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June 18, 2002

Digging deeper
Posted by Teresa at 12:56 AM *

More here on the Moscow spelunkers, from a variety of sources.

Joel Davis found this interview with Vadim Mikhailov in LifeStyle:

The Moscow region has some 150 underground rivers carrying chemical wastes. Fish that happens to get into these rivers begins to mutate. I have seen fish without fins and without eyes, and once a carp with tiny horns on its head. We came across huge worms of grass-snake size that glowed in the darkness.
Ships in the night, puddles on the ground, which I found at the same site, is a short piece about the peculiarities of living in such a thoroughly excavated city:
When I was a kid, I loved this song by singer-songwriter and poet Novella Matveyeva about houses with no roofs that at night would “sail forth, as though they were ships and not houses.” I never thought that, one day, this metaphor might sail ominously into my life.

Last summer, Moscow was exceptionally hot and dry, whereas July 2000 was exceptionally wet, almost hitting the watery record set by the summer of 1965. All this rain is a worry because of the many cavities and water flows under the streets of Moscow. Holes and currents may be vastly different things to builders, but residents of collapsed buildings probably don’t see much difference between their homes caving in or sailing away.

Moscow homes like to set sail because the Moscow River isn’t the only source of water in the city. Many streams, such as the Presnya and the Neglinka, used to flow through Moscow. You can’t see them today, but they have bequeathed to the city streets names, underground water flows and unstable soil. Geology isn’t the only problem — the Swiss cheese effect is aggravated by the fact that, over the 850 years of Moscow’s existence, all kinds of underground infrastructure has been built. Central Moscow and the Khoroshevo-Mnevniki district, where I happen to live, are particularly dangerous in this respect.

Cassandra Phillips-Sears contributes several links:

Moscow Diggers Make Interesting Discoveries Under Sukharevskaya Square:

Moscowdiggers made interesting discoveries under Sukharevskaya Ploshchad. Vadim Mikhailov, the Moscow diggers’ leader, told RIA Novosti today that his exploration team had approached the recently bricked passage. On pushing away the bricks, not bound together with a mortar, the diggers saw a chamber resembling a section of the Kremlin’s underground palace. They suppose that an aqueduct was laid through the underground passage and chambers in the 1930s, which has by now decayed.
From Outside magazine: FEAR ME, Giant Sewer Rodents, for I Am VADIM, Lord of The Underground!:
Deep beneath Moscow a crew of urban spelunkers frolics, hunting Stalin’s secret hideaway, Ivan the Terrible’s torture chamber, bootleg nuclear weapons, and a little fame and fortune…
Also from Outside: Spelunking: And Please, No Flash Pictures of the Blob, about Mikhailov’s dreams of making the Moscow underground a tourist attaction:
“It’s very rare, but occasionally you find a really big example of a cockroach,” Vadim Mikhailov says, with oddly upbeat emphasis.

Mikhailov, 29, is trying to drum up interest in his strange new tourist business: leading rubber-suit-wearing adventure-seekers into parts of Moscow’s 620,000 miles of dank, dark sewer tunnels. Mikhailov and his 15-person Diggers of the Underground Planet — named after the seventeenth-century English agrarian reformers — are hoping to make a little capitalist jingle while calling attention to the fact that, like many of the sewers on his tour, Russian environmental regulations have scarcely changed since the Middle Ages.

The Novosibirsk Diggers’ Website may be triffically interesting, but it’s entirely in Russian. Let me know.

The Minsk Diggers have their own website, also in Russian, featuring photos from their expeditions. There are six lines of text in the top portion of their main page. I think these correspond to separate expeditions. Clicking on one will take you to a page of thumbnails of photos from that outing. If you can’t read any Russian, the fourth through sixth pages are more interesting. They may also be more interesting if you can read Russian, but I’m in no position to judge that. The seventh group appears to be photos of an old unused subway line.

Finally, Cassandra said that while there also appeared to be a website for the Moscow Diggers, it doesn’t work.

Comments on Digging deeper:
#1 ::: Kate Yule & David Levine ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2002, 01:45 AM:

Thanks for the follow-up -- this has definitely been the Meme of the Month but everybody kept pointing to the same five-year-old article.

We questioned the figure of "620,000 miles of dank dark sewer tunnels." Some rough and dirty calculations: Say the rodent-ridden core of Moscow is 10 miles square. Say a tunnel is 10 feet across, and ten feet to the next one. Thus in any given layer, 10-mile-long tunnels in parallel every 20 feet, 2640 of them, that's 26,400 miles of dank darkness per layer, in that square. To reach Mikhailov's figure of 620K, you'd need more than 20 layers of tunnelwork, or a city core 50 miles on a side, or some of both. Seems excessive.

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2002, 08:08 AM:

They're probably including that extra ring of subways; but it's still excessive.

#3 ::: Stephanie C. Smith ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2002, 11:00 AM:

Here's my semi-translation of the Minsk diggers' links:

Kiev: Nikolskaia [Nicholas's] System
Kiev: Klov [?]
Grodno: Vzorvanii Fort
Moscow: Tenlotrassa-2000 [?]
Minsk: ogval ognovo iz NII
Minsk: Stroitelstvo peregonii tonnelei Rakovskaia-Kuntsevshina

My Russian is terribly rusty; I feel like I ought to be able to translate the Minsk links, but I can't quite think of the words. (I'm also having a little trouble with the font used on the site.)

The site I found for the Moscow group is - which has a line at the bottom to the effect of "the central site of the Diggers of the Underground Planet."

#4 ::: Prentiss Riddle ::: (view all by) ::: August 01, 2002, 04:16 PM:

If sewers under a corrupt and decaying world capital aren't fertile ground for urban legends, what is?

The Moscow diggers meme always makes me think of Bruce Sterling's short stories about outlaw urban explorers, and that makes me think about his story Taklamakan, which I won't spoil for you except to say that it is the Sterling story I think most cries to be made into a movie.

Taklamakan, by the way, is the name of a Chinese desert where the story is set and, I recently learned, is said to mean "you go in but you don't come out".

#5 ::: night ::: (view all by) ::: October 10, 2002, 10:05 AM:

about links on my site:
Klov - is underground river in kiev, thats underground since 18xx year.
Vzorvanii Fort - blowed up(exploded?) underground fort
Tenlotrassa - underground heating system on -7 floor
ogval ognovo iz NII - Cellar of scientific research institute
Stroitelstvo peregonii tonnelei Rakovskaia-Kuntsevshina - bulding of subway tonnels between Rakovskaya and Kuntsevschina stations (about Minsk subway see in english also, or )

if you search for russian photos of underground - look at, if just underground photos - =)
and do not beleive Vadim Mikhailov's Fables =)

#6 ::: Agent K. ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2003, 04:00 PM:

620,000 miles may be journalistic hyperbole, however you'd be surprised at how much tunnel and pipe there could indeed be.

Sewer and stormwater lines add up to 11,300km in Calgary a relatively young city compared to a European beast like Moscow. Adding in subway lines (Moscow has two, one military and one civilian) as well as utility tunnels, aqueducts and likely catacombs it is entirely conceivable that Moscow has at least ten times the milage as a city like Calgary.

Of course not all of this tunnel and pipe would be traversable, indeed most of it would not be. Most pipes would be far too small for human passage and others simply too hazardous. Even so, that leaves thosands of miles to explore and inhabit.

Pop a manhole some time.

#7 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 20, 2003, 04:42 PM:

Very interesting. Thank you, Agent K.

#8 ::: Ninjalicious ::: (view all by) ::: August 21, 2003, 03:29 PM:

Don't forget the Sevastopol, MSU, Podzemka, Vladivostok and Estonia branches of the Diggers.... There's a page full of relevant links at .

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