I understand that the air shafts and deep streams incorporated into the underground city of Derinkuyu covered the essentials, and they doubtless harvested and stored food from surface farms, but there is one item that I haven't heard addressed: how did they light their living quarters? I would assume burning oil lamps and candles is going to put a ton of smoke into those caverns, especially with thousands of people doing it simultaneously, but I have seen no evidence of it in photographs and videos. In a sci-fi setting, or a dwarven fantasy setting,I would expect some kind of luminescent crystal or bioluminescent plant

  • 3
    I don't know about the ancient Cappadocians, but I do know that the ancient Greeks and Romans used olive oil in their oil lamps. Olive oil lamps produce very very little smoke, almost none. You can leave one burning for years and it won't stain your ceiling.
    – AlexP
    Jan 6 at 0:46
  • 3
    This belongs on history.stackexchange, not here.
    – Daniel B
    Jan 6 at 0:58
  • it was originally used for storing food and temporary shelter against raiders so I don't think they would light the whole tunnel maybe parts of it, I suspect the living condition inside and the lack of threat outside eventually turn the place into a ghost city ;D
    – user6760
    Jan 6 at 3:13
  • 1
    If you are determined enough, and you know the surroundings, you can live with very little light most of the time. You don't actually need nearly as many lamps as you think. Often, you can move around in complete darkness, and you are just fine as long as clutter is kept away to avoid accidental tripping. Hearing can compensate a lot, too: you don't need to see others as they move around because you can hear their footsteps, and at close proximity you can pass each other gently. Jan 6 at 4:47

1 Answer 1


Archaeologists believe that Derinkuyu was illuminated by a combination of oil lamps and reflectors. As it was also ventilated, and that the olive oil commonly used in such lamps burns with little smoke, smoke was unlikely to be an issue.

As for modern photos of Derinkuyu, it is currently illuminated by anachronistic modern electric lights.

Luminescent crystals or bioluminescence may prove to be more difficult than simple oil lamps. Luminescent crystals would be very rare unless they are handwaved in, and would likely require being charged in sunlight for some time, or might be radioactive if they don't require solar charging. Bioluminescent plants and animals are rare and tend to require conditions not compatible with human comfort. Oil lamps have the benefit of being easily made, easily fueled, and easily maintained, and they produce more light than phosphorescent compounds or bioluminescent organisms.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.