Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the «Diamond Owl» intellectual game «What? Where? When?»
Liberal Arts
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BORIS BURDA: how not to humiliate yourself by descending into the underworld

BORIS BURDA: how not to humiliate yourself by descending into the underworld
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Gustav von Hayek, An illustrated guide to the natural history of the animal world, Herold Publishing House, Vienna 1876 / wikipedia.org




«Is it possible to allow this sinful dream? Would not man, created in the image and likeness of God, humiliate himself by descending into the underworld? And what is there, only God knows, and sinful man should not know». What did one Moscow bishop speak against a little more than a hundred years ago?




Against the construction of the subway. It turned out that it might not be humiliating.




Everyone knows the expression «on all four sides». It is clear why it appeared: forward, backward, right, or left — that’s where you can move. But why not up or down? Well, it is clear that a man can not fly — at least, so they thought for quite a long time until they found out that they were wrong. What about moving underground? Maybe even here, the ancestors were wrong?

As it turns out, it is possible, and they knew about it long ago. In almost every shovelful of earth thrown outside, there are many earthworms that move perfectly underground. Is that too slow? How about the average mole? Do you know how long it takes to dig a meter-long tunnel? Only six minutes — proven.

By the way, the mole’s burrow is a whole underground city. It can have up to 6 levels and reaches a total area of 6000 square meters! And in a badger burrow there are 50 emergency exits, and the length of 100 meters is not a record for it. An unfortunate hunting dog that has crawled into a badger burrow may perish — badgers will quickly dig up the exit, and it will remain underground.

Burrows of marmots and gophers form entire underground cities, crossing each other. Living in the hot desert, Australian varan, to shelter from the heat of the cubs, digs spiral-shaped burrows up to 4 meters deep — what a joke!

And nine-belted armadillos dig burrows so fast that in Brazil, they even organize races — their record is 12.5 meters in 3 minutes!




The intricate underground passages inside the pyramid of Cheops and the ancient Egyptian City of the Dead — are more like ritual objects. But long ago, they began to build underground passages with quite rational functions. Even in ancient times, many fortified castles could not have existed without an underground passage leading to a water source. If there is one, you will not die of thirst.

There are several such passages in Jerusalem — some of them are more than two thousand years old. And about 2500 years ago, on Samos Island, the ancient Greek engineer Eupalinos built a tunnel more than a kilometer long to the source of water, which Herodotus himself considered one of the seven wonders of the world. It has survived even nowadays — tourists have something to marvel at.

And it was necessary to look for a solid medieval castle without an underground passage. It was planned to be used not only for water delivery but also for a surprise attack in the rear of the besiegers or escape if there was no other way out. Even in novels about that time, if they write about the castle, most often mention an underground passage.

Such tunnels for hidden movement are in demand even nowadays. Not so long ago, the longest tunnel smugglers were discovered — from Mexican Tijuana to American San Diego, which is more than a kilometer long, with rails and an elevator. Well, there is even too much being said about Hamas tunnels now — soon, there will be significantly fewer of them.

A separate story — underground passages between male and female monasteries, you understand why. Recently, in Lviv on Lychakivska Street, they found another such passage — when scientists proved that it was just a remnant of a Turkish subcave made in 1672, many people were even upset.


Подземная камера пирамиды Хеопса
The underground cell of the Pyramid of Cheops / wikipedia.org





War and smuggling are extraordinary circumstances. But in ordinary life, can these underground routes be of any use? It turns out that yes, and quite a lot. A tunnel under the river can be more convenient than a bridge across the river — back in 2160 BC, the royal palace on one bank of the Euphrates was connected to the temple of Marduk on the other bank by a tunnel about a kilometer long.

However, this method did not become mass — the next underwater tunnel under the Thames River was built only 200 years ago. But even before that, when canals became the leading transportation network in pre-parcel England, they were often connected by tunnels in order not to drive ferries around and not to tear down mountains to the ground. The technology was worked out, and soon, it came in handy.

The tunnel turned out to be as helpful for railroad transport as for river transport — the first of them was built on the Manchester-Liverpool road in 1826-1830. In the early XX century, the 20-kilometer Simplon Tunnel broke through the Alps in 7.5 years and saved a lot of money and effort. New types of explosives and drilling machines made the job much easier.

Tunnels also came in handy for the automobile transportation that came with the twentieth century. Back in 1911, the tunnel under the Elbe was equipped with elevators for the descent and ascent of cars, and in 1927, in New York, the Holland Tunnel was built under the Hudson River, which already had access roads for vehicles. Thus, part of the highway began to go underground, increasing traffic.

The Eurotunnel under the English Channel connecting Great Britain and France became a world sensation. It was going to be built in the middle of the XIX century, but the government was against it, and the construction started in 1882 was forbidden — what if enemies invade through it? But in 1994, it was launched, increasing the land area of Europe by more than 230,000 square kilometers.

The world’s longest railway tunnel is the Gotthard Tunnel in the Swiss Alps, 57 and a bit kilometers; the road tunnel — Lerdalsky in Norway, 24.5 kilometers; the shipping tunnel — in Riqueval in France, 5600 meters. But the trendsetters in this area of construction are now a different kind of transportation — by the way, which appeared 30 years earlier than the automobile.


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The first to really suffocate from transportation collapse was, of course, the largest city in the world in the middle of the XIX century — London. Carriage transport in the center stood more than drove, and it was often faster to get to the center on foot than on the quickest cab. And here a brilliant idea arose: to transport people bypassing traffic jams underground!

In 1855 the project of the firm «Metropolitan-Vickers» was approved, which at the same time gave the new transport a beautiful name. It took a long time to build — the money allocated quickly ran out. The project was literally saved by the lawyer Charles Pearson, who lobbied hard for additional money and finally achieved his goal — it is a pity that he did not live to see the launch.

On January 10, 1863, the first trains on the new road took everyone through 7 stations on rails that spanned as long as 3600 meters — it took 33 minutes for the leisurely steamers. On the first day, the underground line carried 30,000 passengers, and during the first year of operation, they sold more than 9,000,000 tickets! A year later, they decided to build more lines.

At first, the subway had three different classes of carriages — the first one even had glazed windows, and in the third one, passengers sat on an open platform and breathed smoke and vapor from the steam locomotives used on the line. The faster the popularity of the subway grew, the harder it was to breathe in it, and in 1890, steam locomotives were replaced by electric trains.

Different businessmen built new lines, and this created some chaos until, in 1908, Charles Yerkes bought up all these lines, merging them. In the same year, Albert Stanley drew the first convenient multicolored scheme of the subway, and three years later, the entrance to the subway was equipped with escalators, saving passengers from queues for such a popular mode of transport.


Гравюра из газеты «Иллюстрированные лондонские новости» от 8 января 1870 года с изображением платформ на станции Уоппинг, Ист-Лондонская железная дорога (ныне Ист-Лондонская линия). Поезд северного направления, ведомый паровозом, выходит из северного портала тоннеля Темзы
Engraving from the newspaper «Illustrated London News» from January 8, 1870, showing the platforms at Wapping station, East London Railway (now the East London Line). A northbound train, driven by a steam locomotive, exits the north portal of the Thames Tunnel / facebook.com




The benefits of the subway quickly became obvious, but not everyone could repeat the London experience — the networks opened in 1868 in New York, in 1869 in Athens, and a little later in Chicago and Liverpool, were above-ground and went underground many years later. The first subway on the European continent, operating initially on electric traction, was built in 1894 in Budapest.

A particular case is Istanbul’s «Tünel», launched in 1875, one of the oldest in the world if it’s a subway — but is it a subway? It’s a typical funicular, only underground, with two stations — above, on fashionable Istiklal Avenue, and below, by the sea. Only 573 meters long, only in 1971, it was electrified. I rode it myself — no, it’s not a subway… Just don’t tell the Turks.

The world’s second underground subway appeared in Boston in 1897. The Paris subway, which opened just in time for the Exposition Universelle of 1900, immediately began to enjoy such a raving success that the number of cars in each train had to be increased from two to eight. By the way, it was in Paris that this service was first officially called «metro», and it caught on.

The matter was not limited to Europe and North America. In 1913, the first South American subway was opened in Buenos Aires; in 1927 — the first Asian subway was in Tokyo; in 1987 — the first African subway was in Cairo, and in 2019 — the first Australian subway was in Sydney. It remains to provide the subway only Antarctica — it lags a little in this noble cause, it is not even clear why…




In a colossal three-million Athens subway is necessary, but to build is troublesome — without the supervision of archaeologists, a step to the right or left is considered an escape. No wonder — the city is such: in Thessaloniki, they can not even begin to build the subway. Just start digging — stumble upon another ancient cultural monument, and eventually, the money runs out before the antiquities.

The most special mode of operation is probably the Mecca subway. It was put into operation in 2010, but it has not yet worked for three months in total — it works hard during the Hajj, transporting up to a million people a day, but the Hajj lasts only five days, and then it is shut down, as the passenger flow runs out. And so on until the next Hajj…

There is a subway that has revived a magnificent traditional art in the country that had begun to be forgotten — it is in Lisbon. The beautiful art of azulejo — the creation of monumental panels of ceramic tiles was thoroughly forgotten. But when Lisbon built a subway, it turned out that there was no better way to decorate its walls than it.

Some places are especially lovely for building a subway; a typical example is the subway in Yekaterinburg. There are persistent rumors that during the digging of tunnels, at the same time, they extracted so many gems and semi-precious stones that paid off the entire construction before the first train. However, it is hard to believe — why is there still only one line?

The Istanbul subway (already the real one, launched in 1989), in some sense, broke all records — since 2012, it became the first subway in the world, laid in two parts of the world at once: Europe and Asia. This is a good illustration of the scale of subway expansion on the planet. I’m not saying you can’t do without the subway — you can, of course, but why if it’s so useful?


Монастырь Носса-Сеньора-да-Консейсан, Региональный музей доньи Леонор, Азулежуш, Бежа. Алентежу, Португалия
Nossa Senhora da Conceição Monastery, Dona Leonor Regional Museum, Azulejos, Beja. Alentejo, Portugal / wikimedia.org




Subways provide and increase biodiversity. British scientists have discovered a new species of mosquito on the London Underground, with mosquitoes on each line genetically different from their neighbors.

On the official website of the Buenos Aires subway, there’s no way to find which subway in the world it is. True, there are all the subways built before it — there are exactly 12 of them, and it becomes clear what superstition prevents them from naming the order of appearance of this subway in the world…

Prime Minister of England Palmerston refused to attend the opening of the London Underground, saying that in his 78 years, he is nevertheless not in such a hurry to go underground… Fortunately, most Londoners were braver than their prime minister.

When the London Underground was equipped with escalators, many people were initially afraid to use them. Then the subway hired an invalid with a wooden leg, who rode the escalator all working day without any harm to his health, and the people calmed down a little…

When, in 1902, engineer Balinsky proposed a project for the Moscow subway, the city council called him a «demon» and decided to «refuse him in his solicitations». At least they didn’t burn him at the stake — you know who lives underground….

The huge city of Jakarta is notorious for its poor air quality — pedestrians sometimes have to use respirators. It is illustrative that Jakarta — is the largest city in the world without a subway…


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