Underground Empires

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by Scott Corrales

The following article appeared in the January 2000 edition of FATE. 

Subterranean cities and temples played a major role in pre-European Latin American societies. Religious rites of all kinds were held in these underground locations, and tradition holds that they were used for the storage of treasure and forgotten lore. Still other traditions hold that they were not built by the civilizations, but by ancient “elder races” whose only remains can be found in mysterious megalithic constructions around the world.

Official science dismisses this speculation with the same certainty as they would brush aside the factuality of the video game “Tomb Raider,” which follows the exploits of cyberheroine Lara Croft through a number of underground Andean locations. But can we really be so sure?

The Quest for Lost Chincana

Dr. Raul Rios Centeno of Peru’s INDECOPI organization formed part of a six-man team (five researchers and a guide) who braved the dizzying altitude of the Andes to go in search of La Chincana, the subterranean city located beneath the former Inca capital of Cuzco.

On July 15, 1998, after undergoing a brief acclimatization period to the 3,500-meter elevation of Cuzco, Dr. Rios’s team met up with Inez Puente de la Vega, a historian whose knowledge of lnca culture and command of the Runa-Simi variant of the Quechua language would prove of great help in their expedition.

The group’s initial efforts focused on finding a point of access to the fabled Chincana. Locals informed them that one of the main entrances to the underground city was precisely beneath the Sacsahuaymán archaeological fortress (whose giant stonework is pre-Inca in origin) about a kilometer away from Cuzco. Other sources hinted at the existence of two other gateways: one in the Koricancha, or Palace of the Sun, which was partially demolished during the Colonial period to build the Carmelite Monastery, and still another beneath Cuzco’s great cathedral.

Not surprisingly, scholars at the University of San Antonio de Abad and the Andean University, both of them in Cuzco, refused to speak to the explorers about the putative underground city. But as chance would have it, the Rios party managed to gain access to the Andean University’s library, where a fascinating piece of information was uncovered.

The Greatest Discovery Since Machu Picchu

In 1952, a mixed group of twelve French and American explorers managed to gain access through the Sacsahuaymán entrance with enough provisions to last for five days as they embarked upon what they termed “the greatest discovery since Machu Picchu.”

The team ventured into the Sacsahuaymán entrance and nothing further was heard from them until fifteen days later, when French explorer Phillipe Lamontierre emerged from the hole suffering from acute dementia, with visible signs of malnourishment and even the bubonic plague (attributable, says Dr. Rios, to the bats inhabiting the underground spaces). The broken survivor indicated that his fellow adventurers had died, and some of them had even fallen down unfathomed abysses. Among the objects he brought back was an ear of corn made of solid gold, which was later entrusted to the Cuzco Museum of Archaeology.

While sobered by the Lamontierre experience, Dr. Rios’s group resolutely asked the National Institute of Culture’s authorization to enter the depths at their own risk, and requested that the concrete plug covering the entrance be demolished. Officialdom turned a deaf ear to this plea, and the group had to find more devious ways of accomplishing its objectives.

Having given “valuable consideration” to the security guards at Sacsahuaymán, the Rios group managed to get into one of the connecting chambers to the underground complex. Equipped with infrared goggles, the group penetrated a chamber that measured scarcely 1.13 meters from the door’s stone frame to the rocky floor. “The stench within the [connecting chamber],” writes Dr. Rios, “was nauseating, as it had been employed as a latrine for some time. For some strange reason, the stonework did not reflect infrared rays. However, with the aid of our friend Jorge Zegarra, we were able to apply a RAD-2 X-ray filter, which provided a radio-opacity of 400 to 600 percent that of aluminum.

“It was thus that we reached a hallway whose height progressively diminished until reaching a scant 94 centimeters,” continues his letter, “and given that our average height is 1.80 meters, we had no choice but to return to our starting point.”

The Rios party tried to obtain readings on their Geiger counter without much success, but through the RAD-2 X-ray filter, they managed to secure a number of photos which led them to the conclusion that “a coating of some dense metal”-comparable to lead-existed within the hallways, and that there were cracks in the stonework which indeed allowed for the passage of X-rays.

At this point, the guide abandoned the mission out of a very real fear of reprisals by the Culture Institute.

Dr. Rios concluded by saying that the images captured by means of the RAD-2 device would be analyzed by Carlos Garcia and Guillermo LaRosa Richardson of the School of Engineering in Lima, Peru.

Underground Empires Under Moscow|

There are, of course, individuals who remain skeptical about any notion of subterranean occupancy of our world (beyond provisional shelters and subway stations), indicating the difficulty in providing ventilation, temperature control, and sanitation for any permanent underground tenancy, particularly one involving tens of thousands of people.

However, the prestigious Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (May/June 1997) presented an extraordinary article involving the existence of multiple subterranean tiers under the city of Moscow. Following the adventures of Vadim Mikhailov and his group “Diggers of the Underground Planet,” the BAS article reveals the shadowy underworld of the Russian capital. The Diggers made their way through fallout shelters to a colossal warehouse owned by a Russian marine biology institution, containing, among other nightmarish holdings, “a room of tanks of formalin, containing various sea monsters.”

After well over a decade of urban spelunking, the Diggers presented the world with a map of those that occupy these levels: Gypsies, malcontents, dissidents, and “professional hermits” have occupied the levels closest to the surface, gaining access through heating vents and sewer systems. On one particular journey deep under the Centrobank building, the Diggers encountered squads of uniformed people lighting their way with powerful halogen lamps. The authorities dismiss such claims as fanciful, but the BAS article quotes Mikhailov as saying that the authorities in fact have no idea who these armed, masked individuals could be. He notes that the security services themselves do not venture down to those levels.