The Diggers Under Moscow!

Tony Gosling tony at
Sat Jun 8 17:32:23 BST 2002

Mysteries Under Moscow

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists - May/June 1997 - Vol. 53, No. 3, pp. 11-14

by Andrei Ilnitsky
What is hidden under Moscow?

This question has intrigued Vadim Mikhailov since he was a child in the
early 1970s, when his father, who drove a train in the Moscow subway, first
gave him a ride in the driver's cabin and showed him the network of Metro
tunnels beneath the Russian   capital. By the time he was 12, Mikhailov and
his friends had begun making increasingly ambitious journeys beneath the city.
Discoveries began with the first expeditions. Through manholes and building
basements the boys wriggled into labyrinths under the Russian capital.
First, they explored the bomb shelters under Leningradsky Prospekt, then
they came across an Academy of Oceanology warehouse. "Imagine walking along
endless corridors," recalls Mikhailov, "something dripping from the
ceiling, the uneven light of torches. And all of sudden you find yourself
in a room full of tanks of formalin, containing various sea monsters."
They soon went deeper underground. According to Mikhailov there are about
six levels under Moscow, and in some places as many as 12, including old
sewer systems, fountain foundations, and sloping drainage tunnels entangled
in the depths.
As they grew up, the explorers took their investigations more seriously,
drawing maps of their routes, studying history books, and talking to
elderly Muscovites about past uses of the underground. Their explorations
of deserted shafts and water mains built during the reign of Catherine the
Great in the eighteenth century sparked a greater interest and enthusiasm
for further expeditions.
"Ten to 15 years later we realized that we had investigated the entire
level closest to the surface, comprising municipal public service tunnels.
It was time to go down to deeper floors," recounts Mikhailov. In 1990, the
underworld travelers formed a group called "Diggers of the Underground
Planet," whose aim was to study the historical, ecological, and social
aspects of the Moscow underground.  
Criminal settlements

Trips under Moscow have grown riskier as people have settled on the levels
nearest the surface. The underground shelters gypsies, spongers, political
refugees, and professional hermits. These people usually enter the
underground through the grates of heating and rubbish collecting systems.
According to the Diggers, the underground is also a refuge for former
prisoners. It is against the law for ex-convicts to reside in the Russian
capital, so those who do move to the city must find inconspicuous lodgings.
Some settle in basements with good air-conditioning systems and two or
three exits. Sometimes they gather in groups, living by "prison laws."
The underworld is not all rubbish, rats, and dampness. Some accommodations
are well equipped--with radio, television, and heat. People cook food and
bring up children. In the morning, breadwinners leave their homes through
manholes to make a living.
"I know about 20 places where families who have lost their apartments now
live. There are also so-called 'advantageous' closed accommodations, like
boiler rooms that are from time to time visited by plumbers to check water
mains--and to gather payment from the squatters. Some rather well-off
people are among them," notes Mikhailov. Some underground residents seem to
enjoy the way of life. The Diggers remember one professor who for some
unknown reason lived with tramps and enjoyed a good reputation among them.
But underground communities are also a potential source of disease and a
cradle of crime. In summer and winter, the usual seasons of migration into
and out of the tunnels, alcoholics, drug addicts, and prostitutes flourish
in the "reverse world."
Three or four years ago the Diggers found their first corpse. Now horrible
things like dismembered bodies can be found in sewers and drains. "In
former times the public works department used to control these facilities,"
Mikhailov says. "But today the engineers--mainly women-are afraid to come
down because there are a lot of strangers in the underground."
Mikhailov recalls that once they found the semi-decayed body of a tramp who
had probably been killed in a fight. When the police came they took the
body, then asked the Diggers to tell no one. With no name, no address, and
no information to go on, the police consider such cases to be hopeless. The
news rarely makes it into the press.
More recently, say the Diggers, the city government has begun paying more
attention to the underground system. The police have reinforced their
control over basements, and they now detain disheveled people--suspected of
being tunnel-dwellers--while they check their registration documents. But
this has not solved the problem.
Terrorism from below?

The Diggers believe the powerful and inaccessible Russian capital--with all
its special security departments--is vulnerable from below. For example, it
is easy to go beneath the Metro platforms and get into the "escalator
park," where the mechanisms that drive the massive escalators are
unprotected. One can cross the tunnels and get from one system into
another. The Metro trunkways have already been damaged. And there is even
access to the Kremlin from the main Metro lines.
The current city government is aware of the possibility of an undeclared
"revolution" from below, and the problem of Metro security stays on the
agenda at government meetings. But the Diggers consider the city's measures
a drop in the ocean. More serious safety measures would require larger
investments and a special staff. Neither is available.
The Diggers' concern has been heightened by sightings of groups of people
dressed in camouflage uniforms. In a tunnel under the Centrobank building,
the Diggers observed uniformed people in masks equipped with powerful
halogen lamps. The Diggers were afraid to follow them lest they should come
under fire. So far, security services have not taken the Diggers' reports
of these sightings seriously.
Only once have the police responded to a report by Mikhailov. Under the
Leningradsky Prospekt the Diggers noticed a detachment of uniformed men at
work in a tunnel. The police sent two officers with machine guns to arrest
the group, but all of them escaped. Upon investigating the site, the police
found evidence of fresh digging. "Who these camouflaged people are,"
Mikhailov says, "I don't know. Evidently, neither do officials. As far as I
know, we are the only researchers working under the city. But if another
group or organization is also investigating the underground, who is it? It
is neither a military nor a police force. All the state security services
say they do not go down."
How serious is the threat of terrorism from below? The Diggers have written
a memorandum detailing dozens of entries to closed facilities like bomb
shelters and strategic command posts, together with possible combinations
of terrorist actions. When the memorandum was submitted to the Federal
Security Service (FSB) of Moscow--the former KGB-- the security bodies
agreed to cooperate with the Diggers.
"The Diggers believe," says Mikhailov, "that regardless of barriers one can
pass unnoticed under the ground. There should be a monitoring system
established that could, to my mind, control such places as the Metro's
ventilation shafts."
Mysterious labyrinths

Beneath the city are passageways, chambers of torture, and about 150
underground riverbeds lined with bricks and white stone. Studying the
masonry and brickwork, the researchers found marks left by old stonemasons;
they could even date, approximately, some of the drains.
Gruesome finds have also been made. While studying an old Moscow river, the
Neglinka, the Diggers often came across human skulls. Similar findings were
described by the Russian writer Vladimir Gilyarovsky, a pre-revolutionary
explorer of Moscow. He wrote that long ago an owner of a criminal den built
a tunnel leading to the underground waters. Inside the den was a pipe
through which criminals threw out the corpses of those they had robbed and
murdered. The Diggers made their way into one such tunnel and found among
broken skulls a silver ring and a kisten, an ancient weapon similar to a
large metal mace.
Mikhailov thinks there may be evidence of Stalin-era executions in some
passages under the city. Under Solyanka Street, for example, there is a
large inaccessible network of tunnels that may conceal a mass burial site.
"But who would take responsibility for discovering it?" asks Mikhailov.
Even in post-Soviet Russia, such a find would become a political issue.
Other Soviet secrets lie under Moscow, including a second ring of Metro
lines built by Stalin on the outskirts of the city, but never used by the
public. Muscovites speculate that the ring was employed by the military to
shuttle bombs around the capital.
Under Bolshaya Pirogovskaya Street the Diggers discovered a deserted
laboratory with an old telephone, chemical-protection suits hanging on the
walls, and old-fashioned respiration masks. The room appeared to have been
abandoned in a hurry. In adjacent rooms there were huge flasks, and the
floor was covered with crystals.
A 3,000-seat bunker located under the Cathedral of Christ the Savior is
another unsolved mystery. (The cathedral was demolished by the Bolsheviks
in the 1930s; it is now being rebuilt.) "We were not allowed to go there,
although the cathedral dean asked us to take out a sealed container with
communist slogans on it," says Mikhailov. The dean called it the
"anti-capsule," in the same tone he would use to speak of the anti-Christ.
Mikhailov would have liked to explore, but "officers from the Kremlin guard
said that nothing under the church threatened the safety of the building,
and so they did not allow us to go down."
Under the Skliffasovsky clinic the Diggers encountered people dressed in
monk's robes, carrying torches around a strange-looking altar made of
stone. They were performing some sort of service and singing. When they saw
the Diggers, they hurriedly disappeared.
The hidden library

Lately the Diggers have decided to search for the underground's greatest
prize: the lost medieval library of Tsar Ivan the Terrible.
In 1472, Ivan III married Princess Sofia Paleolog, a niece of the last
Byzantine emperor. The bride brought a splendid dowry of invaluable books
and scrolls from Byzantium.
To preserve her treasures from raids and fire, Sofia employed a famous
Italian architect, Aristotle Fiorovanti, to build a library under the
Kremlin. Today, the location of the library is covered by a veil of mystery
and legend. Sofia's grandson, Ivan the Terrible, was said to have found the
treasure. If so, he took the secret of its location to his grave. Napoleon;
a Polish king, Sigizmund; and thousands of lesser-known people have since
searched for the library.
One Russian academic wrote that the ancient manuscripts might be located
somewhere on the second or third level beneath the Kremlin. He claimed that
he could clearly see the library on a map shown to him in the 1980s by a
former Kremlin commander, General Vedeneev. (These levels have been very
poorly investigated.)
The last attempt to find the library was made by Nikita Khrushchev, who
established a special search committee headed by a man named Tikhomirov.
When Brezhnev came to power the committee was disbanded
According to Galina Lelyanova of the Phenomenon Press Center, a new
committee has started to work. The committee's team includes scientists,
historians, and archaeologists, but the committee has also recruited "vine
walkers" and psychics to take part. The vine walkers claim they can detect
gold, silver, and other metals using bioenergetic powers, and the psychics
are on hand to insure the researchers' security by combating any "dark
forces" that may be guarding the hidden cache. (Those who have searched for
the library, the legend goes, have been prone to accidents, disease, or
The Diggers also want to search for the library. "We believe that the
library is still beneath Moscow, most likely in a chamber built in Egyptian
style, and that it may be possible to find it as well as all the treasures
the Terrible took at the Kazan seizure. The tsar hid those underground as
well and they are waiting for their time to be discovered."
Tourist attraction

Last year, the Diggers registered the "Center of Underground Research" with
the Moscow municipal government. The center has departments of security,
ecology, and history; eventually an analytical and archive department will
be added. Their activities have also acquired a commercial character. They
have signed agreements with the Moscow government, the Vityaz organization,
which represents veterans, and with other organizations interested in
underground research. For the 850th anniversary of Moscow, to be celebrated
this year, the Diggers plan to issue an underground map. City officials
want to develop underground sightseeing tours.
The Diggers have organized two exhibitions on the Moscow underground:one in
the main city administration building and another in the Ostrovsky
house/museum. They plan eventually to exhibit their underground findings in
their own building.
But the Diggers have not hurried to tell all they know about the
underground world. They are now working on a series of TV shows that they
say will deliver sensational news. The programs will air during the 850th
anniversary celebration, allowing Muscovites to peer into the mysteries
lurking beneath the old Russian capital.
Andrei Ilnitsky, the editor-in-chief of Shass Pik, a weekly newspaper in
Obninsk, Russia, was a recent Bulletin fellow.
Capitalism is Institutionalised Bribery

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