Four incredible underground towns

Inhibited tunnels sprawling deep beneath the surface sound like the stuff of legend. Yet, in fact, the world is peppered with an array of incredible underground towns. Visited all the major tourist sights and want to spice things up a little? Then try delving into the depths to marvel at these buried treasures. 

The Edinburgh Vaults 

The Edinburgh Vaults
By fw42 from Germany – Edinburgh vaults, CC BY 2.0, commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=85818300

Edinburgh lures in millions of visitors every year with its yesteryear charms. However, if you fancy heading off the beaten track to immerse yourself in the city’s more morbid past, you need to visit the Edinburgh Vaults. Macabre, fascinating and extremely spooky, this series of chambers occupy the 19 arches of Edinburgh’s South Bridge. Completed in 1778, cobblers and other tradesmen lived and worked under the bridge for around 30 years. 

Towards the end of the 18th century, these tunnels soon became a literal hive of illegal activities: illegal whisky was distilled, gambling took place, and even grave snatchers stored stolen corpses here. Due to constant flooding, living conditions worsened and gradually inhabitants started to leave as a result. In fact, until it was excavated in 1985, few people knew that it once was an underground town. Today, various tour companies offer fascinating tours to these gloomy vaults. 

Naples, Italy

Hidden underground in Naples
By Akrasia25 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76966389

Below the bustling city of Naples lies a network of ancient caverns. Originally this site was created by the ancient Greeks to extract tuff, a volcanic rock used to build this city. Since then, the tunnels have played host to a multitude of uses.

Many years later, the underground network worked as an air-raid shelter during the Second World War; Italy was bombed more than any other city during the war but recorded the lowest fatality rate due to many taking refuge here.

Now, tourists have the chance to wander through this labyrinth hidden beneath the city. Descend over 120 feet (40 meters) below the earth to find aqueducts, sewer tunnels, rainwater cisterns, caverns, catacombs, and railways. One highlight of the subterranean network is the remains of the Greco-Roman theatre of Neapolis, where the Roman emperor Nero also used to have his own private dressing room. 

Derinkuyu, Turkey 

By © Nevit Dilmen, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31074150

There are plenty of underground towns in Turkey’s Cappadocia moon-like region, but Derinkuyu is undoubtedly the most captivating. This 8th-century maze was used as a refuge from the many battles raging in this region. At the drop of a hat, the hidden city would seal itself off from the outside world by blocking the entrances with huge stone doors.

The ancient labyrinth consists of 18 floors, deep wells, kitchens, classrooms, oil presses, a bathhouse, a winery and enough living space for over 20,000 people.  Remarkably, this city was so well hidden that many considered it lost forever until a farmer discovered it by accident in 1960. 

A trip to this marvel of ancient engineering is unmissable when on a trip to Turkey

Matmata, Tunisia

Troglodyte caves in Tunisia

Enchanting underground towns burrowed into grand rocks dot the arid plains of Matmata. Brought to the attention of the wider world by Star Wars, many locals still live here today. Consequently, these fascinating dwellings attract thousands of visitors each year. However, it is rather difficult to determine whether it’s merely to see Luke Skywalker’s house, or to learn more about the local Berber people. 

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