Join The Conversation With Mishpacha's Weekly Newsletter

Look Out Below!

Sivi Sekula

Since the beginning of time, man has been digging to create underground spaces for all sorts of reasons. Some can still be visited today

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

 Mishpacha image


T here is something about being underground that fascinates us. Far from sunlight and sky and everything we know, when we go underground we find ourselves surrounded by the unfamiliar. Which is exciting, scary even. And okay, sometimes claustrophobic.

Since the beginning of time, man has been digging to create underground spaces for all sorts of reasons. Along the way, some of these diggers have created some pretty awesome rooms, caverns, and even entire cities, hidden deep below the surface. Some can still be visited today.


Underground City of Naours

Near the village of Naours (population 1,200) in northern France, lies another place by the same name. Well, almost the same name. The fact that the second is 72 feet below ground probably explains why it’s usually called the Underground City of Naours (don’t pronounce the ‘s’). The city is made up of 28 galleries (long passageways) and about 300 chambers. And yes, French people obviously not affected by claustrophobia actually lived there at various times in history. In fact, during the period of the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648), Underground Naours was inhabited by 3,000 people.

Can you guess why these people would have headed below ground during a bitter and bloody war? You got it! It was for protection. The underground city began as a limestone quarry dug by the Romans. Sometime during the Middle Ages, when the Roman Empire began conquering Europe, the locals figured that the quarry would make a great place to store food… and hide people. Over time, they built wells, stables, and even bakeries. They were pretty smart, and made sure to build chimneys up through the rock and into the cottages above ground so that the smoke rising from the ovens wouldn’t appear to be coming from under the earth (that would have been a dead giveaway).

Eventually, life in France became more peaceful and there was no longer a need for people to hide underground, and so the Underground City of Naours was all but forgotten. Until 1887, when a man discovered the amazing series of tunnels and chambers while doing some renovations to his house. Since then, the city has been a popular tourist attraction. In fact, during World War I, soldiers stationed nearby would visit when they were off duty. They left their mark; the walls of the underground city contain the largest amount of World War I-era graffiti ever discovered. 

The Buried City

Sounds like this mysterious buried city must be some place exotic built by the ancient Aztecs or marauding Vikings? Well, I have a surprise for you. It’s actually in Seattle, Washington, right in the good ol’ United States.


Modern-day Seattle is a bustling city on the northwest coast. Seattle’s weather is dismal for most of the year — lots and lots of rain. Nowadays, the rain isn’t such a problem. But when Seattle was first settled, back in the 1850s, the rain meant constant mud. The mud was not only annoying, it was sometimes downright dangerous. During heavy rainstorms, the mud became so thick and high, it would swallow small children! Seattle is also right near Puget Sound, where the heavy incoming tides used to flood the sewer system and turn the toilets into fountains!

So, when the Great Seattle Fire of 1889 destroyed 25 blocks of wooden buildings right in the center of town, the city decided on two things. One: that all new buildings must be built of brick or stone. And two: the city would be rebuilt eight feet higher than the ground to overcome the mud problem. Eight-foot walls were built on either side of the old sidewalks, and from there, building owners took the lead and built on top of what was underneath. What used to be the ground floor now became the basement.

Visitors to the Pioneer Square neighborhood can take a tour of the underground city, where storefronts, banks, and homes that escaped the Great Fire have been preserved. (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 697)

Related Stories

Fur or Brrr

Gitty Luria

If fur keeps animals warm enough to run around in the snow, it sure keeps us warm too!

Jolly Solly: The Big Dig

R. Atkins

“You know, there could be treasure right here in our backyard,” Fishel murmured dreamily. “After all...

The Saintly Slave: Chapter 1

Y. Bromberg

“This is no ordinary storm!” the captain gasped, holding on to the railing of the ship for support. ...

Share this page with a friend. Fill in the information below, and we'll email your friend a link to this page on your behalf.

Your name
Your email address
You friend's name
Your friend's email address
Please type the characters you see in the image into the box provided.

Evolution vs. Revolution
Shoshana Friedman I call it the “what happened to my magazine?” response
Up, Up, and Away
Rabbi Moshe Grylak What a fraught subject Eretz Yisrael is, to this day
Where Do You Come From?
Yonoson Rosenblum Could they be IDF officers with no Jewish knowledge?
Heaven Help Us
Eytan Kobre Writing about anti-Semitism should rouse, not soothe
Work/Life Solutions with Chedva Kleinhandler
Moe Mernick “Failures are our compass to success”
An Un-Scientific Survey
Rabbi Emanuel Feldman Are Jerusalemites unfriendly? Not necessarily
Out of Anger
Jacob L. Freedman How Angry Lawyer was finally able to calm down
5 Things You Didn’t Know about…Yitzy Bald
Riki Goldstein He composed his first melody at eight years old
When the Floodgates of Song Open, You’re Never Too Old
Riki Goldstein Chazzan Pinchas Wolf was unknown until three years ago
Who Helped Advance These Popular Entertainers?
Riki Goldstein Unsung deeds that boosted performers into the limelight
Your Task? Ask
Faigy Peritzman A tangible legacy I want to pass on to my children
Are You There?
Sarah Chana Radcliffe Emotional withdrawal makes others feel lonely, abandoned
A Peace of a Whole
Rebbetzin Debbie Greenblatt Love shalom more than you love being right
Seminary Applications
Rabbi Zecharya Greenwald, as told to Ariella Schiller It’s just as hard for seminaries to reject you