Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Subterranean secrets

It's always fascinating to find out how things work, or are built, or operate. Even when you don't really want to know (think sausages and legislation - thank you, Otto von Bismarck). So believe me when I tell you that Beneath the Metropolis: the secret lives of cities is an absolute page-turner. So, what is below the streets of some of the most famous cities in the world? Well, water and sewer lines, obviously - even we have those - and often some sort of public transportation. (It's amazing to think of the work involved in retrofitting a centuries-old major metropolis with a subway, but that's another story). But what else is below the surface?

  • Catacombs

  • Torture chambers

  • Libraries

  • Abandoned ships

  • Shopping malls

  • Ancient ruins

  • And lots of polluted aquifers

Surprisingly, New York - always good for an impressive story - is actually a very boring city underground. No rubble from earthquakes or firebombings, no abandoned civil defense tunnels, no secret cult chambers. What a disappointment. One of the most interesting tidbits of information in this book is that the refuse of Cairo has been building up for so many centuries that the doorways in the oldest sections of town are a few feet below street level.

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