By Samaneh Aboutalebi

This underground city repetitively sheltered women, children, and the elderly from invaders

December 9, 2020 - 22:40

With a long history, underground cities are the fascinating foundations that are considered as some luring tourist attractions nowadays. 

While many of these subterranean worlds have become obsolete, others are fully functional urban spaces scattered around the world, from Asia to Africa and from Europe to Oceania. 

Hidden passageways, ancient tunnels, stone-made spaces, and activities few people ever heard about, have made these cities mysterious yet astonishing settlements beneath the Earth’s surface.

Located in the central district of Aran-Bidgol county, the Iranian province of Isfahan, the underground city of Nushabad is one of the oldest in the world. 

The labyrinthine city is comprised of three stories of tunnels, chambers, air ducts, staircases, and canals. It is widely considered a marvel of ancient architecture and engineering.

Despite its impressive scale as the biggest underground city in Iran, the 1,500-year-old city was completely unknown until a decade ago, when a resident of a village nearby stumbled upon a tunnel while digging a well in his home. 

What was discovered was a sprawling underground city set between three to 18 meters deep. Construction of this man-made subterranean city, called Ouee (or Ouyi), dates back to the Sassanid era (224 CE–651). 

Inhabitants would dig underground chambers as hideout spots for women, children, and the elderly in frequent attacks by foreign invaders.

Over the years, the individual chambers were amalgamated, and air ducts, water pipes, storage spaces, and toilets were all built—creating a sustainable underground city, in which ancient Persians took refuge in times of war. Each family had their room of sorts, with a tunnel running down the length of these rooms, similar to a hotel hallway.

The city could also be used as a shelter for the desert’s summer heat as the remarkable complex of tunnels originally grew up around a freshwater spring, credited with supplying delicious, crystal-clear water. Only part of the tunnel system is open to visitors today, and those parts are often subject to flooding.

The underground structure included several ingenious devices to trap and ambush hostile intruders, such as curving corridors and disguised pits covered with stones. The tunnels, which were put to good use during the Mongol invasion in the 13th century, worked particularly well as an emergency shelter because there were several entrances to the underground chambers, some of which surfaced within the town’s houses.

The underground city was eventually abandoned in the 1920s, however, it is promoted as one of the main tourist attractions in the region nowadays. 

Nushabad underground city was inscribed on the National Heritage list in 2006. 



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