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Wordtravels

The Underground City

For more than 20 years, Beijing's Underground City, a bomb shelter just beneath the ancient capital's downtown area, built in case of nuclear attack, has been virtually forgotten by Beijing locals, despite being infamous amongst foreigners since its official opening in 2000. A sign near the entrance announces this rarely visited attraction a 'human fairyland and underground paradise'. Aside from some rather odd recent additions, the Underground City features factories, stores, guesthouses, restaurants, hospitals, schools, theatres, reading-rooms, a roller-skating rink and many other curious features, like a mushroom farm to provide food easily cultivated in darkness. On Mao Zedong's orders, it was built from 1969 to 1979 by more than 300,000 local citizens including school children, mostly by hand. The tunnels were initially intended to accommodate all of Beijing's six million inhabitants upon completion. Winding for over 18 miles (30km) and covering an area of nearly 53 square miles (85 sq km) from eight to eighteen meters under the surface, the underground City includes more than 1,000 anti-air raid structures. It has, unfortunately, been closed since 2008 for renovations but is expected to reopen soon.

Address: Xi Damochang Jie 64

Telephone: (0)10 6702 2657

Transport: Metro: Chongwen Men (209, exit D)

Opening times: Open daily from 8:30am to 5pm

Admission: RMB 20