13 Sprawling Metropolises That Just Happen to Be Underground
There’s too much shit everywhere. So, so much stuff, all over the place, absolutely everywhere, Jesus fucking Christ. The answer? Stick it underground!
All kinds of exciting stuff can be found underground. If you’re a fan of mass-transit networks — and if you aren’t, you should be — then below the surface of the earth is where most of the really exciting stuff happens. If you’re an enthusiast of municipal sewerage works — and if you aren’t, you should be — let’s face it, aboveground sucks.
There are towns and cities below the ground. A lot of what gets called an underground city is, when you really look into it, no more than a subterranean shopping mall, or a few walkways accompanying a subway line. An IMAX built under a shopping-center parking lot to double up on real-estate revenue is fascinating and all, but where shit really gets interesting is where people are living in spaces carved out of the living rock.
It’s so alien to how most of us live, in designed buildings that can be, you know, seen. Living within a mountain like a crazed Bond baddie, or under the desert like one of the worms in Tremors, just feels like it doesn’t add up. How do you open a window? How do you wrap your head around going upstairs and still being downstairs?
The Underground Great Wall is a network of tunnels beneath Beijing, built in the 1970s anticipating a nuclear war with Russia. It once had a roller rink, and now houses up to a million people living in poverty.
England’s Chislehurst Caves are a network of flint mines that became a city during World War II — 15,000 people paid a penny each to stay there for safety during bombing raids. Jimi Hendrix later played there: siiiick.
London is ancient, with so many tunnels beneath it it’s a miracle it hasn’t sunk. There is a network of citadels — fortified military facilities — beneath government buildings, allegedly connected by a series of secret tunnels.
The Odesa catacombs were created by extensive mining, and spread across the Ukrainian city. They were the site of battles in World War II, and housed both civilians and defense forces. Today, people keep, uh, dying in them by accident.
Subterranean Toledo is a network of underground caves, cemeteries and bathhouses beneath the Spanish city, including the Cave of Hercules, built in the first century AD and said to have been part of the prophecy of the big man himself.
The cellar system of Kőbánya, beneath Budapest, started as one quarry. Other dugout structures — wine cellars, underground breweries — connected up and eventually there was a huge system, big enough to be used in World War II to build planes in.
Znojmo in the Czech Republic has a huge network of grottos and catacombs beneath it, ingeniously built in the 15th century so smoke from underground fireplaces came out of aboveground houses’ chimneys. It’s laden with booby traps to keep out invaders.
Paris sits above a massive complex network of limestone mines. In the 18th century, as the population grew dramatically, sections of the mines were reused as bone storage, filled with thousands of skeletons moved from the city’s cemeteries.
The Turkish region of Cappadocia is home to several incredible underground cities. Derinkuyu extends nearly 300 feet underground, could hold 20,000 people, had wineries within it and was closed with massive Indiana Jones-style rolling stone doors. Badass.
Also in Cappadocia, Kaymakli dates from the eighth century BCE. It kept growing, constantly populated during the 400-year Arab-Byzantine wars, and was the site of pioneering metallurgy, linguistic evolution and a surprising number of below-ground horses.
While hardly a city, the Australian town of Coober Pedy is pretty nuts. It’s hot as shit, so homes were dug into the ground by opal miners. There are totally subterranean motels, and an above-ground golf course with no grass.
The dug-out semi-underground troglodyte homes of Matmata in Tunisia have something ever so familiar about them: In 1976, they were used to represent Luke Skywalker’s uncle and aunt’s farm in Star Wars: A New Hope.
Petra in Jordan is nicknamed the Rose City, as many of its buildings are carved directly into the pinkish rock. New underground chambers are still being discovered — as well as statues twice the size of people, carved into the cliffs.