Even though we think of cities in terms of skyscrapers and monuments that reach for the sky, there are many underground cities in the world. Throughout human history, people have made their homes deep below the ground for many reasons.
War, natural disasters, weather, and the lack of space on the surface are among the reasons that have driven people underground. A major reason to live underground is concealment: the hidden cities in America and other countries were built to hide government and military installations from enemies or potential enemies. Even though they are supposed to be hidden, there are now many famous underground cities.
8 Famous Underground Cities
The Underground City of Beijing, China
Also known as Dixia Cheng, this city is really a vast bomb shelter located underneath China's capital. It was built during the 1970s when China's leader, Mao Zedong, feared a nuclear war with his enemies in the Soviet Union. Dixia Cheng is located right underneath the heart of Beijing and has up to 90 known entrances hidden in normal-looking shops. The city contained restaurants, theaters, schools, clinics, factories, a mushroom farm, and even a roller-skating rink. Over 300,000 people worked on the city's construction. Between 2000 and 2008 it was open to the public as a tourist attraction. It has been closed for renovation since 2008, so it is not known what the Chinese government will do with the city.
Montreal's Underground City, Canada
The area in and around downtown Montreal houses is the largest underground complex in the world known as The Indoor City or La Ville Souterriane. Over 32 kilometers of tunnels contain shopping malls, subway stations, commuter train stations, apartments, condominiums, museums, universities, and even an amphitheater. Over 35% of the commercial space in Downtown Montreal is part of the Indoor City, which is located both above and below the ground. The city started as an underground shopping mall and was expanded as Montreal's subway system was built.
Central Government War Headquarters, UK
This secret city located in an underground stone quarry in Corsham, Wiltshire, England, was designed to house Her Majesty's Government in case of war with the Soviet Union in the 1950s. Over the years it had many names, including Stockwell, Subterfuge, Burlington, Turnstile, Chanticleer, Peripheral, Site 3, and Hawthorn. The headquarters consisted of one kilometer of tunnels that could house up to 4,000 people. Persons there would include the Prime Minister, the Cabinet, civil servants, and the royal family. Interesting features included the second largest telephone exchange in the United Kingdom and a British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) station from which the Prime Minister could address the nation. Interestingly, the development of intercontinental missiles made the facility obsolete a few years after it was built because the Soviets could easily destroy it. The city's existence wasn't revealed to the British public until 1981. The headquarters was decommissioned in 1991. In 2005 the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defense put the facility up for sale. It is not known who bought it or what it is being used for today.
This is the largest and best known of nearly 200 underground cities in Turkey's Nevsehir Province. Derinkuyu's residents moved underground to escape invaders in Byzantine times as the Roman Empire was collapsing. The cities contained churches, kitchens, and wine and oil presses. Derinkuyu is located at depths up to 85 feet deep. It could have housed thousands of people underground in its heyday. When it was known as Malakopea in Greek, Christians often hid in the city to escape Arab invaders. Today Derinkuyu is a popular tourist attraction. Some historical sources indicate that underground cities may have existed in the area several centuries before Christ.
This small Iranian island in the Persian Gulf is a very popular tourist attraction that contains a very famous underground city. The city is really an aqueduct and transportation tunnel built about 1,000 years ago. The island contains one of the world's 10 most beautiful beaches and many popular shopping malls. Kish has been a center of trade and navigation since ancient times; the aqueduct was designed to bring water to the port. Today Kish is popular because it is a duty-free shopping destination. The underground city is partially open for tourists to visit.
Coober Pedy, South Australia
Known as the opal capital of the world, this town is considered as an underground city because many of the residents live in caves. The residents moved underground because the temperature in the region often exceeds 40 degrees Celsius in the summer. It is usually so hot in Coober Pedy that golfers at the town's course only play at night using glow in the dark balls. Underground facilities in Coober Pedy include shops, churches, and an underground graveyard. Many of the town's families live in two or three-bedroom caves called dugouts. Coober Pedy is one of the remotest towns in Australia, being located halfway between Adelaide and Alice Springs. Today it is a popular tourist attraction.
The Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland
One of the world's oldest salt mines, near Krakow, Poland, contains many salt sculptures and an entire cathedral that was carved out of rock salt. Mining began on the site in the 13th century and ended in 2007. Also called the Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland or the Royal Salt Mine, the mine houses a rehabilitation center. During World War II the Nazis used the mine as a munitions factory. Some of the features in the mine include chandeliers made from rock salt and an underground lake. There are also large numbers of statues carved out of rock salt. A nearby salt mine, the Bochnia, contains churches; volleyball, basketball, and handball courts; a restaurant, and a conference center. Both mines are considered World Heritage Sites that attract hundreds of thousands of tourists a year.
Leavenworth, Kansas, USA
One of America's hidden cities is located underneath this Kansas army town, known as the site of a federal prison. Tunnels and vaults stretch under downtown Leavenworth and connect several of the town's buildings. Nobody knows who built the underground city or why, but it can be accessed at several points. One popular theory is that the city was built to hide escaped slaves before the Civil War. The tunnels may have been used as hiding places during violence over slavery before the Civil War or during the war itself. Another possibility is that the tunnels were built during Prohibition when alcohol was illegal in the United States. Some of the tunnels connect breweries. Bootleggers often used such tunnels to hide and move illegal liquor.