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Going Underground

The Edinburgh VaultsScotland’s capital, Edinburgh, is another historic British city well worth a long weekend (at the very least) to explore (see my previous blog, walking the walls of York). We were there at the weekend, travelling by rail to Waverley Station, a short stroll from our hotel just off the Royal Mile.

It may have rained all weekend, (see bottom pic) but there are plenty of fascinating places to escape the weather in this wonderful city - from visiting the famous Castle which houses the 'Honours' (or Crown Jewels) of Scotland, to a trip beneath the city to experience the eerie atmosphere of the haunted vaults - reputedly the most haunted place in Britain!

In the late-18th century, the Old Town of Edinburgh was severely overcrowded and a ‘new’ Georgian town was planned around Princes, George and Queen Streets - with two bridges, North and South, constructed to span the dividing gap. Along South Bridge, opened in 1788, shops were built and the nineteen arches below housed workshops and storerooms (see below right). However, flooding forced many of the artisans and craftsmen to move out while further building along the sides of this bridge saw the arches gradually disappear from view.

Storage in the Edinburgh VaultsFar from becoming vacant, the poor of the city moved in - the rooms were cramped, dark and damp; there was no sunlight, poorly circulated air, no running water and no sanitation. Crime was rife and it is thought that Burke and Hare, the infamous serial killers who sold corpses to medical schools, hunted for victims in the Edinburgh Vaults. Eventually the authorities called time on this seething den of vice and, in about 1875, tons of rubble were dumped into the vaults making them inaccessible.

They weren’t rediscovered until the 1980s and now regular tours take you through what are reputed to be the most haunted rooms in Britain. As we wandered through the dimly-lit archways, it reminded me of another underground city I had visited earlier this year - although completely different in so many ways. This one had been far older, far larger and was purpose-built to house and protect whole communities from possible attack.

Pestle & mortar, Kaymakli, TurkeyKaymakli is just one of a number of underground cities hidden away in central Anatolia, Turkey, that were built during the Hittite civilization which was at its height in the thirteenth century BC. It was ingeniously constructed so as not to be seen from ground level and was added to and extended over the following centuries. This labyrinthine underground city can be explored today, as a colleague and I found out when we went to check the routes for our Two Faces of Cappadocia walking holiday.

(You can visit Kaymakli on the day you are driven south from Göreme to the Ihlara Gorge - so don’t forget to book this extra excursion before you set off.)

Kaymakli is eight storeys deep and was once home to up to 5000 people but, unlike the Edinburgh Vaults, it has a superbly engineered ventilation system that allows fresh air to circulate all the way down to the eighth storey below. As we went deeper, we passed through rooms and halls connected by narrow corridors, where we saw wine tanks, water cisterns, kitchens and food stores, and a huge multi-‘pestle & mortar’ rock (see above) used for grinding herbs and spice. Ventilation chimneys, wells and churches all added to the comfort of the people who often had to stay down here for months at a time. To complete the security, large round stones were positioned at regular intervals to be rolled across doorways should attackers break in (see right).

We spent over an hour wandering around the suprisingly unclaustrophobic alleys and chambers until our English-speaking guide led us out into the bright sunshine once more. We weren't so lucky in Edinburgh:

Edinburgh in November
Edinburgh in 'dreich' weather - a wonderful Scot's word meaning "wet, dull, gloomy, dismal, dreary, miserable" - or any combination of these!

Posted: 22/11/2010 10:05:49 by | with 0 comments
Filed under: heritage, Turkey, UK


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