7 Underground Wonders of the World
We all know about the good ol’ 7 wonders of the world, but what about the amazing places that are lurking right beneath our feet? From underground cities to subterranean vaults, we visit some of the most intriguing underground marvels—no travel insurance required.
Cappadocia, Turkey is home to several underground cities that date back over 3000 years. Largely used by Christians as hiding places before Christianity became an accepted religion, the underground cities have vast networks of defensive traps and escape tunnels, and are often spread over many levels. Some of the cities were large enough to accommodate upwards of 4000 people and contained an impressive number of amenities, from oil presses and chapels to stables and wells.
Coober Pedy, Australia
Coober Pedy is a small town located in the outback of Australia, some 850 km north of Adelaide. The harsh climate, combined with the existence of opal mining in the region, have literally driven residents underground. And not only are there underground homes, but also churches, bars, restaurants, hotels and campgrounds. If you need some fresh air, you can head over the above-ground golf course, which, due to the extreme heat, is played at night with glowing balls.
Mary Kings Close
Beneath Edinburgh’s Royal Mile lies a warren of streets where real people lived, worked and died. Dating back several centuries, Mary King’s Close consists of a number of underground closes which would have originally been narrow walkways (open to the skies) flanked by tenement houses—some stretching up to 7 stories high.
In the 18th century, the top levels of the homes were demolished and the bottom levels were used as the foundation for the new Royal Exchange building. The lower floors were sealed off, and remained largely unchanged for over 250 years.
Terracotta Warriors - Xi’an, China
Xi’an, China, is home to one of the world’s most famous underground relics: the elaborate tomb complex of China’s first emperor, guarded by thousands of life-size clay sculptures. Positioned by rank and each bearing a unique facial expression, the soldiers are arranged in trench-like, underground corridors. In some corridors, the soldiers march behind clay horses pulling wooden chariots.
This subterranean wonder was constructed over the course of 38 years by over 700,000 labourers; work halted in 209 BC amid uprisings a year after Qin's death. According to archaeologists, the terracotta army is part of an elaborate mausoleum created to accompany the first emperor of China into the afterlife. Qin's tomb itself remains unexcavated, though it is expected to yield even greater treasures.
Svalbard Global Seed Vault - Spitsbergen, Norway
The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, aka the Doomsday Seed Vault, is an underground storage facility buried deep in a mountain on Spitsbergen, a barren Arctic island halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. It stores over 740,000 seed samples—duplicates of the holdings of local seed banks all over the world—insuring against seed loss in the event of a local or global catastrophe. Spitsbergen was considered the ideal location due to its lack of tectonic activity and its permafrost, which will aid preservation. Plus, its location 130 metres above sea level will keep the specimens dry even if ocean levels rise dramatically.
Granite Mountain Records Vault - Salt Lake City, Utah
The Mormons have some of the most comprehensive and sophisticated genealogical records in the world. Their Granite Mountain Record Vault, located in Little Cottonwood Canyon, near Salt Lake City, Utah, houses over 35 billion images of genealogical information, stored on over 2.4 million rolls of microfilm. Over 50 employees work at the secluded vault’s administrative offices, shipping and receiving docks, processing facilitt and microfilm restoration laboratory, protecting materials key to church operations, leadership and history.
West Norwood Catacombs
The catacombs below London’s West Norwood Cemetery contain over 3500 coffins of various types and sizes, as well as remarkable artifacts from the Victorian era. Under the layers of dust and mold, you can see still the ornate decorations that gave the cemetery its “Millionaire’s Cemetery” nickname: decayed Utrecht velvet, ornate ironwork, elaborately carved memorial plates and even the remains of centuries-old wreaths. This site isn’t for everyone, but it’s an incredible space that’s been largely left to wear naturally with time.