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Moscow Diggers

Moscow Diggers

Many have heard that there is a whole underground city with branching tunnels and endless mysteries beneath Moscow. However, an ordinary person will hardly ever be able to get in there. This is much easier to do in a company of real fans of catacomb exploration—diggers. A number of digger tours, extreme to varying degrees and lifting the veil on many secrets of catacombs, can be found today in Moscow. This is history concealed from common people’s eyes, which can surprise you and even change your perception of the city.

There is no single formal association of diggers in Moscow, only isolated groups, including those that organise digger tours, and small membership clubs. Besides, diggers have their own forums and social media communities to exchange their (sometimes slightly illegal) experience and find ideas and company for their underground walks. As for guided tours, they are mostly conducted in underground sewer pipes and stone quarries. There are few types of services in this market, so prices and routes do not differ too much. On average, a three-hour guided tour costs 2,500–3,500 RUB per person. Don’t forget, however, that such adventures can be risky enough.

The underground rivers Neglinnaya (Russian: Неглинная) and Presnya (Russian: Пресня) enjoy a particular popularity. Neglinnaya River (or Neglinka) is a 7.5 km left-bank tributary of the Moskva River. There were times when its waters filled the moat along the Kremlin wall. However, water got very dirty and stinky by the mid-18th century, so it was decided to enclose the river into an underground stone pipe. An underground estuary and a nearly 1 km long sewer collector had been made by 1966. The Presnya River is another left-bank tributary of the Moskva River, about 4.5 km long. Presnya was forced underground at the beginning of the 20th century following the boom in industrial production and the sharp increase in built-up density in that area.

Among stone quarries, the most popular cave system is Syany (Russian: S’yany or Сьяны), located in Domodedovsky District of Moscow Oblast, near the village of Starosyanovo (Russian: Staros’yanovo or Старосьяново). Back in the 17th century, these caves served as a source of limestone for the construction of the “white-stone” Moscow. Excavation had been completed by the early 20th century, and the caves became a popular spelestologist destination in the 1960s. Historian Sergey Zagraevsky believes that the Syany system of stone quarries might have been partially designed as early as in Kievan Rus’. Today, the site receives extreme guided tours and even serves as a venue for underground discoes and festivities.

The website www.pzzzd.ru offers a few extreme tour options, promising a flood of emotions from discovering a Moscow unknown to common people. Tours are guided by experienced diggers. You can explore Neglinka, Presnya, or the river referred to as The Nine Circles of Hell. Age and weight restrictions apply to participants; you should also have no back pain or claustrophobia to qualify. A great deal of physical exercise awaits you, so make sure to assess your skill level objectively. You will be provided with a special protective suit and a flashlight. You won’t have to pay for shooting with your own camera. Such guided tours take from 2 to 3 hours and cost 2,000–3,500 RUB per person.

Another guided tour will take you to the Syany stone quarries, where you will see manmade caves and grottos, unusual stone sculptures, and underground springs. Admission age is five years, and the price is 1,800 RUB per person. Tours can be ordered online or by calling the phone number provided on their website.

The website www.podzemly.ru is a project launched in 2006 by Daniil Davydov, a famous digger and expert in the history of Moscow. The most popular route is called Travelling with a Digger. The route runs through the sewage system of Moscow rivers, at a depth of about 15 m underground. You can take unforgettable photos and listen to the exciting story about Moscow catacombs. Each participant is provided with necessary equipment: a special outfit, a safety helmet, a flashlight, and gloves. Participant requirements are pretty much the same: at least 18 years of age and no physical activity limitations. Price: 3,000 RUB for a 150-minute tour.

Another route called Following Diggers’ Trails runs through one of the complex systems of Moscow rivers. Unlike the previously described tour, this one is more of a challenge: you will have to climb a rope, descend a rope ladder, and walk in heavy currents of water. The price is 4,000 RUB. No tours are conducted on rainy days, as this may be dangerous.

Davydov’s project also offers some above-ground tours that tell about the mysteries of the underground Moscow, modern underground structures, Kremlin dead drops, and Oprichny Castle of Ivan the Terrible.

Digger tours to the underground river Neglinnaya and the Syany caves are also provided by Extreme Moscow (Russian: Ekstremal’naya Moskva or Экстремальная Москва), URL: www.mosextreme.ru. A river tour takes 150–180 minutes on average and will cost you 2,470 RUB. As it is dark underground and quality photos are difficult to make on your own, you can order group photoshoot services for 3,900 RUB.

As for the tour to the Syany quarries, be ready to spend about 4–4.5 hours of your time. The price is 1,970 RUB per person. The program includes visiting the Orthodox Cave Church, getting an insight into underground folklore and customs, dropping into the Bolshoy Kolonnik Grotto, and more. Make sure to wear something that you don’t mind getting muddy, sports shoes, and warm socks. The rest will be provided on the spot.

The website www.bunker42.com offers guided tours to the underground Cold War Museum (Russian: Muzey istorii kholodnoy voiny or Музей истории холодной войны). This is a small museum complex in a former confidential Soviet command point. It is located 60 m underground, close to the Taganskaya (Russian: Таганская) metro station. It is not so much about adrenaline, in the real sense of the word, or taking risk, which is normally associated with going underground, but more about entertaining yourself. During the tour around the bunker, you will learn some details of the Cold War, get an insight into the history of construction of dedicated underground objects in the Soviet Union, and watch simulated nuclear explosion and nuclear missile launch. This tour takes 75 minutes and costs from 500 to 2,200 RUB depending on visitor types.

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