Amazing cities hidden right beneath your feet

We're going to apologize in advance, because these are all going to make your own house seem pretty boring in comparison. Who wants to live in a regular, cookie-cutter sort of surface dwelling when you can live underground? Or … at least visit.

The Barry Troglodyte Village, France

Head north out of Avignon, France (you know, if you're in the neighborhood), and you'll come to a strange hill that looks out over the Rhone Valley. Inside are a series of caves that people have called home for so long that we're not even sure why they were first built there, and there's a very good reason for that: we hadn't invented writing yet.

The caves of the Barry Troglodyte Village have been legitimate homes for long enough that the best we can do is "sometime since the Neolithic era," which is generally accepted to have started around 10,000 BC. For some context, this was the time when we were just figuring out how to grow grains, use stone tools, and become such good friends with animals that they'd stay with us until we ate them. (We've never been nice people.) It's thought that the cave system with the incredible view was inhabited pretty much continuously up until the 20th century, when there was only one elderly woman and her servant left in the underground village. They only packed up and moved out because parts of the cave homes collapsed and killed off some of their neighbors, and honestly, some wear and tear is expected when you're living in a 12,000-year-old home. They don't build 'em like they used to, that's for sure.

The Edinburgh Vaults, Scotland

Read up on the Edinburgh Vaults today, and most of what you'll find is a certain sort of person—usually topped by a lot of hair product—telling you how haunted they are. That's a shame because this is one case where the real history is even better than the ghost stories.

There are five bridges in Edinburgh, connecting parts of the city that were originally built on hills. The South Bridge was built beginning in 1785, and at the time, it wasn't a great place to live. To open the bridge with a bit of pomp and circumstance that would make people feel good about living in Edinburgh, the city arranged for the area's oldest resident cross first in a ceremonial opening. Unfortunately for her, she died before she could make her walk, and since your word wasn't something you went back on in the day, they carried her body across. Of course, that meant the bridge was now cursed, and all the respectable citizens went out of their way to avoid it.

Eventually, people got over the superstitious nonsense because convenience always wins out in the end, and when they started using the bridge, stores popped up along it. If you've ever been in Edinburgh, you know space is a premium. The buildings on the bridge were built higher and higher, while other enterprising builders sealed off the lower arches and created a series of tunnels and rooms. Originally, they were used for storage, but there's no way the city's seedier characters were going to be passing up opportunities like that. It became the home of everyone from immigrants to body snatchers, and they became so unsafe that the city filled them in.

They were excavated in 1985, and you can visit them now. Even if you don't believe in ghosts, the history there is enough to keep you looking over your shoulder.

Vlochos, Greece

Some archaeologists spend their whole lives looking for that one discovery that's going to put their names in the history books, and sometimes, they're walking on it without knowing that it's even there.

For years, we knew some sort of little, unimportant settlement was on a hill called Strongilovouni, but it was sort of the North Dakota of Greece. Sure, people lived there, but they were ordinary people, and no one gets global recognition for saying, "Hey, ordinary people lived here in a few huts!"

Fortunately, researchers from the University of Gothenburg and the Swedish Institute at Athens were curious as to just what might be there, and they dug out the ground-penetrating radar and went looking. Not only did they find things like walls and towers, they found a sprawling, actual city that's almost 100 acres—and that's just inside the city walls—hidden in the hill. They think it was a pretty important place that thrived for a couple hundred years, starting around 500 BC.

Almost overnight, that area of Thessaly went from backwoods, east-of-nowhere to home to a decently large city that we know nothing about. Take note, history. Sometimes, the little guys are important after all.

Las Vegas, United States

Buy into the hype, and Las Vegas is all neon lights and good times. But there's something unsettling about it, too, and it's not called Sin City for nothing. That's not even the dark side we're talking about, either.

In 1990, the city started installing tunnels under the city to handle the kind of flash floods that only a desert can see. Over the next years, the mostly dry tunnels became something else: a sprawling network home to the part of Las Vegas's population that had nowhere else to go. In spite of the occasional flood that washes everything away—a hazard that one resident calls "flushing the toilet"—countless people have set up their own camps and impromptu homes in the tunnels under Vegas. A couple of them run right under the Strip, and at least three people have died there, trapped during the floods the tunnels were built for.

Many are addicts of one sort or another, while others just fell on hard times. Matthew O'Brien, a journalist and community activist who works with Shine a Light Foundation, documented many of their stories in his book Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas. If you didn't think Vegas had a dark side before, we guarantee you're never going to look at it the same way again.

The Paris Underground, France

You're probably familiar with the most famous part of Paris's underground city, and that's because it's equal parts creepy and awesome. The catacombs are the final resting place for between six and seven million people, and to put that in perspective, that's the human being equivalent of, roughly, Rio de Janeiro. The tunnels already existed when they started burying people there, and they date back to around the 13th century. Limestone was quarried from beneath the city to build on top of the ground, and while that doesn't really seem like the best idea, we're not here to judge. In the 18th century, the body count rose, cemeteries overflowed quite literally, and the city started smelling so bad that even the perfume shops started complaining. The bodies were moved underground.

About a mile of the catacombs are open to the public, but there's another part of the underground of the City of Lights—we like to call it the Underdark—that's definitely not as public.

Around 185 miles of tunnels are under Paris, and while you're not technically supposed to be there, people have never let technicalities stop them. In 2004, law enforcement found that someone had set up an underground movie theater in part of the tunnels near the Eiffel Tower, along with a lounge, workshop, dining area, and bar. It's all the work of a group called The Mexican Consolidated Drilling Authority, give or take some translation difficulties. According to their spokesperson, Lazar Kunstmann, they're just one branch of an organization dedicated to mapping and preserving the tunnels … and having a bit of fun. At the time the movie theater was found, Kunstmann went on record saying seven other sites are also deep in the tunnels under Paris, but that's all he'd say. Secret tunnels, a secret society, and code names. It couldn't get any better.

Moose Jaw, Canada

Canada might have a reputation for being America's nicer neighbor, but don't let their maple syrup–loving ways fool you. They have some pretty dark chapters in their history, too, and that's where the Moose Jaw Tunnels come in.

For a long time, the tunnels were only rumors. According to the story, Chinese immigrants who had settled in the area in the beginning of the 20th century found themselves the target of some major hatred. Things got so bad that workers were not only subjected to physical abuse, but they were also required to pay the government for the right to stay there. Unable to pay, the immigrants—who were mostly railway workers, and no strangers to hard work—dug tunnels beneath the city. They lived there for years, raised families there, and climbed to the surface when it came time to report for work. Not long after, Moose Jaw (which has perhaps the most Canadian name ever), found itself at the center of other illicit activities. It was the end of the line for the CPR railway, and at the other end? Chicago.

The convenient railway and the tunnels—along with a sympathetic police department and Chinese population—made it a gangster's paradise. The Chicago bootleggers and mob regularly headed up to Moose Jaw for a little R&R, and the tunnels under the city turned into a den of drinking, gambling, and prostitution, which made it an altogether more fun place to visit than anywhere else in Canada.

Wiltshire's Cold War City, England

Not long ago, the possibility of all-out nuclear war was a thing, and that's why the British government built a sprawling, 35-acre complex under Wiltshire. Started in the 1950s and designed to completely support up to 4,000 people for at least three months with no need to access the outside, it was Britain's contingency plan for if there was ever a need to go from Code Red to Code Brown Trousers.

There were hospitals and cafeterias, laundries, generators, and even an underground lake and water treatment plant. It had a code name, too—Burlington—and some of its 60 miles of roads were even named after roads in the world's major cities.

The public has known about Burlington since it was decommissioned in 2007. At the time, a certain part of the population was convinced the underground city was home to aliens and UFOs. (To be fair, people probably still think that.) It was rumored to be the UK's version of America's Area 51, and while the truth is different, it's no less cool. Burlington was kept secret for decades, so secret that desks and offices were assigned to civilian personnel who had no idea the compound existed. Think about that. You could have your own desk in a top secret military facility right now, and you might not even know.

Beijing's Underground City, China

Those in the Western world weren't the only ones who spent years worried about the very real possibility of nuclear war, and in 1969, China's Chairman Mao ordered a nuclear blast-proof city excavated from underneath Beijing. It's still there, and no one's sure how much of it was completed before the project fell to the wayside. It's more than just a series of tunnels. It includes actual underground recreations of some of Beijing's most famous areas, like Tiananmen Square.

A lot of the tunnels are flooded and filled, with every kind of mud, muck, and worse that you can possibly imagine, and as unthinkable as it might be, it was briefly opened as a tourist attraction because, why not? Go into another section of the tunnels, and they're called home by a group of as many as a million people unkindly called the "rat tribe" by the Chinese media. Unable to afford—or find—above-ground housing, this particular demographic (usually young, usually newcomers to the city, and usually holding down more than one job in hopes of moving up, quite literally), they live in the tunnels, bomb shelters, and basements that make up an entire underground city. Those who do make it above ground are considered success stories, and that's some dark stuff.

Cappadocia, Turkey

Goreme National Park and Cappadocia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it's a strange place. Across the area are no less than 36 complete underground cities (some estimates suggest there's as many as 200), dating back to an ancient era. Kaymakli is the biggest in terms of how wide it is, and it's not only open to the public, but it's still used by locals for storage and stables. There's around a hundred tunnels in Kaymakli, with eight different levels (four open to tours).

Derinkuyu is the largest, able to house 20,000 people on its 11 levels and over 4 square miles of excavated space. Discovered by accident in 1963 and later mapped and explored, it was found to have temples, livestock areas, wells, and even wineries. Giant boulders could seal off the city Indiana Jones–style, and it's so well done that there's no signs that anything has ever collapsed. In 2013, construction of a very boring housing development broke through yet another city that's estimated to be at least as large as Derinkuyu, likely larger. This city's pretty similar, with multiple levels, living spaces, workshops, and more wineries.

So, what's going on here? Since the cities are impossible to date and go back well before the written record, it's tough to say. We can make an educated guess, though, and it's thought that since the area was one of the first to adopt Christianity, the underground cities were constructed to keep tens of thousands of people safe in the face of hostile invaders who wanted to eradicate them. Turns out that people haven't changed that much.

Seattle, United States

Sometimes, it just takes something catastrophic. In 1889, a massive fire devastated Seattle, and that was almost all right. Even at that time, the city had been plagued with drainage problems and flooding, because let's face it, few cities have ever been built with an eye toward these sorts of things. When it was decided that the city would be rebuilt, they figured they might as well do it right, build on a higher level, and try to avoid the previous Seattle's problems.

Since some people just aren't patient, by the time this was decided, landowners had already started building right in the same spot. When someone knocked on their doors and pointed out the obvious, something of a ground level was already built. It was decided that this would be left, and the new "ground level" would be built on top of it. By 1890, crossing the street might mean needing to climb 35 feet up a ladder, but things got sorted out.

Not long after the city was rebuilt, the lower levels were condemned for the disease pits they were … but that's never been enough to keep people honest. At the time Seattle was being rebuilt, the strange dropped sidewalks and tunnels left all sorts of secret places for a certain type of occupation: "seamstresses." These seamstresses didn't sew, and taxes on their "entertainment" activities accounted for about 90 percent of the city's revenue over a period of nine years. You can still visit the tunnels, but the seamstresses are gone.

SubTropolis, United States

SubTropolis is the name of the massive city that exists underneath Kansas City, Missouri. Largely occupied by industrial and commercial tenants, the complex was excavated from 270-million-year-old limestone, and it's now home to more than 50 businesses, including a distribution hub for the Post Office, the National Archives and Records Association, and a major data storage company. Almost 2,000 employees head to work there every day, and there's more than enough room for everyone—more than 6 million square feet of space are excavated, and that's just so far.

Bonuses to working in the underground city are a constant climate, cheap rent, and the undeniable awesomeness of driving underground to get to your desk. (In case you're concerned, the limestone walls are several times stronger than a similar concrete structure, so that's a bonus, too.)

If you want to create something similar, we're sorry to say that you have to be a billionaire already to pull something like this off. Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt came up with the idea in the 1960s, and he piggybacked on the then-current mining operation to make a literal fortune from a literal hole in the ground.

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