The Quick 10: 10 Underground Cities

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As I mentioned the other day, we're headed to Seattle in October. As I was researching things to do, I came across the Seattle Underground Tour, which many of you said was pretty awesome. It made me wonder how many other cities out there have something similar. Here are a few of them.

1. Seattle. I'll start with Seattle, just in case you didn't read the post on Wednesday.
In 1889, a cabinet maker was heating some glue It boiled over when he wasn't looking and set fire to the wood chips below. Before you could say "Mrs. O'Leary," the fire spread across town and consumed most of the business district downtown - 25 entire blocks, to be exact. Rather than relocate, the citizens and government of Seattle just decided to regrade the city streets higher and build on top of all of the old stuff. These days, all of the "old stuff" can still be found underneath. It's been somewhat refurbished and made more structurally sound for touring purposes.

2. Portland, Oregon. The Shanghai Tunnels of Portland, AKA the Portland Underground, may have a pretty shady past. The tunnels connected a bunch of basements of business and bars in the Old Town/Chinatown district and are said to have been built to get goods from the docks to the businesses without clogging up the streets in town. But more than one source says the tunnels were used for other purposes: to kidnap (shanghai) people who got too drunk in the bars and then sell them into the slave trade, using the tunnels to get them to the docks and ship them out. It's never been proven, but Portland Underground Tours will give you a good idea of how it could have happened (they maintain that it absolutely did happen).

3. Atlanta. Underground Atlanta is a well-known shopping district now, but disappeared from the maps for many years. It was street-level back in the 1800s, but during the 1920s, concrete viaducts were built to accommodate the growing traffic flow of the busy city. The construction of the viaducts raised the streets a level and everything underneath was abandoned"¦ until the 1960s, when it was rediscovered. It's a fun shopping and entertainment district today, but if you keep your eyes peeled, you can still see remnants of the past: hand carved wooden panels, decorative brick, granite arches and marble accents.

4. Beijing. On the other side of the ocean, Beijing has its own underground city called Dixia Cheng. It was originally a bomb shelter, and is maintained as such, but it opened as a tourist attraction for several years as well. It's currently closed to tourists, but if you ever find yourself lucky enough to check it out, you'll see a silk factory that has taken up shop in one of the underground meeting rooms, signposts to major landmarks and murals with slogans like "Accumulate Grain."

5. Vegas. Sick of the neon and the showgirls? There's another side to Vegas, but you're not going to find a tour of it - and you probably don't want to. A maze of storm tunnels have been turned into makeshift living quarters for about 300 people. Most are just humble piles of blankets and belongings, but a few people have managed to almost make apartments out of the larger rooms that connect the storm drains.

6. The Magic Kingdom. Yep, there's a whole other level to the Happiest Place on Earth. The part you see is actually the first floor. The ground level is under your feet. It's where the cast members roam, how food and merchandise is brought into stores, and where the employee cafeterias, offices and break rooms are located. Disney built this first, then used the soil scooped out from the creation of the Seven Seas Lagoon to make the park that sits on top of it.

7. Chicago. It looks like Chicago could have an underground city of its own - or at least a mini one. In the late 1850s, residents of the Windy City were having issues with drainage and flooding because the city sat nearly even with Lake Michigan. The solution? To raise parts of the city up another four or five feet. And the real kicker was this: although the City of Chicago was paying for the street regrades, individual property and business owners were responsible for doing something about their own buildings. If you couldn't afford it, tough. i bet if you know where to look, there's plenty of interesting underground structures hidden just below the street.

8. Rome. You don't get much more ancient than this. The catacombs in Rome and the surrounding area are arguably the most famous ones in the world (see #9). At least 40 catacombs contain thousands of bodies that lie up to four stories below the ground. The oldest catacombs - St. Priscilla's - dates back to the late second century, but you'll find nine Popes in the largest and most popular catacombs, St. Callixtus.

9. Paris. Paris has it's own catacombs, but that's only part of what is known as Carrières de Paris - the quarries of Paris. There are more than 177 miles of tunnels and quarries under the streets of the City of Light, and they have become a hotbed of activity for artists known as cataphiles.

10. Burlington, Wiltshire, England. There's about 35 acres of city 100 feet below ground in Burlington. The 60 miles of roads were to carry the Prime Minister and his entire Cabinet in case of a Cold War emergency. It was build to keep up to 4,000 people alive for up to three months. It even included an underground lake. It was, of course, never used, and was actually put up for sale several years ago. One company, Octavian, bought a small piece of it to use to store 800,000 cases of wine. "It's a nice idea going from a red scare to red wine," the managing director of the company said.

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August 6, 2010 - 12:00pm
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