Beneath the streets throughout parts of Turkey, a network of tunnels once housed thousands of residents seeking refuge from invaders and religious persecution. The country is known for its underground cities—particularly the expansive Derinkuyu, which could accommodate over 20,000 people. Though not yet fully excavated, current records indicate the 11-floor settlement measures around 2,000 square feet, with potentially over 5,000 square feet still unexplored. But as of this summer, archaeologists studying a site about 150 miles west of the ancient subterranean sanctuary believe they might have unearthed one of the largest and most advanced underground cities thus far. The network of subterranean rooms and corridors known as Sarayini covers approximately 215,000 square feet, according to Turkish news outlet Anadolu Agency.
Below what is now the Sarayonu district of Turkey’s Konya metropolitan area, a labyrinth of 30 chambers is outfitted with chimneys, storage areas, cellars, and wells. The multilevel network reportedly dates back to the eighth century. Hasan Uğuz, a Konya Museums archaeologist who is directing the excavation, said that the teams working on site were not expecting the settlement to cover so much ground. In addition to its many rooms and halls, one particularly wide passageway is being described as a “main street.” The areas within the structure are likened to palaces for their comfortable nature and the high quality of life the network was able to support—far from the primitive caves one might imagine in discussions of subterranean dwellings. The refined character of the space earned it the name Sarayini, which means “palace” in Turkish.