Thursday, March 25, 2010

Urban Exploring at its Best

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Not many travel guides mention these underground systems, creepy tunnels and enormous caverns, located sometimes right under our feet. Most were originally classified (no doubt by Sector Seven), and only recently open to the public. Some are still impossible to enter (due to blocked access points) and hard to explore in their entirety (due to the lost or confusing documentation). But this is where the "spirit of adventure" comes in, as multitudes of amateur photographers descend into the unknown to bring back evidence of things unseen.

1. Abandoned Salt Mine, Romania

We'll start in Cluj County, Romania. The following epic photographs were taken by Marius R. inside the old closed Turda Salt Mine
(Google Earth coordinates: Lat: 46°33'51.92"N - Long: 23°46'7.22"E)
(Middle-Earth coordinates: Mines of Moria) - click to enlarge images.

The closed mine has long tunnels, and a deep natural cave. The excavations dug a huge artificial cave, in which you could fit three 10-story blocks. Marius says: "you can play football inside of them; and you enter there by bus".

(images credit: Marius R.)

2. Top Secret Soviet Underground Submarine Base

Area 825 (built between 1957 and 1961) -
A huge system of tunnels, filled with water - bringing to mind somewhat apocalyptic (or Half-Life) images; this once was the ultimate secret Soviet nuclear submarine base, maintenance & repair facility. So secret it was, in fact, that the whole town around it was classified and erased from the map.

Ten kilometers east of Sevastopol on the Black Sea Coast, the town of Balaklava was closed to the rest of the USSR, and even family members needed special clearance to visit there. After collapse of the Soviet Union the base stayed operational only until 1993, when all nuclear warheads were removed - and in 1996 the last submarine left the base. Today the place is open to visitors, but the bulk of it is hidden and probably holds more secrets than Russian officials care to reveal. (Photos by Russos, with permission.)

Built 126 meters deep underground, the Project 825 also served as a nuclear shelter for 3000 people; it could hold up to nine nuclear submarines at one time; the length of the underground tunnel - half a kilometer, water 9 meters deep.

The cart shown on this photograph was used for transportation of nuclear bombs to the loading area. Next photo - the "Holy of Holies" - Nuclear Weapons Storage Room. Note the reinforced doors (weight 16 tons each):

Entering the Submarine Channel:

See more pictures of it here.

Submarine Fuel Storage Room: (more pictures of that structure here)

(image credit: Sergei Antsupov)

Apparently Russians can build underground structures and tunnels very well (witness the superb Moscow Metro system). This experience will prove handy when another mega-project takes place: The longest tunnel from Russia to Alaska. According to a preliminary report this tremendous undersea tunnel would contain a high-speed railway, highway and pipelines - all 64 miles of it.

3. Cincinnati's Abandoned Subway

Over in America, there are decaying underground spaces on a huge scale, as well.
This Cincinnati Transit site documents all the structures and stations of this unfinished subway transit system, built from 1920 to 1925. Fully seven miles of tunnels, bridges and stations were abandoned in the end, no track was ever put in, and no passengers ever rode the trains.

Three underground stations still exist, but the above-ground structures were demolished, leaving only a few barely-visible access points into the vast underground territory.

One such entry point:

Map of a hidden subway line (one of many):

A similar tunnel system (but build in the 70s) runs underneath downtown core in the city of Calgary, Canada. The LRT (Light Transit System) line was meant to run underground, but the plans were shelved for the financial reasons. There are a few doors in Calgary leading to this explorer's playground, to tunnels wide enough for rush hour traffic.

4. G-CANS: Tokyo Storm Water System

Here is something truly enormous, worthy of Japanese crazed super-scale imagination - vast caverns and otherworldly columns (looking like some kind of a temple) under Tokyo - an infrastructure "built for preventing overflow of the city's major waterways and rivers during rain and typhoon season".

Brainchild of Japan Institute of Wastewater Engineering Technology (JIWET), this "sci-fi"-like installation consists of "five 32m diameter, 65m deep concrete containment silos, connected by 64 kilometers of tunnels 50 meters deep underground. The system is powered by 14000 horsepower turbines which can pump 200 tons of water a second into a nearby river." See more pictures of this incredible place here and here.

(images copyright: 2005 EDOGAWA RIVER OFFICE)
Further sources: 1, 2, via

No matter how complex and well hidden underground structures are, dedicated urban explorers are proving that they can - and will - penetrate any mysterious catacombs and come out with spectacular reports.

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