Underground spaces I’ve visited in my travels

The theme of this post is the underground. It’s a round-up of underground places I’ve visited in different cities. It’s not meant to be a comprehensive guide for obvious reasons, just a fun list of places that may spur you on to visit as well. I don’t know about you but being in enclosed underground spaces makes me a bit anxious. Everywhere except the underground (metro, subway) as a means of transport. Go figure!

Ho8 German Underground Hospital, The Jersey War Tunnels – Jersey, Channel Islands

Jersey, one of the Channel Islands -together with Guernsey, Herm, Alderney and Sark– is a British Crown dependency. As such, it isn’t part of the United Kingdom but a self-governing possession. Such “trifle” didn’t stop Hitler from invading the Channel Islands as early as July 1940. It was his foothold in the British Isles.

Life during the Occupation can’t have been easy by any stretch of the imagination. Some islanders decided to leave for mainland Britain, many families sent their children there on their own, and many stayed. About 1,200 islanders were deported to camps in Germany for different reasons. Some came back, some did not.

On October 1941, a massive fortification project began. The Channel Islands was part of the Atlantic Wall, the 1,700-mile line of coastal defence devised by Hitler. The manpower for the Jersey fortifications was provided by the Organisation Todt. This organization brought 5,000 foreign workers, all prisoners of war. They lived in shocking conditions. The Russians, however, received the worst treatment because the Nazi considered them subhuman.

They excavated many tunnels throughout the island. The Underground Hospital, or Ho8 -Hohlgangsanlage 8- is part of that network and a Jersey landmark. You can see the original operating theatre, boiler room, telephone exchange and the office of the Head Storeman. Each room has a different theme. You can see gas masks, or old uniforms, makeshift radios people manufactured at home to listen to the news, photos, and original objects, among other things. They also have an Enigma machine, which I thought was brilliant.

There are some urban legends and myths about the tunnels, like the one about slave workers buried in the walls. I was told that’s not the case. However, the atmosphere is eerie. The thought of the way the slave workers were treated and the living conditions under the German occupation filled me with anguish.

El Zanjón de Granados – Buenos Aires

The Zanjón de Granados museum took me back to the times of Santa Maria de los Buenos Ayres, the name with which the city was founded in 1536. The historical record of this site goes back to 1580, when founder Juan de Garay gave it to Juan Fernández. Zanjón de Granados is located in the intersection of Defensa and Chile streets, in San Telmo.       

During our guided visit, we were told that, in 1985, a family bought the property to start a catering business. The old house, from the 1830s, was abandoned and walled up, and a mountain of rubble inside that was 12 feet high. When the restoration work began, they started to find remains of previous, older, constructions. Then, the owners decided to call a renowned local archaeologist, Daniel Schávelzon, so he could work his magic.

In the 1860s, a well-to-do family and their six servants lived in this house. During the guided tour, you can see remains of the sewers and the tank used to collect drinking water. These improvements came about after the yellow fever epidemic that ravaged the city in 1870.  

Towards 1900s, the house was converted into a tenement house, as demand for rooms was high due to the influx of immigrants. You can see the way the house was altered to make more room. They even fitted shops on the ground floor. Also, you can detect the materials used, as for example, the bricks are a different size and hue.

The visit includes a walk along the tunnels, which have been restored beautifully. The guide will point out where the stream called Zanjón de Granados, used to run. It used to flow into the River Plate. There are remains of the cistern tank and the drainpipes built towards 1780 to change the course of that stream and thus avoid flooding.

PATH – Toronto

The guided visit is very interesting and dynamic. Even my seven-year-old nieces listened to the guide and even asked questions.

The PATH is a sort of underground city under Toronto’s downtown area. According to their website and the Guinness World Records, it’s the largest underground shopping complex in the world. It is 19 miles worth of shopping arcades, with approximately 1,200 shops.

The PATH connects more than 50 office buildings, six subway stations, two malls, eight big hotels, and Union Station. It also connects tourist attractions such as the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Air Canada Centre and the CN Tower, which I haven’t visited because I’m scared of heights.

PATH construction started in 1929, when the Royal York Hotel built an underground passage that connected the hotel with Union Station. In my opinion, this is the prettiest section of the PATH, to go from the beautiful station to the magnificent hotel lobby. The rest of the PATH is a bit sterile.

The PATH is great in the summer heat. Although many won’t believe this, Toronto can get hot and humid in the summer. But it is during the harsh winters when you appreciate the advantages of the PATH.

Longhorn Cavern – Texas

Longhorn Cavern State Park is located in the beautiful Hill Country of Texas. This is a day-use only park. The main attraction is the Longhorn Cavern. I did the cavern walking tour. There’s no way in hell I’ll ever do the wild cave tour, where you wriggle, climb and crawl along narrow underground spaces.  

The 90-minute tour takes you along 1.1 miles of developed passages. You can walk straight! The history of this cave is very interesting. This limestone cave used by Native Americans, Confederate soldiers as a store, and outlaws.

During the Prohibition era, in the 1920s, the Longhorn Cave was transformed into a speakeasy. By the late 1930’s, the Civilian Conservation Corps built a road, residences, pavilions and an observation tower.

I think I was able to cope with being underground because the passages were very spacious. And it didn’t hurt that it felt so much cooler than the hellish heat of the Texas summer. We were able to spot a few bats, which was interesting. At one point, the guide turned his light off to show us what pure darkness looks like. It was a few seconds of the darkest darkness I’ve ever experienced in my life.  

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