In the 1630s when the word “underground” was used, it was used in a figurative sense to mean something that was hidden or secret. The world today is full of underground cities, many of which were a secret for a really long period of time. The architecture of these cities is not only awe-inspiring but also a reminder of how far human achievements can go when it comes to vision and construction. Do you know that Montreal has an underground network that connects most of its important buildings which is used by a half a million people in the winter? Here is a list of ten, astounding, underground cities around the world that were built during different eras and are capable of inciting a “wow” reaction.
1. Almost 85% of the ancient city of Petra in Jordan that was built as early as the second century lies underground, posing as a mystery to many. It has hundreds of houses, altars, and a theatre that could hold up to 3,000 people in the 15% that has been discovered.
“It seems no work of Man’s creative hand,
by labour wrought as wavering fancy planned;
But from the rock as if by magic grown,
eternal, silent, beautiful, alone!”
The above work is John William Burgon’s Newdigate Prize-winning sonnet about Petra.
Known as the “Rose City” or the “Lost City” for being carved out of a pink sandstone rock and for being a mystery to the world, Petra in Jordan is only 15% above ground. The Nabataeans of the second century carved the beautiful, prehistoric city amidst a rugged desert. The city where many movies have been shot has been named as one of the new seven wonders of the world and has been declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bedouin tribes believed that the city had hidden treasures within. There is a Roman-style theatre that could seat up to 3,000 people and other structures like houses (a majority of them destroyed by earthquakes), obelisks, temples, and a monastery with a flight of 800 rock-cut steps in the discovered part of the city. What lies underground is a mystery. (1, 2, 3)
2. Built during the second century underneath Naours is a subterranean city in France with 300 chambers, 28 galleries, wells, bakeries, chapels, and stables. In the 9th century CE, it was home to the Vikings, and in the 17th century CE, the city reached its peak with a population of 3,000.
First inhabited in the third century, the parallel, underground city of Naours was occupied constantly during the Thirty Years of War from 1618 to 1648 CE. The villagers sheltered themselves and their farm animals from the armies crossing northern France in this underground complex that had 300 rooms which had the capacity of accommodating at least 20,000 people. This underground complex had everything that one would need to survive like wells, chapels, shelters, etc.
During the First World War, the city was used for recreation as the place was near to Vignacourt which was a staging area for Somme battlefields, according to the diary of one Australian soldier. Approximately 3,000 etchings had been made on the walls which are being studied to get a better idea about how they survived underground in the life-threatening circumstances. (1, 2)
3. The three-level deep, 1500-year-old underground city of Nushabad was built in Iran to protect people from raids and enemies. It had openings from several important gathering places and could hold people for days.
Ancient Persians took refuge in Nushabad, a subterranean city in Iran, centuries ago. Considered to be a marvel of architecture, the three-level city had tunnels, chambers, air ducts, water pipes, toilets, and even booby traps to ward off invaders. Each family that took shelter there could have a room of their own which was connected to other rooms by a tunnel that served as a corridor.
Although the first pits were dug as hiding spots during the time of Sasanian Empire around 600 CE, it became a sustainable city only after a span of hundreds of years. Located near Kashan, Nushabad can be visited by people all year round. (source)
4. The ancient city of Derinkuyu was found in Turkey after a man tore down a wall in his house. The 18-level underground city could hold up to 20,000 people with schools, markets, churches, and thousands of ventilation shafts. There are over 200 ancient underground cities in Turkey.
Turkey is home to over 200 ancient underground cities that have baffled archaeologists from around the world. One of those cities is Derinkuyu in the Nevsehir Province of Turkey. This multilevel city which has a depth of approximately 200 feet and is so huge that it could easily house 20,000 people along with their livestock and food storage. Apart from the usual rooms and facilities that were found in the other underground complexes in Turkey like chapels, wine, and oil presses, refectories, storage rooms, etc., Derinkuyu had a large room that is believed to have served as a religious school.
According to the Turkish Department of Culture, the city might have been built from soft volcanic rock by the Phrygians, the early Indo-European people who lived around the 7th Century CE. During the Arab-Byzantine wars from 780-1180 CE, the city was used as protection from Muslim Arabs and was also connected to other underground cities through tunnels. Until the late 20th century, the Cappadocian Greeks were using the city during the periodic wars that occurred in the region. Since 1969, the city has been opened to people, but only half of it is accessible. (source)
5. In Pendleton, Oregon in the US, an underground city was built in the 1800s which was found when the city crew tried to fix some potholes. It was a “Chinatown” created by the Chinese residents of the area to protect themselves from drunk cowboys.
In the 1980s when potholes began appearing mysteriously in Pendleton, a city crew arrived to fix them. That is when they realized that at the bottom of those potholes lies another Pendleton—an underground city that was built in the 1800s. This was the time when the construction of railroads was almost completed and so the country no longer needed the thousands of construction workers who had come from China. They were now competing for jobs with the natives and that was a problem that was turning the climate completely hostile for the Chinese.
Several laws, like prohibiting the Chinese from owning land to not letting them become full citizens, made it really hard for them to survive, and angry mobs of people would often chase these non-residents out of towns. The Chinese had to do something to protect themselves, so they formed ghettos or what was known as “Chinatowns.” But unlike the other places, the Chinese in Pendleton were often victims of violent attacks by drunk cowboys who had no fear of punishment. So, they decided to become invisible and not appear anywhere in public after sunset for their safety. But they could not simply be cooped up inside their homes. To solve that problem of movement after dark, underground tunnels were dug which expanded into a full-fledged city over a period of time. This “underground city” was a secret until the pothole incident of the 1980s. (source)