By Pavlo Fedykovych
Discover the mysteries of these intriguing secret cities.
There are cities that can’t be found on maps. Some are prohibited to enter, some were lost for centuries, some contain dangerous mysteries. These blind spots have long captivated the minds of explorers, given birth to conspiracy theories, and provoked horror of the unknown. Because, what can be more interesting than a location you can’t access? While many of these places have been opened to the general public, some of their secrets are still buried deep. Are you ready to look under the covert veil of the most famous secret cities of the world?
Imagine driving along the rural road in Northern UKRAINE and seeing a gigantic cosmic antenna towering over the forest in the distance. At 2,296 feet in length and 492 feet in height, the now world-famous Duga had previously been a weird-looking metallic object in the local population’s imagination. Located close to the ill-fated Chernobyl nuclear power plant, the gargantuan anti-missile radar was served by the secret settlement known as Chernobyl-2.
Nicknamed “Russian Woodpecker” for the distinctive sounds intercepted by the Western transmitters, the real purpose of the Duga still remains shrouded in mystery. On Soviet maps, the secret settlement was shown as a children’s summer camp.
Located in a peaceful southeastern heartland, Oak Ridge looks like any other Tennessean small town. Except it is one of the places responsible for the creation of a weapon of mass destruction. Back in 1942 when World War II was raging, the U.S. government decided to create a city for atomic bomb development. It rapidly acquired the land in a quiet valley near the Clinch River and built a whole new town for the purposes of the Manhattan Project, a top-secret nuclear program. Life inside Oak Ridge was resemblant of any other small American city, except inhabitants went to the factories that produced enriched-uranium.
Not only did Oak Ridge officially not exist to the general public, the locals only discovered the real purpose of the work after the “Little Boy” was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Today, you can learn more about the history of the city and its role in the Manhattan Project at Y-12 History Center.
A lonely Lenin statue eerily stands in the middle of Wünsdorf, now an abandoned city full of decaying buildings where wind can be heard traveling the empty corridors. Nicknamed “Little Moscow,” this town just 12 miles from BERLIN was full of life a couple of decades ago. After World War II, Wünsdorf became the largest military Soviet camp outside the communist empire. Russian was the dominant language here, trains regularly went to Russia’s capital, and the city was off-limits to the German population of East Germany. For the secretive status and restrictive access, it was known as a “Forbidden City.” After Soviet troops left in 1994, Wünsdorf became a ghost town where time stands still.
There are government-built secret cities and there are settlements that were lost for centuries by outsiders and then rediscovered by accident. PETRA is such a place. Its story has an adventurous flare. In 1812 the Swiss traveler Johann Ludwig Burckhardt was guided to the mysterious ruins of the long-gone Nabatean civilization by a local bedouin. Since then, majestic red-rocked Petra has drawn millions of travelers. Almost 186 square miles in area, the former capital of Nabataeans is a mindblowing complex of narrow gorge passages, magnificent structures, rocky steps, windswept tombs, and breathtaking mountain panoramas.
WHERE: Lower Silesia, Poland
Not everything is what it seems in the POLISH province of Lower Silesia. It is here that the splendid Książ Castle is located. While the palace itself is spectacular, it’s what’s underneath that makes your hair stand on end. Książ Castle is one of the points of Project Riese, a secret Nazi program to construct a network of huge underground tunnels using the forced labor of concentration camp prisoners and POWs in the local Owl Mountains. The castle was speculated to become a location for Hitler’s HQ.
The real purpose of Project Riese remains unknown to this very day, Nazis destroyed all the documents as World War II came to an end. In total, there are seven subterranean structures, all boasting enormous underground halls, various shafts, decaying military objects, and multiple hidden rooms.
SASSO SAN GOTTARDO
In the popular imagination, the SWISS Alps are full of majestic peaks and fantastic peaceful rustic panoramas. The fairytale mountains are also the best way to hide something. Take Sasso San Gottardo, for instance. For almost 60 years, this gigantic underground fortress city was kept a secret. It was built by the Swiss during World War II as part of the National Redoubt, to provide a secure location in the event of an invasion. With a network of tunnels, bunkers, garrison housing, hospital, and ballistic weaponry, the fortress is a one-of-a-kind experience located literally in the heart of a mountain. Today it can be visited as a part of a multimedia tour covering the history of the fortress and the sustainable future of Switzerland. Be sure to enjoy the Alpine panoramas from the outdoor bunker areas and see the wonderful local Planggenstock crystals on the exhibition inside.
WHERE: New Mexico
Entry through a heavily-guarded gate, the prohibition of all contacts with the outside world, codenames for everything, even newborn babies. This was LOS ALAMOS in 1943, a central brain of the Manhattan Project, a secret city that gathered the best scientists and engineers of the world to create an atomic bomb. All the work was done in a simplistically-named Project Y facility, today Los Alamos National Laboratory. It is there that the scientific team led by Robert Oppenheimer created a previously unthinkable weapon of destruction.
It was the year 1960 and the U.S. army engineering corps had started the excavation of what would become Camp Century, a secret city hidden under the ice sheet of Greenland. Located in the frozen wilderness 130 miles off the coast, the underground complex was officially presented to the Danish government (which governed Greenland at the time) as an Arctic research facility. However, in reality, the camp was a testing ground for Project Iceworm, a Cold War plan to create a launch site for 600 nuclear missiles in the vicinity of Soviet Russia. The secret subterranean city housed more than 200 soldiers and had such urban features as a cinema, hospital, a shop, and a chapel. The Cold War plan eventually failed because of the unstable character of ice formation and the facility was abandoned in 1967.
Not much is going on in 404. Built long before the irritating browser error number, this city was a part of CHINA‘s nuclear program. A secret to the outside world, 404 was created in 1958 with the purpose to develop a nuclear bomb. A remote location in the Gobi desert served its restricted status perfectly. At the height of the Cold War, 404 was home to almost 100,000 people, mostly nuclear scientists, technicians, doctors, and other professionals needed for factory work. Today none of its former nuclear glory remains. 2007 saw the majority of 404 locals relocate to the closest city of Jiayuguan leaving behind a dusty ghost town in the middle of a desert.
There is a city on Earth where you can almost hear the Geiger counter’s clicking sound everywhere you go. And unlike in the abandoned Pripyat next to the Chernobyl power plant, people still live, love, and die here. Welcome to Ozyorsk, formerly known as City 40, also known as the most contaminated place in the world. A secret city in the Soviet Union, still a restricted town in the modern Russian state, Ozyorsk is not your dream small-town destination. Its lake is toxic, its nature is wrecked by radioactive pollution, and its inhabitants breathe contaminated air full of nuclear particles from the local Mayak plant, one of the biggest reactors in RUSSIA. It is believed that the radiation exposure here is five times larger than in Chernobyl. Definitely not a place to overstay your welcome.