Historians estimate that catacombs were probably first constructed sometime around the 16th century. However it wasn’t until the 1800s that they reached the size they are today.
You’re probably pretty familiar with the Paris Catacombs, Capuchin Catacombs, and even the London Catacombs. But did you know that they all pale in comparison to the catacombs underneath the city of Odessa in Ukraine?
Under the streets of Odessa are more than 1,500 miles of underground tunnels, the result of almost a century of mining. The Odessa Catacombs have had a pretty colorful history over the years, but were officially sealed off by the government in 1980.
The city of Odessa sits on a large quarry of limestone. In the 1800s, large scale mining operations were launched underneath the city. They removed limestone which was used to build the city above ground.
During this time the catacombs quickly expanded in size to cover more than 1,500 miles. This huge labyrinth of empty tunnels would soon come in handy for the residents of Odessa.
During World War II, the Nazis forced the Soviets out of Odessa and occupied it. The tunnels served as protection for Soviet rebels. They hid underground, tormenting the Nazis occupying the city while staying safe.
Throughout the war, the Nazis never managed to successfully root out the rebels hiding in the tunnels.
After World War II, the tunnels were used by smugglers. These smugglers even partially expanded the catacombs in some places.
Finally, though, in 1980 the government of Odessa decided to close the catacombs for good. They sealed the entrances, but did not make it illegal to explore the tunnels. It wasn’t long before an unofficial tradition secretly exploring parts of the catacombs sprung up.
In 2005, tragedy struck. It was then that locals learned the catacombs were sealed off for a reason. To ring in the new year, a group of Odessa teens decided to party in the catacombs. During the party, one girl was separated from the group and unable find her way back. She spent the next three days wandering through the catacombs in complete, freezing darkness before collapsing and dying of dehydration.
Her body was found by a group of catacombs explorers in April 2005. However, it could not be removed by the police until 2007 because she was so far from any exit. This is what her body looked like when she was first discovered.
The Odessa Catacombs look like a fascinating place to visit, but not without an experienced guide. You don’t want to end up like that poor girl. Just imagine being drunk at a NYE party underground, then getting lost, and abandoned by your friends to die there alone in complete darkness. I can’t think of a worse fate.