Creating An Underground Mystery

In 1963, the story goes, a man in the Turkish town of Derinkuyu did some home remodeling that left a small crevice in his wall. His chickens kept disappearing into the crack, never to be seen again. Frustrated, he took a sledgehammer to the wall and discovered a tunnel that led to another tunnel, and then another that ultimately gave access to a vast underground city. His story got around, other neighbors started to check out their basements, and ultimately more than 600 entrances to the underground city were discovered–thanks to the rambunctious chickens and one frustrated Turk.

The “lost” subterranean city was called Elengubu and is now called Derinkuyu. It’s in an area of Turkey that is famous for its soft stone, which caused many inhabitants to dig beneath their homes and create additional rooms underground. There are apparently many such underground rooms in the area, but none are as elaborate as Elengubu, which has 18 levels, reaches depths of 270 feet below ground, and is sizeable enough to house 20,000 people. The underground city features massive support pillars, more than 15,000 air shafts, water wells, spaces for livestock and a wine press, and security stones that can be rolled into place to keep out the unwanted.

The mystery is that no one knows who built this huge underground complex, or why. No one knows precisely when it was created, either. It may have been constructed to allow for a refuge in case of invasion, or to allow residents to find cooler temperatures during the hot Turkish summers. It was evidently in use for thousands of years by different civilizations until the Cappadocian Greeks left Turkey in the early 1920s. The city was then promptly forgotten until it was rediscovered by the chickens, and their astonished sledgehammer-wielding owner, some 40 years later.

I wonder if the last person who left the underground city in the 1920s had any idea that they would be contributing to a mystery that would confound people only 40 years later? Sometime the only thing that is needed to create a mystery is forgetfulness, and time.