Underground Cities and Why They Were Built (2023)

Fans of underground homes may be fans of underground cities as well. I know I am. Underground cities don't generally bear any resemblance to what we normally think of as a city. Their appearance depends on the purpose for which the complex is used.

Many of these subterranean sites exist - some as underground shelters or refuges, some as secure working environments and others as living or shopping centers.

Underground Cities and Why They Were Built (1)
Underground city in Montreal, Canada

Many defensive fortresses are still in use, having been excavated or tunneled out hundreds of years ago. An underground city may be just a series of tunnels and caverns whose functions have changed over time.

Deep beneath the streets of London, for instance, there are many separate, but interconnected networks of tunnels. Running alongside and intertwined with the sewers and the underground rail system - the Tube - there are government and military establishments, most of which, you won't find mentioned on any maps or drawings.

London Underground ...

It's quite possible (security permitting) to take an elevator down into the bowels of the earth and travel around London, emerging many miles away, having encountered busy offices, workshops and disused stations along the way. You won't find road signs, either, so you'll need to know where you're going when you're down there.

The world's largest (known) subterranean complex is said to be the underground city in Montreal, Canada. Built to enable the city's residents and visitors to go about their normal business during the harsh winter months, there are multiple shopping malls and office blocks interconnected by walkways and rail.

(Video) Why Did The Ancients Build Underground Cities?

Underground Cities and Why They Were Built (2)
Underground city in Turkey

Access is via train stations and through many entry points around the city at ground level. With restaurants, hotels, cinemas and all the regular retail stores, this is truly an underground city, welcomed by all who use it in cold or wet weather.

Underground cities also evolve for quite the opposite reasons to Montreal's. Take the tiny South Australian town of Coober Pedy. Officially designated as having a hot desert climate, you might wonder why anyone would live there. Well, the promise of riches never fails to attract prospectors and this being the world's opal gem capital, is no exception.

Opal Gangnam Style ...

Opals were discovered there in 1915, and by 1999 the town had acquired over a quarter million mine shaft entrances. Miners found that by adapting their mining skills to boring out dugout caves into the sides of the hills, they could live in constant, year-round comfortable temperatures.

Humans are nothing if not resourceful when it comes to putting a roof over their heads. You can usually build your home using locally available natural materials - wood, stone, mud, straw, ice, for example. In the Cappadocia region in Turkey, trees are a scarce resource but there is an abundance of rock. This rock is fairly strong but also soft enough to work easily. For this reason, the people in the area, going back thousands of years, have hewn caves from the stone to make their homes. This is understandably a popular tourist attraction for visitors to Turkey.

Underground cities, by their very nature, are difficult to map. In most cases, if you could see a transparent view of the area, it would look like a giant ant hill built by a huge colony of ants. Pictured is a futuristic concept of what I am talking about.

Underground Cities and Why They Were Built (3)
Underground city concept

But, historically, because many of the underground complexes have evolved over long time spans, they contain forgotten, or secret interconnecting paths and tunnels to other similar systems, so we will probably never know the full extent of many of them.

(Video) Ancients Built Cities UNDERGROUND to Survive Cataclysm

When people think of underground cities in the United States they usually speak of Chicago and Seattle as two examples. But in America there are over a dozen underground cities in the North, South, East, West and Midwest regions.

For instance, the underground city of Seattle is largely made up of the 1889 version of the town that mostly demolished by the Great Seattle Fire of that date. The city government decided to build back better and laid concrete and stone upon the old city to build the new city of Seattle on top of its former self. Much of the old city lay underneath Pioneer Square, which is now made up with a network of tunnels and has been open in recent years for tours.

Underground Cities and Why They Were Built (4)
Seattle underground city

Beneath the Loop in Chicago, Illinois there is a vast Pedway System. This part of subterranean Chicago connects businesses, small shops, and shopping centers. There is also a series of subterranean streets such as the Lower Wacker which played a role in the Batman movie The Dark Knight. Centuries old, abandoned freight tunnels also crisscross across the city, which were built by the Chicago Tunnel Company for small electric trains to haul goods to businesses. The Deep Tunnel Project or Tunnel and Reservoir Plan (TARP) created 110 miles of tunnels and was built to improve water quality and mitigate flooding.

In Atlanta, Georgia there is a “city beneath the streets” that is a testament to the civil war era. Atlanta was a confederate stronghold and a city of interest for the union army. Many railroad lines were constructed in Atlanta which crossed on top of each other via bridges and concrete viaducts. Eventually businesses built on top of these viaducts creating a top level of the city. More recently the city of Atlanta has restored this underground area and opened it for visitors.

In Kansas City, Missouri there is an area called SubTropolis. This is a huge, 6 million square foot underground building complex with thousands of workers. It was built from an evacuated mine in 1964. The people love it because of the constant cool temperatures it creates from living underground. The U. S. Post Office also takes advantage of this subsurface climate by storing collectible stamps there.

Underground Cities and Why They Were Built (5)
Kansas City Subtropolis

(Video) TARTARIA Explained! Pt6- Subterranean networks / The Underground Railroads and Buried Cities

In New York City, NY there is a tunnel system is different parts of this metropolis. The Gotham underground can be found in places like the Meatpacking District, which at one time, used underground tunnels to transport cattle. In Little Italy, one of the Catholic churches has a series of crypts and vaults underneath it.

Houston, Texas has a 6-mile series of tunnels expanding beneath the downtown area. The tunnels cover 95 city blocks and are used mostly by businesspeople. The area contains restaurants and shops.

The Shanghai Tunnels of Portland, Oregon (Portland Underground) is a system of tunnels that connect the Chinatown area to the downtown area. Many years ago, businesses used their basements to transport good from ships on the Willamette River waterfront, avoiding the usual crowded traffic routes. The rumor for many years is that the tunnels were also used for shanghaiing (or kidnapping) sailors for ships and women for prostitution, though recent historians cannot confirm this. This mythical lore remains, however.

Underground Cities and Why They Were Built (6)
Shanghai Tunnels of Portland, Oregon

Washington, D.C. is also built upon a series of tunnels, and these are widely used still today. The tunnels connect subway stations and government buildings such as the U. S. Capitol and the Library of Congress and more. Food courts and retailers along with an occasional senator or congressperson can be found here.

Moving back outside the U. S. borders, the city of Moose Jaw (I love saying this word) in Saskatchewan, Canada has a series of tunnels dating back to the early 1900’s. At this time, Canada imposed a head tax on Chinese immigrants for fear they would do the jobs that no one else wanted to do, plus steal other jobs along the way. So, families of Chinese immigrants moved into the shadows underground to avoid paying these taxes but worked above ground. In the 1920’s this underground tunnel maze was repurposed to an amazing new use which was to move illegal booze from Moose Jaw to the U. S. during Prohibition. It’s has even been rumored that bootlegger (and not boot licker) Al Capone had his thumb on many of this illegal activity.

Underground Cities and Why They Were Built (7)
Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada Underground City

(Video) 10 Incredible Underground Cities That Still Exist

In the city of Pilsen in the Czech Republic, there is a 12.5-mile underground system of passageways. Built in the 14th century, this tunnel system was used for storage for food and bountiful barrels of Pilsner beer. This was also used for an escape route. There was also said to be treasure buried in the walls.

Just outside of Krakow, Poland lay the Wieliczka Salt Mine which was built in the 13th century to supply table salt to the world. More recently the dark caves of the salt mine have been turned into a labyrinth covering 185 miles filled with art galleries and more. You’ll need to descend a 378-step wooden staircase to begin your journey at which time several tour options are available.

Underground Cities and Why They Were Built (8)
Wieliczka Salt Mine in Krakow, Poland

In Dixia Cheng, Beijing, China there is a vast underground system (Underground Great Wall) built as a war shelter in the 1970’s. Fortunately for all of us a nuclear war has never broken out, but at that time, preparations were made including hospitals and schools and sleeping areas for citizens who needed to remain under the surface for longer periods of time. There is rumored to be over 100 hidden entrances to this section of Beijing, China.

Beneath Edinburgh, Scotland, there lay The South Bridge Vaults (Edinburgh Vaults) which are a series of chambers dating back to 1788. This was a grisly and superstitious place that was built to house pubs plus cutlers and smelters and cobblers, oh my! It was also home to illicit materials and rumor has it that a couple of series killers (Hare and Burke) stored bodies here which they sold to doctors and others for medical experiments. Later, this area became home to the poorest and was lined with brothels and taverns.

Underground Cities and Why They Were Built (9)
Edinburgh, Scotland Vaults

So, you can see that underground cities are plentiful in the U. S. and across the world. Why not put a few on your travel schedule for the near future?

(Video) Historical Evidence of Underground Cities in America

External Links

For a list of underground cities around the world check out this Wikipedia entry:



Why did they build underground cities? ›

The primary reason for digging underground cities in the ancient world was for protection, as the spaces could be closed by rolling heavy boulders across the entrances.

Why did they build underground cities in Turkey? ›

The idea behind the subterranean cities was to protect the inhabitants from foreign invasion, allowing thousands of people to live their lives in total secrecy. During the 14th century, the caves provided Christians with a safe haven from the threat of the Mongolians during the assaults on Timur.

Why was the underground city in Cappadocia built? ›

The Cappadocia underground cities were built by early Christians during the Byzantine era who were persecuted for their faith. The city's inhabitants used the network of caves to protect themselves from Muslim-Arabs during the Arab-Byzantine Wars between 780 and 1180.

Why did people live underground? ›

If there were no materials to build houses with, they dug subterranean homes, Hunt told Live Science. In places with extreme climates, people went beneath the earth in the summer to stay cool and in the winter to stay warm. Underground was also a safe place to hide from enemies.

Is there an underground city in England? ›

The site, formerly known as Basil Hill Barracks, is less than 10 miles from Bath and situated between the towns of Corsham and Box in Wiltshire. From the outside it looks like any other MoD building, but lying beneath it is a hidden city built to house thousands of people in the event of a nuclear war.

Why is Finland building an underground city? ›

According to a Daily Mirror report, Finland has engineered an entire underground city in anticipation of a Russian attack. The underground city consists of about 500 underground shelters capable of housing 900,000 people.

What is the oldest underground city? ›

The Derinkuyu underground city (Cappadocian Greek: Μαλακοπή Malakopi; Turkish: Derinkuyu Yeraltı Şehri) is an ancient multi-level underground city in the Derinkuyu district in Nevşehir Province, Turkey, extending to a depth of approximately 85 metres (279 ft).

What is the deepest underground city? ›

Derinkuyu, Cappadocia, Turkey

Cappadocia city, located in central Turkey, is home to no less than 36 underground cities, and at a depth of approx. 85 m, Derinkuyu is the deepest.

Where is the largest underground city? ›

Montreal, Quebec, Underground city, or la ville souterraine in French, is the largest underground network in the world. Its 32 km (20 mi) of tunnel cover more than 41 city blocks (about 12 km2 (5 sq mi)).

What country has an underground city? ›

HELSINKI -- Finland may be world's happiest country -- at least on the surface. But Helsinki's "underground city" tells a different story. Beneath the capital, a massive network of bunkers and tunnels spreads out all across the city.

What are the benefits of living underground? ›

Some advantages of underground houses include resistance to severe weather, quiet living space, an unobtrusive presence in the surrounding landscape, and a nearly constant interior temperature due to the natural insulating properties of the surrounding earth.

Does China have an underground city? ›

China: Dixia Cheng, Beijing

Built in the 1960s as a nuclear war shelter, this underground city below Beijing occupies almost 85 square kilometre. Thankfully, there has been no occasion to use it, where a million people may shelter for four months.

Do people still live in caves in Cappadocia? ›

Not only people live in the caves in Cappadocia - pigeons do too! There are hundreds of pigeon houses also carved out of the various rock formations. Take a look at my full article about the town of Goreme and it's rock columns, caves and valleys nearby.

Why did they build Derinkuyu? ›


This labyrinthine complex dates to around the 8th century B.C. and was most likely built to serve as a refuge during periods of war and invasion.

How was the underground city discovered? ›

Researchers led by Gani Tarkan, director of the Mardin Museum, were restoring homes in the town in 2020 when they found a cave leading to an underground tunnel connecting to many homes cut out of limestone in the earth. The excavation team is calling the city Matiate, which means homeland in ancient Assyrian.

Do people live underground in UK? ›

In the meantime, currently subterranean dwellings make up only a tiny fraction of UK housing stock – less than 100 out of the UK's 21 million homes are underground.

Is there a hidden city under London? ›

Subterranean London refers to a number of subterranean structures that lie beneath London. The city has been occupied by humans for two millennia. Over time, the capital has acquired a vast number of these structures and spaces, often as a result of war and conflict.

How many underground are there in the UK? ›

The Underground now has 11 lines covering 402km and serving 270 stations, handling up to five million passenger journeys a day.

Does Russia have underground cities? ›

Subterranean Moscow extends for dozens of meters underground and most of it still remains absolutely off limits and top secret.

Which European country has the most bunkers? ›

Large bunkers and tunnels

Elsewhere, thousands of kilometres of tunnels were built to house political, military and industrial assets. Albania is said to have become the most tunnelled country in the world after North Korea.

Which country has a nuclear bunker? ›

HELSINKI, Finland — Blast proof, gas proof and offering protection from radiation and toxic chemicals — Finland takes its network of underground bunkers seriously. Located about 60 feet underground, this civil shelter in Helsinki can hold up to 6,000 people.

Why is building underground good? ›

Advantages of Building Underground

Underground houses have less surface area so fewer building materials are used, and maintenance costs are lower. They are also wind, fire and earthquake resistant, providing a secure and safe environment in extreme weather.

Are there real underground cities? ›

The lunar-like region of Turkey's Cappadocia encompasses no less than 36 underground cities, but Derinkuyu is the deepest and most impressive of all of them. The vast network of tunnels and passages belongs to the 8th century B.C. and is assumed to be a shelter to protect in times of war.

How would an underground city work? ›

An underground city is a series of linked subterranean spaces that may provide a defensive refuge; a place for living, working or shopping; a transit system; mausolea; wine or storage cellars; cisterns or drainage channels; or several of these.

What is the deepest underground city? ›

Derinkuyu, Cappadocia, Turkey

Cappadocia city, located in central Turkey, is home to no less than 36 underground cities, and at a depth of approx. 85 m, Derinkuyu is the deepest.

Can you build underground in the UK? ›

Is it legal to build a house with a basement in the UK? Whether you're digging a basement under your existing home or have one planned in your new property design, building a basement is usually legal.

What are the benefits of living underground? ›

Some advantages of underground houses include resistance to severe weather, quiet living space, an unobtrusive presence in the surrounding landscape, and a nearly constant interior temperature due to the natural insulating properties of the surrounding earth.

Do underground houses stay warm in the winter? ›

Underground homes get much of their heat from naturally occurring underground temperatures. With proper insulation, an underground home can reduce heating and cooling costs from 50 to 70%!

Is there an underground city in London? ›

London Bridge catacombs

London has its own subterranean city of passages, crypts and vaults beneath the London Bridge area. Many readers will be familiar with the cavernous Shunt venue and the tourists-only London Dungeon.

What country has an underground city? ›

HELSINKI -- Finland may be world's happiest country -- at least on the surface. But Helsinki's "underground city" tells a different story. Beneath the capital, a massive network of bunkers and tunnels spreads out all across the city.

Are there people who live underground? ›

Mole people (also called tunnel people or tunnel dwellers) are homeless people living under large cities in abandoned subway, railroad, flood, sewage tunnels, and heating shafts.

Where do people live underground? ›

Coober Pedy is a small town in the Outback of Southern Australia. Originally an opal mining town, many of Coober Pedy's residents live underground to escape the region's immense heat. Homes, dive bars, a church, and more can be found buried underground in what the locals call "dugouts."

What are the disadvantages of living underground? ›

Disadvantages of Underground Homes
  • Condensation Issues – Humidity levels are generally higher in underground homes. ...
  • Waterproofing Challenges – Since water flows downward, having a completely waterproofed underground home can be a challenge.
3 Aug 2017

How far underground can you live? ›

Life teems all over our planet's exterior and even down into the lightless oceanic depths. But just how far underground might life be able to hack it? New research offers evidence of bacteria living as deep as 12 miles (19 kilometers) underground — quite possibly the deepest life has ever been glimpsed.


1. Inside the Underground City once Housed 20,000 People: Derinkuyu
(Discover With Ruhi Cenet)
2. Ancient Underground City Discovered in Turkey | Cities of the Underworld (Season 1)
(Tevfik Hos)
4. Why is Finland building an underground city? | ABC News
(ABC News (Australia))
5. The Most HIDDEN Underground Cities
(Destination Tips)
6. Alexander Koltypin "Cappadocia-underground cities built when we were monkeys?"
(Alexander Koltypin)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Rev. Leonie Wyman

Last Updated: 04/06/2023

Views: 5263

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (59 voted)

Reviews: 82% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Rev. Leonie Wyman

Birthday: 1993-07-01

Address: Suite 763 6272 Lang Bypass, New Xochitlport, VT 72704-3308

Phone: +22014484519944

Job: Banking Officer

Hobby: Sailing, Gaming, Basketball, Calligraphy, Mycology, Astronomy, Juggling

Introduction: My name is Rev. Leonie Wyman, I am a colorful, tasty, splendid, fair, witty, gorgeous, splendid person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.