Musement takes a look at seven of the most beautiful underground cities in Europe.
Some people love nature more than anything, and their idea of a perfect holiday is to spend time in the middle of the woods or climbing jagged peaks. Others love to explore underwater while still others just don’t feel at home unless they’re surrounded by city streets.
If you fall into the latter, you’ve probably already visited the major European capitals…some, perhaps, many times over. However, many of these cities have a secret side: churches, museums and monuments conceal arrow streets, catacombs, bunkers and secret passages all nestled underground. So, with that in mind, here’s a look at seven of the finest underground cities in Europe.
Coudenberg Hill once stood in Brussels, the city that houses the European Parliament and the imposing Coudenberg Palace, a former symbol of the king’s power. A number of royal families lived here over the years, including the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. However, a fire destroyed it in 1731, and, 40 years later, the Royal Palace of Brussels was constructed on top of its ruins. Today, you can visit these underground ruins by going in through the Bellevue Museum. A walk through the remains of the old palace’s corridors and rooms feels like journeying through time.
There are just as many riches underneath the city of Naples as there are above ground. Underground Naples tells stories that span the centuries, civilizations and cultures with the earliest finds dating back to 5,000 years ago. In the third century BC, the Greeks dug out the first system of galleries, quarrying limestone to build walls and temples. Later, the Romans expanded the underground network with a functional subterranean aqueduct that went all the way to Miseno. The underground tunnels were later used as bomb shelters during the Second World War. Today, this priceless underground heritage has been preserved and can still be visited, offering an unforgettable experience.
Genoa is a fascinating city, made up of myriad narrow streets leading down towards the sea, which look like an intricate maze for those visiting the city for the first time. Its subterranean level is no different, with a labyrinth of tunnels, trenches, bunkers and secret passages to explore. There is even a real necropolis, the final resting place for the Genoese who died of the 1656 plague. Genoa offers a one-of-a-kind journey back in time.
Back when Mary Queen of Scots lived in Edinburgh Castle, the Old Town looked a bit different than what we see today. The streets that branch off the Royal Mile were basically tunnels that housed the city’s residents, packed into crowded houses built on top of one another. The rich lived on the upper ‘floor’, while the poor were at the bottom with the livestock. Today, this maze of streets lies buried below the souvenir shops on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, and you can reach it from the entrance by Real Mary King’s Close. You will see eerie rooms where residents died from the plague, and you might even see the ghost of Annie, a girl abandoned by her family during the 1644 outbreak.
The catacombs of Paris are among the world’s most famous underground attractions. Located 65 feet underground and almost 300 km long, the catacombs date back to the eighteenth century and contain the remains of six million Parisians. Visiting these underground tunnels in Paris may seem macabre as you pass the entrance sign that reads “Stop, this is the realm of death”. However, this is actually a place with a very powerful romantic and literary vibe: poems and fragments of literature intersperse the bones and skulls covering the walls. Legends about some of the catacombs’ permanent ‘residents’ enrich the experience.
We go from the romantic 18th-century Parisian catacombs to Berlin’s underground, a witness to a more contemporary history: fallout bunkers and bomb shelters from World War II, sections of railway and secret passages to escape from East Berlin and storage spaces for breweries. Explore underground Berlin for a crash course in modern history and discover things you never knew about the Cold War and the Second World War.
Take a giant leap back in time to the vast underground city hidden below the streets of Rome, where hundreds of subterranean archeological sites lay. Their breathtaking historical and artistic diversity covers a remarkably wide span of time: limestone caves, both Jewish and Christian catacombs, places of worship, hydraulic works, Roman housing complexes and nymphaeums (underground buildings with tubs or fountains, meant to be used for sacred purposes) as well as modern tunnels and bomb shelters.