involvement. The secret tunnels found in Hitite cities were generally used to ambush attackers, and for defence.
If the Hitites did carve out these cities for military purposes, it is quite normal that no artefacts from that time have been found. Besides this, dwellers coming after the Hitites would have removed any such traces. Objects found in the cities belong to the Byzantine period, that is the 5th to 10th centuries AD. The number of underground cities used for defence and for religious purposes, increased during this period.
The Arab-Sassanid raids, which began in the 7th century, forced Christian communities to use the cities as refuges.
As the Caravansaries in Cappadocia are found within 5-10 km of the underground cities, it is also supposed that the Seljuks used these settlements as dwellings or for millitary purposes. For example, Dolayhan Caravansaray is near Til Köy underground city, and Saruhan is near Özkonak.
Important underground cities are Kaymaklı, Derinkuyu, Mazı, Özlüce, Özkonak, Tatlarin, Kurugöl and Gökçetoprak.