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.
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.
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.”
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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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