Underground City – Kaymakli, Turkey with KIDS
Underground City – Kaymakli, Turkey
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Turkey is one of our ALL time favorite family travel destinations. We went in 2015, right as the ISIS trouble was starting at the border between Turkey and Syria. We weren’t sure it was a good idea at first but we did a LOT of research before we decided to go. It was a DREAM trip and I hope everyone gets to visit this fantastic country at some point.
Finding a ‘safe’ destination is easier said than done in this time and age.
Read this important posts on how to decide a vacation spot is safe for your family.
Underground City – Kaymakli, Turkey – Where is the underground city?
The UNESCO site is in the Cappadocia area of Turkey which is several hours drive east of Istanbul. This Cappadocia area is made up of small towns which are really neat to explore. We stayed at a really amazing Hotel, The Cappadocia Estates Hotel, which made an easy hub for exploring. Public transportation is not easily available in this area so we looked to Lale at the SRM Travel Agency for information on guides and arranging tours and transportation.
Underground City – Kaymakli, Turkey – What is the underground city?
This really is an entire underground city with 7 levels. Think of an ant farm except for people! You get a great feel for that in this photo of a sign at the entrance of the Kaymakli underground city in Turkey.
This UNESCO site will be at the top of the list of things kids love in Turkey – acting like giant ants? Underground city? This photo lets you understand the similarity between this city and an ant farm. Imagine the planning and the time to carve it out. Early civil engineers? Architects? Construction crews?
Underground City – Kaymakli, Turkey – Who went in the city underground?
The people of this area lived above ground during peacetime, but when danger arrived, the 5000 people in the town could disappear underground in an hour. ONE hour – 5000 people AND all their livestock all safely underground.
All parents know that just taking 2 young kids to the grocery store can take longer than that, so this feat is really incredible. Can you imagine the discipline in order to move quickly but in a calm and organized fashion?
Do you think we could do this now? I just think of people evacuating Houston during a hurricane a few years back….the outbound freeways were locked up AND yet the inbound freeway lanes were empty. It was complete insanity. We could take a lesson from the ancient people of Kaymakli who clearly had this down evacuation process down to a science.
It also begs the question: Did they have practice drills like we do now at schools?
Underground City – Kaymakli, Turkey – How did they live underground in Kaymakli?
This underground city was very well planned with rooms and sections for everything you can imagine. It would be hard to tell exactly the purpose of each room without a guide so I highly recommend one for this adventure!
The animals had a large living area with sections carved out for food and water. Even spots where you could tie the animals were carved! Every detail was planned.
The wealthy had living areas at the upper levels of the seven story city while the poor had smaller living areas in the lowest areas. Ask the kids if this might be the reason the wealthy were called the ‘upper’ class.
Some things about every day life are similar:
- Babies needed a spot to sleep and they needed a way to see! On the walls, niches were carved to hold oil lamps and over the family sleeping area was a carved spot for hanging a baby’s hammock.
- They needed a way to go potty! Each family living area held a chamberpot which was layered with lime to keep smells at bay. Most kids have not heard of a chamber pot and this discussion always leads to giggles.
- They needed to communicate! Small tunnels were carved between living areas which served as a way to communicate between homes – early telephones!
I was especially fascinated by the food preparation. I hate to cook as it is…with every modern convenience. Can you imagine the job here? Below ground?
- They needed to eat! Kitchen areas were communal. Cooking was done at night and as little as possible – only every few days so they smoke from cooking fires would not be seen by enemies as it escaped through the ventilation system. (I know I could live without cooking every night…how about you?) Isn’t that clever! The people of Kaymakli ate mostly dried fruit, meat, and vegetables. We saw a stone with small indentions in it from dinner being prepared so many years ago. Imagine the conversations over this rock as women ground grain…
- They grew old or sick and died. In addition to the living and community gathering areas there was a cemetery. To avoid the smell of decomposing bodies, the deceased were mummified before burying. Graves each had a stone placed on top.
- The kids got bored. With lots of kids in the city and no way to play outside we talked about how they would pass the time. Hide and seek sure seems a likely game!
- They needed fresh air. The city had a marvelous design. Vertical ventilation tunnels had spots carved into the walls to be used like a ladder so soldiers could come down to give reports or warnings. These tunnels also had a pulley system so water could be sent down and chamber pots could be sent up to be emptied.
Underground City – Kaymakli, Turkey – Clever safety procedures
They needed to be safe. Protection from the enemy was key.
Safe water: Water wells did not go all the way above ground. This way, enemies could not poison the water. Smart thinking!
What if an enemy does come in: If an enemy managed to find their way to the living areas, residents would blow out the oil lamps. While the underground city residents knew their way around an enemy was suddenly in a maze in the pitch darkness. Residents would throw stones or otherwise torment the intruder.
Escape if needed: If enough warning was given, residents would close off the tunnels by rolling these large stones across the walkways. Six to eight men would roll the stone in place as a door and close off the tunnel. If need be there was an escape tunnel leading to another underground city – 9 km away!
This would not be an easy escape as the tunnels are quite small. I’m 5’1″ and still had to bend over or squat and duck walk to get through some of them. Nine kilometers is a LONG way to rush as quickly as possible through small corridors to escape.
Underground City – Kaymakli, Turkey – Who were they hiding from?
So, who was the enemy that sent the locals underground? Frankly it depends on the time period. At one point Christians hid here from Roman prosecution. Many invaders wanted this area because of it’s close proximity to the important trade route – the Silk Road…..Ottomans, Byzantines, Seljuks, Hittites…the list is long.
Underground City – Kaymakli, Turkey – Hire a guide.
We love guides in certain situations and this is definitely one of them. There is just no way to see this underground city and have any way of knowing what you are looking out without a guide. We chose Mustafa Yuce, who was recommended to us by SRM Travel, and he was fantastic. He knew the area like the back of his had because he literally grew up in the area. Before it was a UNESCO travel destination – it was just a cool place for the local kids to play.
Mustafa grew up playing in these caves and he makes the city come alive with his explanation – especially for the kids! His tour was reasonably priced and worth every penny!
This UNESCO World Heritage Site was one in a million sight for a family vacation!
When you buy your ticket, ask for Mustafa Yuce to be your guide. Call him personally if you want to plan ahead.
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Happy fascinating family travels!
Natalie, The Educational Tourist