Mike Aquilina

Notes from Underground

Wednesday November 19th 2008, 9:19 pm

Today’s Zaman reports on The Many Underground Cities of Cappadocia: “Cappadocia is the land of odd landscapes and ancient cities carved deep underground. Eruptions from Mt. Erciyes and Mt. Hasan covered the landscape with thick layers of volcanic ash, and this solidified to form the soft tufaceous rock.”

The region was, of course, the home of The Cappadocians, Saints Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, and Gregory of Nazianzus.

Thus:

When Christianity arrived in the region the remote and often harsh environment appealed to the anchorites who were looking for an ascetic lifestyle, with all the hardships they felt would draw them closer to God. Communities were formed following Saint Basil’s establishment of the rules of monastic life in the fourth century. When groups of raiding Arabs arrived on the scene in the seventh and eighth centuries, the monks and local Christian communities literally went underground to survive. After the establishment of the Ottoman Empire the threat of attack abated and the local inhabitants began to move out of the hidden cities and for many years the dwellings lay undisturbed, with only the topmost layers used by locals for storage and housing for animals.

In the Cappadocia region there are at least 40 of these underground settlements, but few are open to the public. Derinkuyu, with its eight descending levels, gives a good idea of what life down below must have been like. Kaymakli, located 10 kilometers north of Derinkuyu, is smaller in scale and has five levels open. These cities are definitely not for the claustrophobic, as the passageways are narrow and the ceilings tend to be low.