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  • Writer's pictureJane Wheeler

Human Ingenuity - Hidden for Centuries

People’s ingenuity is an amazing thing, it has always fascinated me. The things people can do out of necessity or survival. I am sure we have all read or heard stories coming out of WW2 of how people managed to survive and then there are the chances that other people took to help them survive, (people they did not even know, complete strangers), those stories restore faith in humanity at a time when humanity was at some of it’s worst.

Most of us have heard of the underground railway of North America. I think it is important to remember this was all done before the internet, before cell phones, before there was a way to immediately communicate with each other. It is mind boggling.

1) A friend sent me a fascinating article about this fellow who wanted to reno his house back in 1963 but when he broke a hole through the wall, he found instead an entrance way to an underground city. (pictured above)

He had found the underground city of Derinkuya in Turkey. The city was completely

empty and abandoned but it had everything that people would need to survive for a long period of time.

There were multi levels with schools, residences, wineries, gathering halls, churches, arsenals, tombs, its own water system, and a livestock area. This city was probably able to sustain about 20,000 people for long periods of time. Often cities like this were designed for times of persecution. There are over 100 hidden entrances to this city. Want proof of ingenuity: this entire city was built completely by hand.

Even more impressive is that this city was connected via long tunnels to other underground cities. Turkish officials state that there are at least 36 underground cities in the area.

It is believed that Derinkuya was built in the 7th or 8th century and continued to be used until the 12th century.

From artifacts the archeologists believe that this city was built for a Christian people who were fleeing persecution. It is also speculated that this city was also used during in the Mongolian invasion in the 1300’s and it was used right up through to the 20th century when it was finally abandoned for good in 1923.

The Turkish government opened a small part of the city up to tourists in 1969.

This was an intriguing subject for me, and I started to dig (pun intended) into other underground cities that are known around the world.

2) Portland Oregon has an underground city known as Shanghai Tunnels. Tunneling passageways linked Portland’s Old Town or Chinatown to the downtown area, there were also tunnels down to the waterfront allowing supplies and people to be moved. A lot of these tunnels have now flooded out when modern day work was being done.

3) Edinburgh Vaults lie under the streets of Edinburgh Scotland considered to be one of the most haunted places in Scotland. The vaults date back to 1788. They housed taverns, smelters, brothels, and other questionable activities. There is a rumor that a serial killer housed bodies in the vaults and sold them for medical experiments. It was not a welcome place by any stretch of the imagination.

4) Beijing has the underground city of Dixia Cheng which was built in 1960’s during invasions and was to be used as a shelter for the people in case of a nuclear attack. Reportedly it could hold 1 million people for a 4 month stretch. It is a network of tunnels with almost 100 hidden entrances. The place was built with services such as schools, hospitals, and sleeping halls. In 2,000 the city was opened to the public as it was never needed to be used.

5) Krakow, Poland has the Wielczka Salt Mine that was built in the 13th century and has provided table salt up until 2007. The dark caves are now an impressive 185 miles of galleries with nine floors and tourists can visit the first 3 floors by walking down the 378 wooden staircase.

6) Montreal, Canada has Reso a huge maze that runs under the downtown area. It was built in 1962 with the aspect to relieve congestion in the downtown area and provides a place for shops, restaurants, hotels, movie theatre, a library and even apartments. New areas have been added on over the years.

7) Moosejaw, Saskatchewan, Canada has 2 separate sets of tunnels. Racism abounded towards the Chinese people in the 1920's. When Canada imposed a head tax on Chinese immigrants because of the fear that they would steal jobs away local folks, the Chinese could not afford to pay the tax so they were forced underground and hid in the tunnels. Entire families hid out in the tunnels and would work above ground in exchange for food and supplies.

The 2nd set of tunnels were close to the USA and were used for transporting alcohol in the prohibition era. Al Capone days, and the Chicago Connection.

8) Czech Repulic has the Pilsen Historical Underground, a 12.5 mile long maze of passageways under the city streets that was built in the 14th century. The passageways were once used for storage for food, barrels of beer and were thought of as an escape route in case of attack.

9) Naours, France has an underground city with not less that 300 man-made rooms that date back to the 3rd century AD. Known to have chapels, wells and stables it could accommodate 3,000 people.

10) Jordan is well knows to house the ancient city of Petra, one of the wonders of the world, which was carved out of the desert cliffs settled in about the 4th century BC by the Nabataean tribe and it was able to accommodate 30,000 people and was in use until the 7th century. The city was lost until the 1800’s when it was discovered again.

11) Burlington, England is another underground bunker to be used in case of a nuclear attack. Spanning almost 60 miles it was designed in the 1950’s underneath the city of Corsham. Containing offices, cafeterias, a telephone system, a BBC studio and sleeping accommodations this bunker would house the Prime Minister and 4000 personnel. It has never been used and functioned until 1991 and was declassified in 2004.

12) Berlin, Germany has a series of underground bunkers to protect the people from the air raids in WW2.

13) Orvieto, Italy. The Etruscans known for their wine, long ago burrowed down into the ground to carve out wells and cisterns for their wine. It continued to grow until it turned into a subterranean maze of up to 1200 tunnels and galleries. The tunnels were also used in WW2 as bomb shelters.

14) Ethiopia, Africa in the village of Lalibela has 11 Christian churches commissioned by a 12th century AD king. There were all built in the ground out of volcanic rock below the earth’s surface. Legend states that it took 24 years to build. Modern day these churches still continue to draw over 100,000 pilgrims annually.

15) Mesa Verde, Colorado, USA is home to the Pueblo people who around 1300 BC they built cliff side pueblos (homes and cities) and lived in them until approx. 1100 BC.

16) Coober Pedy, Australia has an opal mining town built in 1916 underground because of the intense heat in the area. There are 3 churches, a bookstore, art gallery, bar, and hotels located in this area.

17) Switzerland is a unique country in that is has enough nuclear fallout shelters to accommodate its entire population. The Swiss spend more than any other nation on security, more than 20% of it’s budget on to protect their population, in fact it is a legal requirement of the country. In 2006 there were 300,000 shelters plus another 5,100 public shelters, in total this was protection for 8.6 million people which was 114% of their population at the time.

I remember hearing someone say that people are not smart enough to orchestrate something on a huge scale because they thought that really – ‘they have a hard time getting people to coordinate for a meeting or an appointment’. I beg to differ, when necessity or survival is on the line, people can accomplish almost anything and I think this blog points to the creative genuis that is in the human mind.

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Veronica Falkenberg Tallman
Veronica Falkenberg Tallman
May 11, 2022



Laurel Spilchen
Laurel Spilchen
May 11, 2022

I haven't researched it, but I remember hearing about an underground city in San Fransisco. It was largely for Chinese people in the late 1800's and early 1900's. I don't have any idea if it's still in use or not.

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