Imagine you’re a California gold miner who’s just finished plotting out the perfect location for your mine. After polishing your hard hat and sharpening your pickaxe, you take your first swing, but as soon as it touches the earth, it snags. You’ve struck something, but it isn’t gold: it’s an entire field of oil!

This kind of luck befell the Turkish government when a simple urbanization project turned up a find more valuable than gold. As construction crews removed rubble, they discovered a treasure that promised to change the fate of the small city of Nevşehir forever…

Located in Turkey’s Cappadocia region, Nevşehir is known for its tourism. One of the city’s biggest draws is its proximity to several underground cities, which have become almost synonymous with the region itself.

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But the local government wanted more for Nevşehir. So, in 2013 they proposed a “transformation project” to reinvigorate the area. This project would demolish 1,5000 old buildings to make way for a new city center. 

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Officials also wanted to restore some landmark sites, including the historic Nevşehir Castle. Shortly after work began on the fortress, however, construction crews made a puzzling discovery.

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A few errant pickaxe strikes revealed a system of tunnels beneath the fortress. The construction crew immediately halted the restoration and brought in a group of local archaeologists to investigate.

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Over the next year, researchers pieced together a 300-year-old paper trail to explain the origin of the tunnels. Nevşehir’s mayor, Hasan Ünver: “We found that there were close to 30 major water tunnels in this region.”

Istanbul Haber

Geophysicists from Nevşehir University attempted to take an official survey of the system. Data was gathered over the span of a few days, and once completed, researchers were startled by what they found.

Hürriyet Daily News

The survey revealed that the passages were part of a massive tunnel system that was an unbelievable 5 million square feet. Not only that, but the system plunged as deep as 371 feet, the length of one and a half Boeing 747s!

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Researchers began an expedition into the system to discover what secrets it might hold. They didn’t have to look far. Almost immediately upon descending into the web of tunnels, they came across an extraordinary find.

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They discovered rooms that served a functional purpose for a group of earlier settlers; kitchens, chapels, and even wineries were just some of the various types of living and working spaces they came upon.

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Hordes of artifacts were also unearthed, dating the cavern’s use between the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman conquest. They even discovered linseed presses used to make lamp oil, confirming this massive tunnel system to be yet another ancient underground city!

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Given its proposed size, this city would be nearly a third larger than Derinkuyu, Cappadocia’s most well-known underground settlement. Yet without a full exploration of the millions of square feet a claim such as this couldn’t be supported at the time. 

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“As of now, it is not possible to say [how large the city is],” said Murat Gülyaz, director of the  Nevşehir Museum and the archaeologist in charge. “But given the city’s location, and proximity to a water supply, it is highly likely that it spans a very large area.”

Arkeolojik Haber

Regardless, it was clear that the city survived through centuries of war and resettlement. With the ability to support a large population, the occupants likely could’ve avoided surface conflicts for months at a time.

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The researchers deduced that the primary reason for the city’s construction was to create a safe haven for Christians amidst the religious wars that ravaged Anatolia, the area now known as Turkey.

Though the settlement likely saw use in the lead up to the 8th century, it wasn’t until Muslim invaders arrived – and later the Seljuk Turks and the Ottomans – that the city grew to its current size.

Hürriyet Emlak

When faced with a potential invasion, the occupants of the underground city would roll large stones in front of the entranceways to thwart oncoming enemies.

If combatants did manage to get past the defenses, the narrow, single-file tunnels would bottleneck the intruders and make them easy targets for the defending dwellers.

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As time went on, however, large-scale conflicts became less prevalent in the area, and the city was gradually lost to time. In light of this recent find, the local government took a different approach to reinvigorate the region.

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The original urbanization and housing project that led to the discovery has now been relocated, allowing researchers to further study the city. Once completed, Nevşehir’s mayor is hoping to begin a new project, one that he believes will do wonders for the city.

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According to mayor Hasan Ünver, Nevşehir will become “the world’s largest antique park,” complete with museums and underground churches. He considers the city to be “a new pearl” added to Cappadocia’s already vast cultural riches.

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“When the underground city beneath Nevşehir Castle is completely revealed,” he said, “it is almost certain to change the destination of Cappadocia dramatically.”

Hürriyet Daily News

Check out the video below for an up-close-and-personal look at this amazing underground city! People will be lining up to get a look at this beauty for decades.