There’s no need to go far afield to exotic locations to find adventure. In recent years adventures have been rediscovering urban winders right on our very doorsteps. Urban Exploration, known also as Urbex or UE, is an (often illegal) activity that explores unseen or unknown sights in the urban environment.
These vary from abandoned buildings, to sewers and storm drains, to underground train stations and caves. Swide has chosen for you some of the best underground urban exploration sights around the world.
The Mines of Paris (Carrieres de Paris)
Paris is built on an area that is rich in mineral deposits and with many diverse subterranean strata. These mineral were long mined by the inhabitants of Paris, practice which continued for centuries. Over time a huge network of mines and galleries was created that together stretches over 286 kilometres. For a time parts of the networks were used as ossuaries (for storing human skeletal remains) and they are still littered with bones. Exploring the network carries risks, not least because it is illegal and the entrances are patrolled by police with dogs, but roof collapses are not uncommon and getting lost is something you do not want to happen.
London Post Office Railway
The London Underground is a labyrinth of tubes, tunnels, galleries and caverns, and incorporates part of the oldest underground train system in the world, which was opened in 1863. The vast size of the network together with the high number of disused lines and stations make it an urban explorer’s paradise. Probably one of the most intriguing hacking routes is the London Post Office Railway or Mail Rail, as it is also known. Used for shipping mail on small electrically powered carts to avoid over ground congestion it ran east-west from Paddington to Whitechapel for a distance of 10.5km. It was in use until 2003 when it shut down which means it still in excellent condition. Access is notoriously difficult but it was recently infiltrated by a urban exploration group called ‘Consolidation Crew’ proving that where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Beneath the beautiful, chaotic scenes of modern Naples lies an intricate network of caverns, and tunnels. The Campi Flegrei just west to the city is a subterranean web of geothermal activity that has created a warren spaces underneath the city. These tunnels were widely used by the city’s residents for centuries and were duly expanded and fortified by the Romans to use as sewers and aqueducts. During the Second World War many of the caverns were widened to be used as air raid shelters. The result is a varied and vast ‘parallel city’ that sprawls underneath the modern metropolis. Accessing them is easy and there are many guided tours given, be prepared for some wondrous and surreal sights, especially excavated ancient sites used by religious cults that are time capsules of, literally, underground movements.
The Freedom Tunnel, New York
Probably the most famous of the many underground urban exploration sites in New York City. The disused Amtrak tunnel runs from under Riverside Park in Manhattan. Built in the 1930’s it wasn’t used for long as automobile took over most of the city’s transport needs. The name ‘Freedom Tunnel’ comes from the graffiti artist Chris ‘Freedom’ Pape who used the tunnel walls for some of his most famous artwork. The name may have something to do with the shantytown that grew up there of homeless people who went underground to live in ‘freedom’ rent-free and away from law enforcement and social norms of the over ground world. Made famous by the film ‘Dark Days’, directed by British filmmaker Marc Singer who spent two years underground filming a documentary about the inhabitants of the Amtrack Tunnel network. These days there is still plenty of graffiti to see but the underground residence have all but disappeared. It remains one of the iconic urban exploration sites and is still a big draw.
The Catacombs, Rome
The undisputed capital of catacombs is the Eternal City of Rome. There are hundreds of kilometres of tunnels under the city. Some are well known and accessible, some are barely explored, some are lost and yet to be explored. The earliest tunnels date back to the first century, they were built by the Jewish community as cemeteries. The Christian tunnels came a hundred years later, but contrary to popular belief, they were not built as sanctuaries from persecution, but as places to bury their dead. People would want to be buried in sepulchres along with their favourite saint so the tombs grew larger and larger. All Christian Catacombs in Rome are the property of the Catholic Church, which does not readily grant permission to explore them. The ones that are accessible are tourist hotspots and many tours are run. For those wishing to off the beaten track, and underground treasure trove of archaeological wonders awaits you.
Roger Viollet/Getty Images
Remember Urban Exploration is extremely dangerous and should only be attempted by experienced adventures taking all possible safety precautions.
by Hugo Mc Cafferty