The Truth About The Secret Underground Temples Of Damanhur

Beneath the Italian Alps' foothills, in the Valchiusella Valley near Turin, Italy, you'll find the Temples of Damanhur, alternately known as the Temples of Humankind, a sprawling subterranean complex (via ABC News). Located in Western Civilization's architectural heart, it's easy to assume the structures came from the ancient world. But a closer look reveals 1970s psychedelic-style artwork on the walls and surprisingly modern origins.

The underground temple complex includes nine rooms. Some of these rooms have ceilings stretching upwards of 25 feet tall. Constructed by the Federation of Damanhur, each hall relates to the spiritual beliefs of the group. Although it's far from the strongest selling point, Damanhurians brag about their lack of formal architectural training. Yet despite their ingenue engineering status, the structure proves so impressive that it's received the informal title of the eighth wonder of the world, according to Atlas Obscura.

The Temples of Humankind stretch for 300,175 cubic feet and boast five levels. These levels are connected by snaking corridors covering thousands of cubic feet. Shockingly, the founder of the Federation of Damanhur, Falco Tarassaco, had much bigger plans for the masterpiece. He claimed the structure was just ten percent complete prior to his death! As for the meaning of the structures, Tarassaco described them as part of "a profound journey inside oneself."

A clandestine operation

Construction on the Temples of Damanhur began in 1978 and continued sporadically over 15 years, as reported by ABC News. Although the Federation of Damanhur had just 24 initiates in 1975, by the time the organization launched its temple building efforts, approximately 150 followers worked on the secret passageways and chambers of the temples.

Remarkably, the operation proved so covert that the Italian government never knew about it, let alone permitted it. Esperide Ananas, the spokeswoman for the Temples of Humankind, explains how the Federation kept their secret: "When there was maybe loud work going on, we would play records. If somebody happened to hear, they would think we were just having a party." A party, indeed! And one going on hundreds of feet beneath the ground, to boot.

Of course, even the best-kept secrets come to light, and such proved the case with the Temples of Damanhur. As rumors increasingly swirled about the mysterious group and their activities, officials finally got wind of what was happening (via Atlas Obscura). Or so they thought. In 1992, a prosecutor and the police showed up at Damanhur looking for answers. They also demanded to see the subterranean depths they'd heard so much about. After touring the expansive underground structures, they felt awestruck. Italian officials couldn't argue with the beauty of the tunnels and their temples.

A labor of love by a mysterious cult

Located between 100 and 262 feet beneath the earth, the Temples of Humankind represent a labor of love and a testament to persistence (via ABC News and NYK Daily). The hallways and rooms were all excavated by hand, requiring dedication and a work ethic most of us can only imagine.

Many consider the Temples of Damanhur the best-kept secret of the Italian Alps, although an increasing number of tourists have discovered them in recent years. People may tour the temples on their own or with the assistance of a tour guide, according to the structure's official website. However, if they choose to explore the temples, they're supposed to come away with a deeper connection to nature and their subconscious minds.

Of course, experiences differ by individuals, with many people choosing to focus on the architectural feat or eye-popping artwork, enhanced by well-placed lighting. While people's expectations and reasons for visiting the temples vary greatly, they agree that the underground marvels of the place are well worth a visit. Some people feel inspired to extend their stays or seek initiation into the Federation of Damanhur.

What is the Federation of Damanhur?

Today, 800 people self-identify as members of the Federation of Damanhur (via ABC News), and 600 citizens live onsite (via Damanhur). The term "Damanhur" means "the city of light." Members live communally, residing in an alleged real-life utopia on Earth. They claim the temples they've created represent a veritable "gift to humanity." Those are some large claims, but the Federation of Damanhur isn't one to back away from grandiose language and aggrandizement.

The visionary behind the Federation and its temples was "Falco Tarassaco" (born Oberto Airaudi), a former insurance broker who died in 2013. He started planning the Temples of Damanhur in his tweens while most kids spent their time on stuff like algebra and school sports. Besides masterminding the intricate rooms, he also gained fame for sage-like statements like, "If anyone asks about me, describe me as a philosopher and not as a Master. Keep me, if you want, in your heart."

Tarassaco prodded his followers to see themselves as the creators of a new civilization founded on human potential and peace. Over the decades, the group also created a unique culture that includes special greetings, per their official website. Members of the Federation say hello to each other with prayer hand gestures and the words "Con te" for one person and "Con voi" for multiple people. These phrases translate as "I am with you." If this sounds cultish to you, you're far from alone in this thought. (More on this later.)

It started with a sign from the heavens

According to Falco Tarassaco, he and 10 other Damanhurians broke ground on the site on a Saturday night in August 1978 (via the Temples of Humankind). Tarassaco was 28 at the time, and he lived in a house on Vidracco's hill with a handful of his adherents.

The group sat around a campfire at the house when they received a so-called sign from the heavens. They watched a very bright and slow-traveling star flash across the night sky. Not only did the sight prove unusual, but Tarassaco claims it left behind a visible gold dust trail. While most people would've enjoyed the astronomical moment without further thought, the Damanhurians took it to heart.

Believing it was a supernatural event directed at their tiny group, they felt compelled to act. They started drilling into the ground, inspired to craft a masterwork of art meant to summarize all that is sacred about humanity. For the next 15 years, members of the group labored away in shifts stretching a back-breaking 4 hours, according to Atlas Obscura.

Hidden rituals occur in the temples of Damanhur

Fifteen years of dedication created spaces with multiple uses, per ABC News. Of course, not all of these uses are known to those outside the Federation of Damanhur. Not surprisingly, the group can prove just as secretive about their rituals as they were about constructing the spaces where they are held. That said, the official website does show individuals involved in meditation.

The group refers to participating in rituals of the Federation's invention. But they don't delve more deeply into the topic. As reported by Atlas Obscura, these appear to synthesize elements from pagan and new age rituals. The construction of the temples remained secret to avoid entanglements with Italian authorities. But the utility of concealed ceremonies remains up for debate. The group even has a coded language that only they can understand. And they participate in symbolic dances with meanings known solely to members.

Getting to the bottom of what the Federation of Damanhur uses the temples for requires membership in the organization. And this is a proposition that most people aren't willing to take. Gazza Solidago, one Damanhurian, provided unique insight into the experience of the Temples of Humanity as a believer: "It is always a spiritual experience when you cross the different halls and spaces. I think that they are a dream — a dream that is constantly evolving" (via ABC News). Interestingly, dreaming is a concept the group likes to revisit regularly in descriptions of the temples.

Program of species and evolution Damanhurian-style

The Federation of Damanhur believes that humanity is in the process of evolution based on a "Program of Species" that members refer to as vajne (pronunciation: vinay), according to Damanhur. Or, as the group puts it, "When a species reaches a sufficient complexity in evolution — so much so that it is fully aware of its divine origin — it can become a conscious intermediary between the spiritual and the material planes."

Damanhurians believe that evolution is directed toward the reconnection of plants, animals, minerals, human beings, and extraterrestrial intelligence. They claim the temples' artwork and written texts express these concepts. Interestingly, only members of the group can read and understand the text. But their official website does describe vajne as divine intelligence and love. They believe this concept represents a path towards a spiritual unity that humans once all possessed. In other words, they claim vajne is a pathway towards spirituality, which Damanhurians refer to as "The Real."

Perhaps even more impressive are Damanhurian claims of knowledge stretching back millennia. They believe they've preserved humanity's history stretching back well before the settlement of this planet, which implies humans are of an alien origin. They also claim that human beings have always found meaning and understanding of the world through myths and stories.

They claim the temples occupy a special location

When the gold-dust-trailing star fell over northern Italy, the Federation of Damanhur believes the sign indicated exactly where to break ground, as reported by The Temples of Humankind. Adherents have since honed the reason behind the location. They argue that the temples act as metaphysical antennas because of their construction at the convergence of so-called "Synchronic Lines."

Damanhurians describe these Synchronic Lines as energy rivers connecting all life on the planet. According to Damanhur Australia, people can think of the Synchronic Lines as thoroughfares of life, which act as a communication network capable of amplifying emotions and uniting all living beings. What's more, they claim these energy fields encircle the planet, converging at specific locations.

Of course, this is a simplistic description of what Damanhurians have dedicated whole books to, including "The Synchronic Lines: The Energy Streams of Planet Earth" by Falco Tarassaco. Because of the sacredness of the geographic location, they also argue the temples act as receptacles of Neo-Platonic ideals like Love, Beauty, and Truth. And they claim that the themed rooms have the capability of leading the human beings that visit towards a profound and personal spiritual awakening, while connecting them directly to nature and the supernatural.

Themed rooms at the Temples of Damanhur

The temples of Damanhur include numerous "sacred spaces," as reported by Atlas Obscura. Although all nine rooms are noteworthy, some deserve particular focus. For example, the Hall of Mirrors includes a stained-glass Tiffany dome diffusing warm light throughout the hall. This light is reflected by the surrounding mirrors. According to the Damanhurians, the mirrors multiply the vibrant designs of the dome throughout the room. This amplification represents an analogy about the human mind when it's open and receptive to new ideas and perspectives.

There's also the Hall of Victory, notable as the deepest part of the temples. The room's ceiling reveals a depiction of the night sky containing constellations seen 22,000 years ago at that exact spot. Why 22,000 years ago? According to the Damanhurians, this is when the mythical island of Atlantis still thrived.

Eight steps from the Hall of Victory, visitors can check out the Hall of Earth, which celebrates natural forces and humankind's entrance on the scene. This room contains white ceramic facades embellished with low and high reliefs. The art in this room explores the concept of the divine and the act of creation. Another chamber worth mentioning is the gilded Hall of Spheres, which hosts nine illuminated spheres that softly light the hall while filling it with fragrances from "alchemic liquids." Damanhurians claim these liquids contain concentrations of memories and elements.

The temples of Damanhur cater to tourists

A variety of programs allow the public to experience the temples of Damanhur firsthand, according to the Damanhur Welcome Center. These include short-term stays, voluntourism, and long-term chances to find out what life is like as a Damanhurian. Those involved in long-term experiences get referred to by Damanhurians as "social citizens." Whether short- or long-term, all of these programs fall collectively under the umbrella of Hospitality and Community Programs.

The community also hosts Damanhur University, where people can learn more about the organization and its complex and controversial beliefs about humanity and the future. There is also a selection of tours available in multiple languages for those short on time. The most expedient takes visitors through four halls and requires two-and-a-half hours to complete.

There are also half-day and full-day tours, which explore the nine chambers of the Temples of Humankind and the so-called Sacred Woods Temple, which includes nearly 125 acres lined with stone pathways, pyramids, and circuits. The description of the tour contains the occultic phrase "as above so below," which may be indicative of some of the group's darker and less publicized beliefs (via Learn Religions). They also claim this tour permits visitors to move past their five senses into a spiritual realm inspired by the natural setting around them.

The Abaton lets people dream in the temples

For those who would like to experience the Temples of Damanhur at a subconscious level, there's the Abaton (via Abaton Damanhur). This hotel located lets visitors explore the temples through their dreams. Apparently, the Synchronic Lines work even better after a visit from the Sandman.

Those who opt into the Abaton experience get the choice of one of five rooms whose décor corresponds to the Temples of Humankind. Themes include water, earth, mirrors, metals, and people. The Damanhurians claim that sleeping in the Abaton permits guests to tap into the site's energy, which inspires a revelatory nighttime experience. But the claims don't stop there. They also argue that a stay will restore health and well-being, enveloped in a world of art and energy.

Reviews from guests express clear buy-in when it comes to these alleged benefits. Some remark on the relaxing and enjoyable experience they had. While others, like Ishkah Christos, describe a profound transformation. Christos says three nights at the Abaton resulted in a "spiritual evolution" and offers specific thanks to all of the "entities" that made this possible during the stay.

The temples culminate in a nifty gift shop

The temples at Damanhur may be based on high-minded ideals. But that doesn't mean the site (and organization behind it) eschews consumerism and materialism. As the official website explains, the location keeps a well-stocked gift shop where you can buy everything from glossy coffee table books to fancy t-shirts and mugs. According to the Damanhurians, patronizing their gift shop lets visitors take a little piece of the Temples of Humankind home with them.

Besides the kitschy souvenirs, the gift shop hosts a selection of books detailing the beliefs of the Federation of Damanhur. These include many books about its founder, Falco Tarassaco, as well as so-called Pranic Kits and iPod-like devices housed in bamboo covers, referred to as the "Music of the Plants." Prices are exorbitant in some cases, and they point to the once-secret Federation of Damanhur's ready embrace of capitalism. It's an odd juxtaposition. But it also represents a pathway well-trodden by the new age movement in general.

Besides the enthusiastic consumerism, the Damanhurians share other features of the broader new age movement. Just as the new age movement has appropriated beliefs and practices from religious traditions worldwide (via The Guardian), so the Damanhurians have adopted myths and beliefs from a bewildering number of civilizations, past and present. In other words, you'll find a mishmash of nearly every human culture and religion on the aforementioned books, mugs, and t-shirts.

Allegations against the Federation of Damanhur

Despite the feel-good, new age language articulated by the Federation of Damanhur, the organization has critics, according to Atlas Obscura. Not surprisingly, some have accused the organization of being a cult with members characterized by their glassy, zombie-like, vacant stares. There's also the obvious question of how the Federation of Damanhur kept workers motivated to labor for free on the temples for 15 years.

During a month-long stay in Italy for a religious pluralism class, Danny Zang explored the Federation of Damanhur firsthand (via The Review). He discovered that the seemingly innocuous group proved surprisingly self-sufficient and isolated from the outside world. For example, they have their own policies, infrastructure, and even currency (except at the gift shops where Euros are heartily accepted).

Yet, Zang argues that Damanhurian beliefs are philosophical rather than religious, which strays from a cult in the traditional sense. They don't have strictly enforced worship rules or entrenched dogma. Instead, they share an essential body of beliefs within a loose framework of Neo-Platonism. Zang notes, "Damanhur echoes the meditative and enlightenment-striving projects of Hinduism and Buddhism, yet it stands apart from other faiths as a composite of humanity's collective spirituality." Coupled with the colorful mugs and fancy t-shirts, the Temples of Humankind are well-positioned to continue making bank off spiritual tourists. Best of all you don't have to go Elizabeth Gilbert and head to an ashram in India to get in on the spiritual evolution.