Underground cities have long existed since ancient times. Most were built to shelter people who either want to live their lives in secret, be protected from invasions, be kept safe and warm during cold weather, prevent population problem or simply like to live an underground urban life. While many of these once vibrant underground shelters have been abandoned and became opened to tourists, some have been developed into places where people can take refuge from harsh winters while others now serve as recreation centers, shopping malls, art gallery, theatres, etc. Here is the list of 10 fascinating underground cities from across the world that would be an explorer’s delight.
1 Wieliczka Salt Mine – Krakow, Poland
Located in the southeast of Poland, Wieliczka Salt Mine is known as one of the longest salt mines in history. The mine itself spans 186 miles. This massive mine was built in the 13th century and continued its salt production up until 2007. This extraordinary mine is now a house of worship and an art gallery that is all carved out of the salt rock. It contains impressive features and dozens of remarkable salt statues, cathedrals, four chapels, and even underground lakes. There are also restaurants, bars, function rooms, and conference facilities available.
Wieliczka Salt Mine became one of the largest and famous tourist attractions in Poland which are visited by tourists every day and reach over one million tourists each year. It is one of the most frequency visited tourist destinations in the world and one of the country’s sources of pride. In 1978, the Wieliczka Salt Mine became a world-class attraction and was declared as the World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The site is also one of the 7 Wonders of Poland.
2 Derinkuyu – Turkey
Cappadocia is a Turkish region that is known for being home to several underground cities. Derinkuyu is the most notable underground city for being the deepest in the area and is one of the more famous underground cities in the world. It consisted of seven layers of underground, and it is measured at approximately 85 meters deep. This underground city has once housed thousands of residents, which is the capacity of 20,000. In 1969, the Derinkuyu underground city was opened to the public, but only half of it is available as a tourist attraction.
Within the eighteen levels of the city, it features markets, shops, schools, churches, cellars, storage rooms, tombs, domestic animal stables, and even wineries. This multi-leveled underground city contained everything that the civilization required to survive. Fifteen thousand ventilation ducts provide air from above throughout the entire underground city. The underground cities in Turkey were also used as hiding places by the Christians to avoid the persecution of being fed to the lions from the Roman Empire.
3 Kariz Underground City – Iran
Kariz is an underground city that lies beneath the coast of Iran, and its depth is about 12 meters below the ground. The underground city is said to be more than 2,500 years old and was primarily used as a water management system. It is one of the water management systems unique in Iran. The water management system consists of 274 wells and three aqueducts for the residents to get access to freshwater. The archaeological site was rediscovered in 1999 after it was forgotten and abandoned for a long time.
The underground has been exclusively renovated and designed into a beautiful tourist attraction with an area of 10,000 square meters. The complex was amazingly developed with various facilities such as numerous shops, fancy restaurants, art gallery, conference hall, amphitheater, and more. The underground city became one of the world’s most famous ancient monuments due to its unique features of freshwater current, cooling air circulation from under the roof, and a ceiling full of fossils, shells, and corals.
4 Burlington Nuclear Bunker – England
Burlington Nuclear Bunker, also known as Secret English City, is a vast underground city that was built in the late 1950s. The bunker was created to provide an emergency location for the British government in case of an event of a nuclear war strike on the UK during the cold war. The Emergency Government War Headquarters is capable of accommodating up to 4,000 people, including the Prime Minister and the royal family. It was also designed to prevent the radiation of the nuclear weapon.
The Burlington Nuclear Bunker had up to 60 miles of road, and it consists facilities of hospitals, cafeterias, pub, laundries, a water treatment facility, a railway station, telephone exchange, workshops, two spacious kitchens, and an underground lake. The bunker had all the necessary facilities for the inhabitants to survive over a long period. For 30 years, the Secret English City was operational until 1991 when World War II ended. The Burlington Bunker has become abandoned since the 1990s.
5 Montreal’s Underground City – Montreal, Canada
Montreal’s Underground City, also referred to as RESO or La Ville Souterraine, is one of Montreal’s most popular tourist attractions. It is also world-famous for its many shopping centers and being the largest underground complex in the world. It is home to numerous stores, hotels, restaurants, offices, banks, apartments, theatres, nightclubs, galleries, universities, including seven metro stations and two commuter trains. It is the place that provides refuge for the locals and tourists who wanted to be safe and warm during the months of harsh winters.
It is also the perfect place to get away from hot or humid weather during the months of summer. There are many metro stations to access the Underground City. The most popular station is the McGill Metro. This incredible underground city is located underneath the streets of Downtown Montreal and is visited by almost millions of people each day. It is the ideal place for people who are art lovers, shoppers, and food lovers.
6 Dixie Cheng – Beijing, China
Starting in 1969, an underground city named Dixie Cheng was constructed beneath Beijing as an emergency shelter during the Sino-Soviet border war. The underground city was built to provide shelter up to forty percent of Beijing’s population in case of nuclear attacks in the city. The primary purpose of the underground city was to build a military defense space. The secret city was created by 300,000 ordinary people digging by shovels under the instruction of Chairman Mao Zedong, President of the People’s Republic of China.
Within the underground city are homes, schools, restaurants, movie theaters, barbershops, and even a roller skating rink. There are stories that every house had a trap door for the citizens to safely retreat to the underground city in case of an event of an attack. The sizeable underground city was never used for its intended purpose and turned into a tourist attraction in 2000. Due to the rising cost of rent in the city of Beijing, some residents illegally live underneath the secret city.
7 Coober Pedy – Australia
Coober Pedy is a small town in southern Australia that has a population of about 3500 residents. The city is famous for producing more opal than anywhere else on earth and is known as the “opal capital of the world.” Most of the inhabitants of this small town choose to live underground permanently. Homes called “dugouts” were built underground to avoid the extreme heat from the surface and to be safe from the dingoes that roam around the area.
Along with the dugout homes, the underground also contains mine shafts, shops, pubs, restaurants, several museums, bookstores, a casino, a church and even a graveyard for its residents. It also has all the essential amenities for the residents such as water, electricity, and internet. Coober Pedy became famous for having the biggest opal mining operation in the world after opal was first discovered in 1915. Several miners chose to live deep inside the earth to escape the severe daytime temperature on the surface.
8 SubTropolis – Kansas City
The SubTropolis is a vast underground city underneath the Missouri River in Kansas City. It is measured at over 55,000,000 square foot that made the underground city known as the “World’s Largest Underground Business Complex.” In 1940, after the process of mining a layer of 270-million-year-old limestone, 100 or more feet underground was revealed. The limestone was removed by using the room and pillar method of mining. The large area attracted the owners to operate businesses and sooner dubbed the underground “SubTropolis.” The underground city has a temperature that maintains 18-21 degrees each year.
It is why the US Postal Service store its collectible of hundreds of millions of postal stamps in the facility. The temperatures at a constant 68 degrees help eliminate the need for air conditioning and heating. According to the president of SubTropolis landlord Hunt Midwest, the tenants can save 70 percent on their energy bills. In SubTropolis, there are more than 2,000 people that work there. SubTropolis is also the world’s first and only underground that has a paintball arena, which is Jaegers Subsurface Paintball.
9 Underground Atlanta – United States
The Underground Atlanta was opened in 1969 and is a shopping and entertainment area located in the Five Points neighborhood of downtown Atlanta. The underground complex is known as the “city beneath the streets” and is one of the most popular attractions in Georgia. The complex features six city blocks and 12 blocks of shops, fine restaurants, and entertainment venues. The underground also hosts special events, festivals, and concerts that draw thousands of locals and tourists every year.
It houses more than 100 streets vendors who specialize in magic streets, face painting, and fortune-telling. The underground city has more than 100 years of history and contains 11 historic landmarks. The unique complex was constructed when the city of Atlanta was booming with lots of traffic problem during the 1920s. Most of the retail shop and restaurant owners on the street level moved their establishments to the underground level. Since then, the underground network became the famous retail and entertainment hub.
10 Matmata – Tunisia
Matmata is a small town located in the south of Tunisia with more than 2,000 local Berber residents. The underground city was constructed by digging a large pit on the ground 15 to 30 feet deep. Around the sides of the hole, artificial caves are dug to create homes and rooms. The locals of Matmata chose to live in cave homes to escape the harsh climates of summer and winter in the arid desert. The unique housing structure is known as “troglodyte.”
The large circular pit serves as the courtyard which is also connected to other pit courtyards through trench-like passageways. The unique structure and scenery of the cave dwellings of Matmata became a significant tourist attraction and also gained fame when it became one of the filming locations as the home of Luke Skywalker in the 1977 movie Star Wars. The home of Luke Skywalker was converted into an underground hotel named Sidi Driss. The hotel became one of the most famous buildings in the small village.