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8 Underground Rivers

CG94 photos
CG94 photos

Rivers run underground all over the world. These occur naturally in cave systems, and have been known since antiquity, as evidenced in legendary myths of underground waterways such as the River Styx which forms the boundary between Earth and Hades. But this is about subterranean rivers that were once open to the sunlight and were buried by human hands (or heavy machinery). This happens when cities are built overtop, when wetlands are drained, and when existing waterways are consolidated and hidden to give people and their infrastructures more room to grow or move. In some of those places, people don't even realize there's a river running underneath their homes.  

1. The Tank Stream in Sydney

Photograph by Wikipedia user Shermozle.

When Europeans landed in southern Australia in 1788, they looked for a place with fresh water to settle into. That place was later to be called Sydney. The river that supplied fresh water was diverted into holding tanks by the convicts who were sent there, and so became known as the Tank Stream. With more and more people using it, the stream became polluted and the swamp that was its source was drained in 1850. The remaining stream was covered with stone in 1860, and became part of the city's storm drain system and flows, as it always did, into Sydney Cove.  

2. Neglinnaya in Moscow

Photograph by Wikipedia user A.Savin.

At one point in its history, the Neglinnaya River was used as a moat around the Kremlin. The river flowed through the heart of Moscow, but it impeded construction because of frequent floods. Muscovites built dams, ponds, and mills along the river route for industrial use, leading to pollution of the river. The Neglinnaya was diverted into a parallel canal in 1792 to control flooding, and the old river bed was filled in. The canal then became the carrier of industrial pollution. In 1817, the canal was covered with a vault, creating the Neglinnaya Tunnel, and the river that flowed through it became part of the city's sewer system. Still, it flooded and overflowed into city streets. Several projects since that time have added tunnels to drain excess water from the buried Neglinnaya to control its flow into the Moskva River, shown above. See pictures of those tunnels taken by brave urban explorers.

3. Minetta Brook in New York City

Minetta Brook is one of many waterways that have been paved over in New York City. The freshwater streams that allowed so many people to move into the area eventually became polluted and were incorporated into the city's underground sewers and drainage systems. The Minetta once flowed through Manhattan, providing fresh water to Greenwich Village when it was a farming community in the 1700s. In 2010, urban explorer Steve Duncan traced its route under the city, through passageways only a few feet wide in places. He found it has been "rediscovered" during occasional building projects when water flowed through basements. Tracing the course of the city's storm drains and sewers, Duncan found that the drains were in many places laid out to take advantage of the natural flow of the Minetta.   

4. The Bièvre in Paris

Photograph by Flickr user CG94 photos.

The River Bièvre flows along on the surface from its source near Versailles toward Paris. The diversion of its waters for various projects through history shrunk it to a small stream closer to Paris. Once reaching the city, however, the Bièvre disappears underground, and along its course is diverted into the city sewers. It was covered over due to industrial pollution that began in the Middle Ages. The river once flowed into the Seine within the city, but is now diverted into the main sewer, which is treated and the water released further downriver into the Seine. A restoration project was begun to open the Bièvre in places along its historic route, but a decade later they still don't have the necessary funds. Walking tours are offered of the river's current and historic routes.

5. The Senne in Brussels

The Senne was one of the main waterways in Brussels, Belgium, until the 19th century, but the quirky river was unpredictable and often overflowed its banks. The Senne, like other city rivers, became polluted with industrial and household waste and was gradually replaced by canals for fresh water supplies, which in turn exacerbated the pollution of the river. The downtown area of the river was covered over in a project that ran from 1865 to 1871, and buildings were erected overtop the buried river. The remainder of the river was covered in the 1930s. The underground waterway itself was then diverted, and the former water tunnels were converted to use by the Brussels subway system in 1976. It took until 2007 for the Senne's waters to be treated by modern sewage plants.

6. The River Fleet in London

Photograph by Flickr user diamond geezer.

The best known buried river is probably the River Fleet in London, England. The Fleet flows from a couple of springs in Hempstead Heath through the city into the Thames. The photograph above shows the source pond that feeds into the Fleet. Over the centuries, the river became an industrial sewer as the city grew. Engineers began building over the river in sections in the 1730s, gradually enclosing it in bricks and concrete. The spot where the river emerged after the first section enclosed the river became Fleet Street.

In the 1860s, the lower sections of the Fleet were covered over and it was formally incorporated into London's sewer system.

Photograph by Flickr user sub-urban.com.

Geographers have recreated maps of the Fleet so its existence might not be forgotten. Urban explorers venture down into the tunnels, but that's tricky, as the Fleet is still a tidal river and the lower tunnels fill to the top during high tide. See more pictures that trace the location of the buried river. The Fleet is far from the only river buried in London. In addition to the many visible tributaries of the Thames, there are dozens that now flow underground, such as the Tyburn, the Effra, the Walbrook, and the Earl’s Sluice, most of which were incorporated into the sewer system just like the Fleet.  

7. ChangPu River in Beijing

Photograph by Flickr user whirlpics.

The burial of natural rivers is often considered a shame in modern times. There are drives to restore many of the world's lost rivers, and some of those projects have yielded spectacular results. ChangPu River was a stream that flowed through the Imperial City, the outer part of the Forbidden City in Beijing. In the 1960s it was covered over and the area became a warehouse district. A restoration project was begun in 2002, and the historic river was uncovered and became the focal point of ChangPu River Park, a small but exquisitely maintained showplace in the heart of Beijing.  

8. The Cheonggyecheon in Seoul

Photograph by Flickr user Seong J Yang.

The Cheonggyecheon was once the main river through Seoul, Korea. It succumbed to the same pressures as other freshwater courses through growing cities, in that it became polluted and was buried and made into a drain. In the 1950s, a freeway was built over the river. In 2001, a group of people approached Dr. Kee Yeon Hwang about restoring the river. Dr. Hwang conducted a feasibility study and found that dismantling the highway, which had been built by a construction company he himself headed, would actually improve traffic flow through the city. With the approval of Seoul's new mayor Lee Myung-bak (who is now the president of South Korea), the restoration project went into high gear in 2003. Now, the river is exposed again, as part of a 3.6 mile park running through the middle of Seoul.  

These are just a few of the many urban rivers that have been confined to underground for many of the same reasons. Each has its own history, and each has many pros and cons to be considered before deciding whether it can be restored to its previous condition.

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Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
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holidays
8 Legendary Monsters of Christmas
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The customs of the holiday season, which include St. Nicholas Day, New Years Day, and Epiphany, as well as Christmas, often incorporate earlier pagan traditions that have been appropriated and adapted for contemporary use. Customs that encourage little children to be good so as to deserve their Christmas gifts often come with a dark side: the punishment you'll receive from a monster or evil being of some sort if you aren't good! These nefarious characters vary from place to place, and they go by many different names and images.

1. KRAMPUS

As a tool to encourage good behavior in children, Santa serves as the carrot, and Krampus is the stick. Krampus is the evil demon anti-Santa, or maybe his evil twin. Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day in Austria and other parts of Europe. Public celebrations that night have many Krampuses walking the streets, looking for people to beat. Alcohol is also involved. Injuries in recent years have led to some reforms, such as requiring all Krampuses to wear numbers so they may identified in case of overly violent behavior.

Krampus may look like a devil, or like a wild alpine beast, depending on what materials are available to make a Krampus costume. In modern times, people can spend as much as they like to become the best Krampus around—and the tradition is spreading beyond Europe. Many cities in America have their own Krampus Nights now.

2. JÓLAKÖTTURINN

Jólakötturinn is the Icelandic Yule Cat or Christmas Cat. He is not a nice cat. In fact, he might eat you. This character is tied to an Icelandic tradition in which those who finished all their work on time received new clothes for Christmas, while those who were lazy did not (although this is mainly a threat). To encourage children to work hard, parents told the tale of the Yule Cat, saying that Jólakötturinn could tell who the lazy children were because they did not have at least one new item of clothing for Christmas—and these children would be sacrificed to the Yule Cat. This reminder tends to spur children into doing their chores! A poem written about the cat ends with a suggestion that children help out the needy, so they, too, can have the protection of new clothing. It's no wonder that Icelanders put in more overtime at work than most Europeans.

3. FRAU PERCHTA


Flickr // Markus Ortner

Tales told in Germany and Austria sometimes feature a witch named Frau Perchta who hands out both rewards and punishments during the 12 days of Christmas (December 25 through Epiphany on January 6). She is best known for her gruesome punishment of the sinful: She will rip out your internal organs and replace them with garbage. The ugly image of Perchta may show up in Christmas processions in Austria, somewhat like Krampus.

Perchta's story is thought to have descended from a legendary Alpine goddess of nature, who tends the forest most of the year and deals with humans only during Christmas. In modern celebrations, Perchta or a close relation may show up in processions during Fastnacht, the Alpine festival just before Lent. There may be some connection between Frau Perchta and the Italian witch La Befana, but La Befana isn't really a monster: she's an ugly but good witch who leaves presents.

4. BELSNICKEL

A drawing of Belsnickel.
Lucas, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Belsnickel is a male character from southwestern German lore who traveled to the United States and survives in Pennsylvania Dutch customs. He comes to children sometime before Christmas, wearing tattered old clothing and raggedy fur. Belsnickel carries a switch to frighten children and candy to reward them for good behavior. In modern visits, the switch is only used for noise, and to warn children they still have time to be good before Christmas. Then all the children get candy, if they are polite about it. The name Belsnickel is a portmanteau of the German belzen (meaning to wallop) and nickel for St. Nicholas. See a video of a Belsnickel visit here.

Knecht Ruprecht and Ru Klaas are similar characters from German folklore who dole out beatings to bad children, leaving St. Nicholas to reward good children with gifts.

5. HANS TRAPP

Hans Trapp is another "anti-Santa" who hands out punishment to bad children in the Alsace and Lorraine regions of France. The legend says that Trapp was a real man, a rich, greedy, and evil man, who worshiped Satan and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. He was exiled into the forest where he preyed upon children, disguised as a scarecrow with straw jutting out from his clothing. He was about to eat one boy he captured when he was struck by lightning and killed—a punishment of his own from God. Still, he visits young children before Christmas, dressed as a scarecrow, to scare them into good behavior.

6. PÈRE FOUETTARD

The French legend of Père Fouettard, whose name translates to "Father Whipper," begins with an evil butcher who craved children to eat. He (or his wife) lured three boys into his butcher shop, where he killed, chopped, and salted them. St. Nicholas came to the rescue, resurrected the boys, and took custody of the butcher. The captive butcher became Père Fouettard, St. Nicholas' servant whose job it is to dispense punishment to bad children on St. Nicholas Day.

7. THE YULE LADS

The Jólasveinar, or Yule Lads, are 13 Icelandic trolls, who each have a name and distinct personality. In ancient times, they stole things and caused trouble around Christmastime, so they were used to scare children into behaving, like the Yule Cat. However, the 20th century brought tales of the benevolent Norwegian figure Julenisse (Santa Claus), who brought gifts to good children. The traditions became mingled, until the formerly devilish Jólasveinar became kind enough to leave gifts in shoes that children leave out ... if they are good boys and girls. 

8. GRÝLA

All the Yule Lads answer to Grýla, their mother. She predates the Yule Lads in Icelandic legend as the ogress who kidnaps, cooks, and eats children who don't obey their parents. She only became associated with Christmas in the 17th century, when she was assigned to be the mother of the Yule Lads. According to legend, Grýla had three different husbands and 72 children, all who caused trouble ranging from harmless mischief to murder. As if the household wasn't crowded enough, the Yule Cat also lives with Grýla. This ogress is so much of a troublemaker that The Onion blamed her for the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

A version of this post originally ran in 2013. See also: more Legendary Monsters

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History
84 Years Ago Today: Goodbye Prohibition!
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
Keystone/Getty Images

It was 84 years ago today that the Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, repealing the earlier Amendment that declared the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol illegal in the United States. Prohibition was over! Booze that had been illegal for 13 years was suddenly legal again, and our long national nightmare was finally over.


A giant barrel of beer, part of a demonstration against prohibition in America.
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Prohibition of alcohol was not a popular doctrine. It turned formerly law-abiding citizens into criminals. It overwhelmed police with enforcement duties and gave rise to organized crime. In cities like Milwaukee and St. Louis, the dismantling of breweries left thousands of people unemployed.


Photograph courtesy of the Boston Public Library

Homemade alcohol was often dangerous and some people died from drinking it. Some turned to Sterno or industrial alcohol, which was dangerous and sometimes poisoned by the government to discourage drinking. State and federal governments were spending a lot of money on enforcement, while missing out on taxes from alcohol.


New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach (right) watches agents pour liquor into sewer following a raid during the height of Prohibition.

The midterm elections of 1930 saw the majority in Congress switch from Republican to Democratic, signaling a shift in public opinion about Prohibition as well as concerns about the depressed economy. Franklin Roosevelt, who urged repeal, was elected president in 1932. The Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution was proposed by Congress in February of 1933, the sole purpose of which was to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment establishing Prohibition.


American men guarding their private beer brewing hide-out, during Prohibition.
Keystone/Getty Images

With passage of the Constitutional Amendment to repeal Prohibition a foregone conclusion, a huge number of businessmen lined up at the Board of Health offices in New York in April of 1933 to apply for liquor licenses to be issued as soon as the repeal was ratified.

The Amendment was ratified by the states by the mechanism of special state ratifying conventions instead of state legislatures. Many states ratified the repeal as soon as conventions could be organized. The ratifications by the required two-thirds of the states was achieved on December 5, 1933, when conventions in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah agreed to repeal Prohibition through the Amendment.


Workmen unloading crates of beer stacked at a New York brewery shortly after the repeal of Prohibition.
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A brewery warehouse in New York stacked crates past the ceiling to satisfy a thirsty nation after the repeal of Prohibition.


Keystone/Getty Images

Liquor wouldn't officially be legal until December 15th, but Americans celebrated openly anyway, and in most places, law enforcement officials let them.

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