11 Astonishing Underground Cities Around The World, From Derinkuyu To Coober Pedy

Published September 28, 2023

From the caves of India to the deserts of Australia, these amazing and bewildering underground cities once housed thousands of people below the surface of the Earth.

Cities are widely associated with their skylines, and it’s likely that the word “city” would invoke in your mind an image of a densely crowded urban center like New York, Chicago, London, Paris, Tokyo, Shanghai, or Dubai. However, not all cities around the world have iconic skylines — and some, such as the underground cities on this list, lack a skyline entirely.

Some underground cities, such as the Beijing Underground City and Britain’s Burlington Bunker, have more recent histories, dating back to the 20th century’s wars. They served as contingency plans, should danger fall from the sky. But there are others with histories that date back further — ancient underground cities with rich backgrounds that paint a picture of the past.

In nearly every case, though, these underground cities are sure to astonish with their complex constructions and fascinating histories.

Derinkuyu Underground City: The Subterranean Metropolis Of Ancient Turkey

Underground Cities

Dan Merino/CC BY-ND 2.0 No one knows Derinkuyu’s true origins, but there are several theories as to who built it and why.

Hundreds of feet below the surface of the Earth, in the country of Turkey, sits a vast, labyrinthine network of tunnels that once housed 20,000 people.

Known as Derinkuyu, this underground city extends just under 300 feet down into the ground, encompassing as many as 18 floors. While its exact origin and purpose are unknown, the Turkish Department of Culture estimated that the construction of the city started around 2,800 years ago by a group of people known as the Phrygians, an Indo-European people from the Iron Age, notable for their architectural prowess.

But the Phrygians were not the only people to inhabit Derinkuyu. During the Byzantine era, researchers believe Christians lived in the caverns of Derinkuyu to avoid religious persecution. It’s also possible that its halls were used as recently as the 20th century, when others avoiding persecution from the Ottoman Empire may have once again hidden in Derinkuyu.

There are other theories about Derinkuyu’s origins, though. Some historians have suggested that the city had actually been built in the 15th century B.C.E. by the Anatolian Hittites, so that they could escape their enemies.

Others have theorized that the caves were formed around the same time as Göbekli Tepe, during the Younger Dryas Event roughly 14,500 years ago.

And of course, there are those who have claimed that the original architects of Derinkuyu were ancient aliens who once inhabited, then later abandoned, the underground city. An alternate version of this theory suggests humans did indeed build the city — to hide from invading extraterrestrials. Generally, however, scientists agree that these latter theories don’t hold much weight.

For a time, Derinkuyu was largely forgotten — until it was rediscovered in 1963 when a Turkish man took out a wall amid home renovations, only to discover that there was an entire room behind it. As it turned out, this single room connected to the even larger labyrinth of Derinkuyu.

Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
Jaclyn Anglis
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.
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Harvey, Austin. "11 Astonishing Underground Cities Around The World, From Derinkuyu To Coober Pedy." AllThatsInteresting.com, September 28, 2023, https://allthatsinteresting.com/underground-cities. Accessed May 21, 2024.