Amazing Places

We Just Discovered Six Miles of Centuries-Old Tunnels Beneath Puebla, Mexico

Everybody knows about the catacombs beneath Paris. And we've already told you about what lies in the catacombs of Sicily. But when it comes to cities with vast networks of underground tunnels, you don't usually think of North America. Maybe you should. In 2014, the city of Puebla discovered that it sat on a big secret: as many as 6 miles (10 kilometers) of tunnels, right underfoot.

A Tunnel Too Far

The team that made the strange discovery wasn't on an archaeological mission. It was a construction crew working on the city's newest underpass. But when they carved into the terrain to start building, they found they weren't breaking new ground at all. A year after the initial discovery, an official excavation effort began. Experts estimate that a complete assessment of the tunnels won't be available until about 2031, but you can visit them right now if you want to. They aren't spooky or decrepit either — they're large enough to enter on horseback, because that's exactly what they were made for.

Scholars think the tunnels are probably about as old as the city of Puebla, which was founded in 1531. It's likely that the conquistadors who built the city had the tunnels constructed so they could move swiftly and freely from one part of the city to another in case of attack. As the years went by, the tunnels expanded, and so did their purpose. Nuns and priests could travel to and from each others' churches without going above ground, and military forces could travel to nearby Fort Loreto without alerting suspicion. In fact, the entire network of tunnels could be accessed from a few main entrances, including one right in the middle of town.

A Lost History, Recovered

The most recent additions to the tunnel network were made in the 19th century, which wasn't really that long ago. It's pretty surprising, then, that the tunnels were ever a secret. The fact is, although knowledge of their exact location faded after they fell out of use, rumors of the tunnels have long been a part of Puebla's cultural landscape. Now that their existence has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, archaeological digs are discovering that they were used by pretty much every rung of society. Besides guns, bullets, and other signs of a military presence, excavators have found toys, marbles, and kitchen goods lodged in the mud that filled the spaces.

More incredibly, the tunnels are starting to be used for their original purpose again. Walk down Cinco de Mayo Road (that holiday celebrates the battle of Puebla, after all), and you'll find a large opening leading underground as if to a subway. But it's just an entry to a free museum of the city's subterranean history, which lets you once again traverse the city without braving the Mexican sun.

Mexico's Not the Only One with Secret Tunnels

Written by Reuben Westmaas February 7, 2018

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