(All images (unless specifically stated) courtesy of the Bohemian Blog)
There is more to a city than meets the eye – for what we see, what we know of a place, is often but a narrow cross-section of the complete organism. Like the layers of an onion, so too are our urban environments built upon layers and layers of infrastructure; from drains and sewers, to cable runs and metro lines. Some cities conceal the remains of ancient civilisations, while others hide more recent interments: air raid shelters, storage space, even, in some cases, underground government or military facilities.
Here then is a look at 10 cities from around the world, and a sample of the subterranean secrets each one keeps.
In a city as old and as large as London, it’s almost inevitable to find oneself walking over the compressed layers of a deep and hidden history.
In the Victorian era particularly, London saw a trend towards subterranean expansion. Following the ‘Great Stink’ of 1858, Sir Joseph Bazalgette, chief engineer of the Metropolitan Board of Works, oversaw the construction of almost 1,200 miles of drains and sewers beneath the city. The foul, sewage ridden Thames tributaries – rivers such as the Fleet and the River Effra – were redirected to form subterranean waterways beneath the capital.
Other tunnels under London served more utilitarian purposes, as steam conduits or reservoirs, and many of those still remain in use – such as the large network of cable runs which today form a hidden grid beneath the city, carrying telephone lines, electrical cables, gas and high-speed Internet.
Beneath Odessa, a city on the southern coast of Ukraine, lies a tangle of tunnels and mine shafts which between them form what is reckoned to be the largest network of catacombs anywhere in the world. With an estimated total length of 1,500 miles, if these tunnels were laid end to end they’d reach as far as Paris.
The Odessa Catacombs started out as a system of natural caves, which were then expanded rapidly due to mining operations in the 17th and 18th centuries. Smugglers too, were known to frequent this subterranean realm so close to the Black Sea coast.
When the Nazis invaded Odessa in 1941, the Red Army retreated north towards Russia; but as many as 6,000 Soviet partisans remained, hiding out in the tunnels beneath the city. From here they would launch surprise attacks on the occupying forces, destroying factories, stores and convoys before disappearing back into the labyrinth… and many would remain down there, right up until the Soviets returned to liberate Odessa in 1944.