When we say the “mole people”, the first thing that comes to most people’s minds is a group of mutant outcasts from Marvel Comics. And while that definitely sounds interesting, what we had in mind is a more real-life subject. Mole people, also known as tunnel dwellers or tunnel people, are people living in abandoned parts of large cities, mostly underground. They have been spotted in places like sewage tunnels, heating shafts, abandoned subways, etc. They live in small societies similar to tribes with their own cultural traits.
We actually don’t know a lot about them and about their lifestyle. Jennifer Toth published a book about the mole people living under New York City after she spent some time exploring the tunnels where the tunnel dwellers live. However, not many of the things she wrote in her book have been confirmed, and the mole people have to date remained a phenomenon that we know very little about. Sociologists around the world have shown their interest in the subject, but there hasn’t been a lot of research done yet, mostly due to a lack of evidence. However, sightings of mole people have been reported on numerous occasions and we have a pretty good idea where the largest groups of them live.
15 Tunnel Beneath Riverside Park, New York City
While we might think of the people living in the underground as homeless, after living in the tunnel beneath the Riverside Park in New York City for over 15 years, they wouldn’t describe themselves in that way. They have their own kind of homes, with beds, carpets, paintings hanging on the walls, gas or wood stoves, etc. Some of them even have their pets in the “yard”. There are those who have outside jobs, but most of them are self-employed. For example, they collect scrap metal, bottles, old magazines, and other things they can sell or recycle. They use the public showers and self-service laundry, they collect coupons for their shopping, and, all in all, most of them live a happy life right there under the feet of other New Yorkers.
14 Subterranean Dwellings In China
In the parts of China where there is a lack of stone, the underground life is nothing really unusual since its beginnings date back to around 4000 years ago. The southern part of Shanxi province has a long tradition of subterranean dwellings and there are numerous families that have been living beneath the surface for generations. Those are the original mole people who weren’t forced out of their homes and into the underground – they actually chose this lifestyle because they prefer it that way. Wang Shouxian, a 70 year old man, is the only person alive who knows how to build the original dwellings and he was named an intangible cultural heritage expert. His family has been living in the same underground home for the last 300 years, but he will probably be the last one as his children decided to leave.
13 Tunnels Of Moose Jaw, Canada
A huge labyrinth of underground tunnels was built beneath Moose Jaw in Saskatchewan back in 1908, and while this large network was originally constructed as a steam system, its purpose quickly transformed into something else. During the Yellow Terror, Chinese railway workers used to hide there with their families and, as the community grew bigger, the tunnels became a hub for all sorts of illegal activities. It was a time of Prohibition in the US and the underground was a perfect place for warehousing alcohol, as well as for prostitution and gambling. Even Al Capone’s presence there has been documented by different people and confirmed by his grandniece. Today, the tunnels of Moose Jaw are a tourist attraction and one of the best examples of a secret city beneath the city.
12 Wieliczka Salt Mine, Poland
Beneath the town of Wieliczka lies another town that was built mostly by miners who used to work in a salt mine. Wieliczka is one of the world’s oldest salt mines and it produced salt from the 13th century when it was opened until 2007. During all those years, miners turned it not just into an underground town, but into a work of art, since they carved tens of statues as well as four chapels entirely out of the rock salt. The most interesting tourist attraction is the Underground Salt Cathedral with all its details made from salt, like the crystals on the chandeliers. It was placed on the UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list in 1978 and thousands of people visit it every year. If that doesn’t sound interesting enough, there is also a huge underground lake that you could visit.
11 Flooded Labyrinth Under Las Vegas
While most people see only the shimmering lights, casinos, hotels, restaurants, and rich people who want to spend some money gambling and enjoying themselves when they look at Las Vegas, but there is a whole other world deep beneath all that. Hundreds of miles of flood tunnels under Sin City are home to around a thousand people who have, for various reasons, chosen to live in the underground. They have furnished their new homes mostly by salvaging different stuff from junkyards, and they could be considered quite comfy if it wasn’t for all that water on the floor which they can do very little about. All people down there have their own story of how they ended up being mole people, but they have all found a new place they consider a home.
10 Coober Pedy, Australia
Coober Pedy is an underground city in Australia with an interesting history. The whole thing started as an opal mining operation and it slowly expanded into a whole underground world many people today call home. It has electricity, internet, water… If you forget about the lack of sunlight, it is basically like any other town out there. However, even the lack of sunlight has its pros, especially during the hot Australian summers. While you walk the “streets” of Coober Pedy, you might run into both the inhabitants and the tourists, and you can visit the local dive bar, church, town bookstore, or you can rent a room in the underground inn. And while the exterior might be a little bit cave-like, once you’re inside, you will forget completely that you are under the ground.
9 Bucharest, Romania
Hundreds of tunnels have been built beneath Bucharest for the purpose of the central heating system, most of them directly beneath Gara de Nord train station. Today, they are a home to a whole community of mole people living beneath Romania’s capital. The photographer Yasmin Balai decided to take a closer look at those people, and she captured some of them on camera so people really got a better idea of how the life beneath the surface looks like. The big part of this particular community is made of drug addicts with a self-appointed chief who goes by the name Bruce Lee. Besides being a drug dealer, he also does some good things for the community. For example, he takes care of the orphans who live there and he tries to protect them as much as possible.
8 Jamaica's “Gully Queens”
The story of mole people in The Gully – a storm drain that catches the water from Kingston’s streets – is quite a sad story of discrimination and homophobia. While there are mole people who live underground because it is their culture’s tradition — or the ones who live there because it’s a perfect place for criminal activity — the LGBTQ youth of the Jamaican capital live there out of fear. When faced with the violently homophobic society and with their families forsaking them, young LGBTQ Jamaicans formed their little community in the storm drain the locals call The Gully. The only way for them to stay alive is to stay together as a group and to keep a safe distance from the rest of the extremely homophobic society. Unfortunately, they can barely make ends meet and their life quality is terrible.
7 Secret City Beneath Paris
In the deepest underground, 100 feet under Paris, lies miles and miles of passages and tunnels of catacombs that hold ancient remains and bones. Some parts are open to the public, but that is just a small part of the hidden world beneath Paris, the rest is illegal to enter. However, despite the fact that it is forbidden to enter those labyrinths, and despite the fact that they are undoubtedly terrifying, authorities have discovered that people might be actually living there. When they tried to find out what exactly has been going on there, they have found signs of well-organized life with functioning telephones, working lights, and a sign that said: “Don’t try to find us”. We don’t know how many people have actually been living there, but due to the size of this underground labyrinth, it might be quite a number.
6 Underground City Beneath The Pyramids Of Egypt
Beneath the Pyramids in Giza, there is one of the most amazing underground cities that has ever been constructed. It is a massive subterranean tunnel network with passages, chambers, cavern systems, subterranean rivers, shafts, etc. This amazing metropolis beneath the surface of the Giza Plateau is said to be around 15,000 years old and it is just as mysterious as the pyramids themselves, if not even more. This really shows that the underground life is not as strange as people might consider it today. People mostly associate it with drug addicts, law outcasts, homeless drunks, etc, but the truth is people have been living beneath the surface of the earth for thousands of years. Of course, some would argue that this particular case is yet more proof of alien life, but we’ll leave that discussion for some other time.
5 Forbidden City In Portland
Shanghaiing, also known as crimping, refers to kidnapping able-bodied men and selling them to serve as sailors on boats heading for Shanghai. Shanghaiing was very popular in Portland between the 1850s and 1940s, and most of it happened in the tunnels beneath the city’s Chinatown. The Shanghai Tunnels in Portland are one of the largest underground cities in the world and they were primarily used for moving supplies from the docks directly to the basements where they were stored. But as time went on, the underground city beneath Portland turned into the center of all criminal activity, not just shanghaiing, but prostitution and gambling as well. During Prohibition, some bars also moved their business underground since it was the only way to sell alcohol, and the Shanghai Tunnels soon got their new nickname, “Forbidden City”.
4 The Subterranean City Of Kish
The subterranean city of Kish, Iran, was built around 2,500 ago and it covers 10,000 square meters. It was first built for the purpose of collecting and storing water for the people living on the island of Kish. With modern technology, this kind of water collecting became unpractical and unnecessary, so the locals decided to give the underground town a new purpose as an underground shopping center. Instead of demolishing the original tunnels, the new center was incorporated into the original construction by reinforcing the tunnels with stone and modern mortar, while the coral walls remained as they were. The space was filled with shops, restaurants, art galleries, traditional teahouses, and thousands of people from all around the world visit what used to be one of the oldest mole people communities.
3 Derinkuyu Underground City, Turkey
The Derinkuyu underground city was built during the Byzantine era and it sheltered Muslim Arabs during the Arab-Byzantine war. It could accommodate as many as 20,000 people and it was connected to other underground cities with a series of tunnels. The city itself had everything people living there could possibly need, from cellars, stables, chapels, oil presses, to a religious school constructed on five underground floors, the fifth one being 200 ft. deep. On the first level, there was a ventilation shaft that was also used for providing water both to the people above and to those in hiding. Each one of the floors could be closed off separately from the inside. This massive underground city was opened to tourists in 1969 and about half of it is accessible to visitors at this point.
2 Burlington Bunker, Great Britain
While people have debated the existence of a massive underground fortress by the name of Burlington for years, nobody was really sure if it truly existed until 2004, when it was declassified. This underground complex, constructed in the 1950s, was one of the Britain’s military secrets designed with the purpose to shelter the Prime Minister, the British government, and the Royal family in the case of all-out nuclear war. It included an infirmary, two kitchens, bakery, office space, laundry, different workshops, battery-powered vehicles for residents to travel around the area, telephone exchange, etc. It was kept maintained and stocked until the 1990s, with the staff living there for all those years. It was decommissioned in 2004 and we don’t know what will happen with it in the future, but the government is trying to sell it to the private sector.
1 The Mystery Of The Leavenworth, Kansas
The Leavenworth Underground City in Kansas is a mysterious underground complex that we know very little about. For starters, no one knows exactly who built it and why. Of course, there have been numerous speculations and theories, but none have been confirmed. Some believe it was built during the 1800s for fugitives who wanted to escape slavery, others believe that the rooms were stores of some kind, but they have no idea what people could’ve been selling there. There are also people who think it was an underground part of an army base in Leavenworth that was established in the 1820s. No one really knows the real origins of the city and who had been living there and why. Hopefully, more research will be conducted in the future and we will find out more about this mysterious place.