Splashing around underground

Sitting on my table is the latest copy of National Geographic. On the cover is a photo of the Eiffel Tower with the headline “Under Paris: Secrets Beneath the Streets.”

The article looks at the hidden world below the French capital. Apparently there are more than 180 miles of underground tunnels, most of which are “blocked” to the public. Nevertheless, a group of folks known as “cataphiles” bring their boots and flashlights and slog through these dank and moldy caverns in search of adventure. Fascinating stuff and I suggest you pick up a copy (it looks much better in print than online).

I definitely intend to head to Paris sometime in the near future and these tunnels rank near the top of my tourist list. I’m not sure why, but I’m fascinated with such underground intrigue. It just seems so mysterious.

Of course, Paris is not the only city that houses some neat sites beneath the streets. Before I went to Istanbul, I chatted with a friend who lived in the city and asked him where I should go. One of the first places he said was the cistern.

Like the other famous places in this Turkish city, the Basilica Cistern is more than a 1,000 years old. Emperor Justinianus I first built this giant underground reservoir in the mid-500s. It was used until after the Ottoman conquest in 1453.

It’s a very eerie place. More than 300 nine-metre marble columns protrude from the ground, each lit with a red light. Carp quietly swim through the black water as drips from the ceiling fall on your shoulder.

Having no tripod handy, photos were a challenge as it was too dark to take a decent handheld shot. So I turned the ISO up high, kneeled down on the wet platform and tried to grab as much colour as possible. A little fuzzy, but it works.

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Random fact: The Basilica Cistern was used in a scene in the Bond flick “From Russia With Love”

Also, returning to Paris, the CBC Radio world affairs show Dispatches ran a piece about the French catacombs. You can listen to it here.