The Secret World Of The Underground
By James Donahue
There exists under our feet a vast network of underground tunnels and rooms that if known
to us would be classified among the marvels of human ingenuity. Most of them have been classified as secret, or they have
been long forgotten. And the old adage in this case rings true: “Out of sight, out of mind.”
My own home on the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan, for example, rests on a hill over what
was at one time one of the most productive copper mines in the world. Remnants of the mines still exist today, mostly as historical
places to visit for tourists. But the tunnels that we are told once burrowed nearly a mile into the earth, still exist. Most
of them are filled with water. All of them are closed to the public.
We have written about abandoned subway tunnels under major cities that have become living
quarters for the growing number of homeless Americans. But there are other strange tunnel systems that have only recently
been made known, most of them blocked from public access, that are true engineering marvels of the not-too-distant past.
There is an abandoned salt mine in Cluj County, Romania, that writer Avi Abrams describes
as “long tunnels and a deep natural cave. The excavations dug a huge artificial cave in which you could fit three ten-story
bocks.” The opening is so vast Abrams said you could drive a bus into it, and even stage a football game.
A vast system of underground tunnels stretching seven miles under the earth, exists under
the City of Cincinnati, Ohio. It was constructed between 1920 and 1925 and was supposed to have been part of the city’s
planned subway transit system. The project was abandoned, obviously due to the Great Depression, and no track was ever laid.
Another abandoned tunnel system constructed in the 1970s exists below Calgary, Canada.
It was supposed to have been part of a transit system designed for that city, but this project also was abandoned for financial
reasons. As in Cincinnati, the Calgary tunnel system is difficult for anyone to find. Nearly all access points have been shut
More marvelous feats of underground engineering exist under Tokyo, Japan and near Sevastopol,
The Tokyo caverns are an amazing infrastructure built by the Institute of Wastewater Engineering
Technology to prevent flooding of the city’s major waterways and rivers during typhoon season. They consist of five
concrete containment silos measuring 65 meters deep and 32 meters in width. The system is powered by 14,000 horsepower turbines
capable of pumping 200 tons of water a second into a nearby river.
The thing that is interesting about the Tokyo runoff system is that the silos stand side-by-side
in a vast underground cavern that has plenty of space for explorers to walk. There is a steel stairway leading to the bottom
and access to the pumping system. Those who have been allowed inside say they have the sense of being in an underground temple.
The Russian caverns near Sevastopol lie under Balaklava,
a community built for the staff of workers assigned to service what exists below. Both Balaklava and the cavern system were
top secret places in the old Soviet Union during the Cold War years. That is because it was a secret garage and service site
for Russia’s nuclear submarine fleet. The site was made assessable to the public after the last submarine was removed
The Russian site, built between 1957 and 1961, goes
126 meters deep. While the full size of the facility remains undisclosed, it was said to have been large enough to hold up
to nine nuclear submarines and contained facilities to shelter as many as 3,000 people.
A story by Ben Behnke that appeared in Der Spiegel tells
of a strange network of over 700 tunnels in Bavaria that are only now being explored by archaeologists trying to unravel their
One such cavern was accidentally discovered by dairy
farmers Beate and Rudi Greithanner after one of their cows fell into a hole in the ground. The farm, near the town of Glonn,
has since been found to lie above a labyrinth of vaults found to run over 80 feet in length. They are old enough to date back
to the Middle Ages.
Perhaps jokingly dubbed “goblin holes,”
Behnke wrote that at least 700 chambers like the one on the Greithanner farm are known to exist in Bavaria. But they are not
unique to that country. Similar underground labyrinths have been found all over Europe, from Hungary to Spain. There are about
500 of them in Austria. The mystery is why they were built.
Historians have searched old records and determined that there must have been some secret
reason the caverns were constructed. There is not a single written record of the construction of any of them.
The English Chunnel is among the more amazing contemporary tunneling projects. Eleven giant
boring machines were designed to to build this railway tunnel linking England and France. Completed in 1994, the tunnel is
considered among the modern seven engineering marvels of the world. It drops 250 feet deep and is 23.5 miles in length. It
is the longest undersea tunnel in existence.
An even larger tunnel, the Seikan railroad tunnel in Japan, drops 790 feet below sea level
and extends 33.46 miles under the Tsugaru Strait between the islands of Honshu and Hokkaido. This tunnel was opened in 1988.
It stands as the longest known underground railroad tunnel in the world. But this record will soon be broken.
When completed sometime in about 2016, the Gotthard Base Tunnel under the Swiss Alps in
Switzerland will produce an underground rail line through nearly 95 miles of tunnels, shafts and passages under the mountains.
It will be the world’s longest rail tunnel. The new railroad line is expected to increase transport speed and capacity
of both passengers and freight between Germany and Italy.
These are but a few of the maze of underground caves, tunnels, bunkers and even cities
known to exist under the surface of this planet. Some of the tunnels are ancient and of unknown origin. For example it is
believed that a complex network of underground tunnels exists from Mexico south and throughout South America. Other strange
underground tunnel systems are believed to exist in many other parts of the world.
We will be exploring some of these strange sites in later stories.