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Jihlava's glowing dungeon

This dungeon is an important historical monument of the city's architecture. Sometimes it is incorrectly called the Jihlava Catacombs. A visit here can be one of the most interesting and exciting events in the life of any traveller, tourist or adventurer.


photo illustration of the Jihlava Dungeon
Photo illustration

About this place

Jihlava Dungeon - the length of this underground labyrinth is 25 kilometres. The total area of these mysterious, medieval tunnels is 50,000 square metres. Based on these parameters, they are the second longest in the Czech Republic after the dungeon in Znojmo. The dungeon consists of several floors cut into the rocky ground and is located under almost all the buildings in the historic centre of Jihlava.


At a depth of 2 to 4 metres from the ground surface, the first underground floor was excavated during the 14th century. From the first floor, it is possible to go down to the second underground floor, which is located at a depth of 4-6 metres from the ground. Also, the so-called third underground floor was excavated under some of the objects, which is based on a depth of 8-12 metres from the ground surface. The second and third floors were excavated during the 16th century. Sometime in the seventeenth century, work was done to strengthen individual corridors with brick plinths and to connect individual sections with short connecting corridors.


The corridors and passageways themselves range in size from 0.8 to 2.5 metres wide and 1.2 to 3.5 metres high. A so-called drainage gutter used to run in the centre of the floor, which was designed to collect all groundwater and surface water that seeped in. Then all the water collected through these gutters left the underground passages and corridors by themselves or was collected in specially dug sumps located in the floor of the lower underground passages. The water collected in the sumps could be partially absorbed into the rock, and the rest was used for domestic purposes.


The dungeons at that time had a system of ventilation shafts that led from the dungeon to the surface and were designed to ventilate the entire area of the underground space and deliver fresh air. There are also many places where the passages lead to underground wells that provided clean, potable water.


In addition to the main passages, there were also additional, smaller passages. They were 0.6 to 0.7 metres wide and 1 to 1.7 metres high, and their structure formed a medieval, urban sewerage system. It is interesting that some of these passages of that time are well preserved to this day and are still functioning. Of course, they have undergone extensive work to strengthen them, and they have been connected to the city's modern sewerage system.



Theories of education

Of course, in different periods, there were different opinions and assumptions about the formation of these underground, structural corridors in Jihlava. For a considerable period of time, it was believed that the underground corridors and passages were the remains of past, medieval mines intended for silver mining. Another group of historians believed that these dungeons were created and served for military purposes. Today, experts in historical science argue that the dungeons owe their formation to economic reasons of the time.


This is explained by the fact that the city is located at a significant trade crossroads of medieval times, which took place here at that time. Around the same time that silver mining began to lose its importance, trade and various crafts began to develop rapidly. Thus, merchants and craftsmen were faced with the question of where to store their goods and products. Accordingly, they began to expand the cellars that already existed at that time, and the Jihlava miners, who had extensive experience in mining at that time, were engaged in deepening these cellars.


Jihlava Dungeon - the main historical highlights

Already on the threshold of the 18th century, underground corridors began to lose their relevance and were not used to the extent they had been in the past, so at the end of this century, some passages were given new purposes and used as sewer tunnels.


In the XIX century, when new houses were built, along with water and gas pipelines, many underground corridors were simply covered with rubble. In turn, this created significant disruptions to the old drainage system and the remaining corridors began to flood with water. Then we had to urgently look for a drain for this water to avoid waterlogging of the foundations. Also during this period, the integrity and structure of the dungeon was disrupted by the building owners who built walls that divided the passages into additional sections, thus disrupting their integrity and overall structure.


During the occupation of Jihlava by German troops, a separate part of the dungeon was converted into a bomb shelter. After the war, no one was interested in the dungeons until 1957. In that year, a one-kilometre-long part was opened to visitors for tourist purposes.


In the 1960s, fundamental work began to strengthen the dungeons. As a result, a concrete, reinforcing framework was created along almost the entire length of the remaining underground corridors. In addition, dirt and debris were removed and the medieval drainage system was restored. Such a large-scale reconstruction significantly affected the profile of individual corridors, significantly reducing their height. At the same time, only those parts of the corridors where it was possible to do so remained in their original state. The reconstruction period took a considerable amount of time. In 1969, the dungeons were closed to the public for reconstruction and reopened to tourists only in 1991.


As for the ventilation shafts, in the past, most of them were destroyed or blocked when the square and streets were closed off. This naturally affected the climate in the dungeons and increased the level of humidity. The air temperature in the underground passages ranges from 8 to 12 °C.


Anomalies and mysteries

In 1978, amateur speleologists discovered a unique corridor, which is part of the overall system of the dungeon. The uniqueness of this corridor lies in the fact that its walls are covered with a white coating, which, when exposed to light from electric lighting, begins to emit greenish light, similar to what happens with phosphorus. But the paradox is that after chemical analysis of this rock, no phosphorus was found in its composition. This corridor is 11 metres below the ground. It is 2.1 metres wide and 2.9 metres high. It is the biggest mystery of the Jihlava Dungeon.


Legends

There are stories from visitors to the dungeon who have heard the sounds of organ music in the corridors of the dungeon. These stories were also confirmed by archaeologists who worked here in the 1990s. At that time, all the members of the archaeological expedition stated that they had heard the sounds of organ music in one of the corridors of the dungeon. Experts who analysed their words ruled out the possibility of mass hallucinations as one of the explanations for the so-called sounds. At the same time, no one knew about the possible presence of this musical instrument in the city's dungeons at a depth of 10 metres. In the entire history of the dungeon, there is no evidence of a possible presence of an organ (musical instrument) there at any time. Moreover, there was no organ in the surrounding houses at the time when people heard the sounds. As a result of these unexplained events, it is still not known where the sounds came from.


For the locals, these sounds were not new. They knew about their existence and had an explanation for it. According to the stories of the townspeople, about 500 years ago, a young man lived in the town who had an incredible command of this musical instrument and used it to produce sounds that others believed to be of unearthly origin. The Inquisitors called his talent a "gift from the dark forces". The musician was buried alive in the walls of one of the corridors of the dungeon and since then his spirit has been wandering the underground labyrinths, continuing to produce the sounds of organ music, which was his life's work.


The present

Today, the Jihlava Dungeons are open to the public. There are regular excursions to different parts of the dungeon throughout the year. The high season here is from April to October, and in January they are closed for annual repairs and improvements. Since 2013, the dungeons have hosted exhibitions dedicated to silver mining in the area in medieval times. There is also an open-air mini-museum, a mining landscape and a mining village dedicated to the same topic.


Media files provided by Jihlavské podzemí

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