The Chalk Tunnels, Chełm
Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa pl
photo

The Chalk Tunnels that stretch beneath the Chełm Old Town are the only former chalk mine complex of its kind in Poland or worldwide - a vast labyrinth of about 40 kilometres of winding tunnels divided into several levels.

Location and description

The Chalk Tunnels, spanning a number of levels, are concealed beneath the Chełm Old Town. Based on the research performed, the boundaries of the site of the former mine have been designated, with the area in question now considered to lie between Strażacka st., Gdański square, Młodowska st., Słowackiego st., Żwirki i Wigury st., Hrubieszkowska st., Pocztowa st. and Reformacka st. The main entrance into the underground complex is located at 55A Lubelska street, which marks the beginning of the tourist route.

The total length of the underground mining tunnels and excavations is estimated at about 40 kilometres. The tunnels are divided into a number of levels and can be found at the depth of between 5 and over 20 metres. The layout, directions and arrangements of individual levels do not follow any particular plan and appear to be entirely random. Some of the tunnels come together to form large, spacious grottos. Some of the excavations are located on various levels, interconnected by flights of steps hewn out of chalk. Many corridors are now inaccessible, having either caved in on their own or been blocked off with stone rubble. The dimensions of the corridors vary between 1.5 and 1.6 metres in height and 1.1-1.2 metres in width. As a result of many years of constant reinforcement works, very few, short sections of the tunnels have retained their original appearance, with rough walls hewn out of chalk using little more than ordinary pick-axes. Most of the corridors are reinforced using various structures such as steel wiring or brick and metal supports, with the walls and ceilings being lined with a layer of chalk mixed with plaster and cement (gunite) designed to mimic the appearance of the original walls. The existing tourist route is about 2 kilometres in length, beginning with the staircase leading about 5 metres below the ground; the tunnels are illuminated by electric light, with the temperature remaining at a constant 9oC. The route leads through three underground corridor complexes (mazes) located in the region of the church of the Sending of the Apostles, underneath the Old Town market square and under Przechodnia street. The greatest tourist attractions of the Chalk Tunnels are the old town water well shaft (used between the 14th/15th century and the 18th century), mining tunnels with distinctive niches, four chambers with the height of up to 5 metres, formed after the collapse of the surrounding chalk structures, as well as numerous geological, archaeological and historical exhibitions.

History

The first individual ever to have made a mention of the Chalk Tunnels was the chronicler Jakub Susza (17th century). Numerous references to the Chalk Tunnels appear in the municipal documentation from the period between the 17th and the 18th century. In 1911, the Chełm branch of the Polish Sightseeing Organisation organised the first guided tour of the underground tunnels. In years 1937-1939, the first tourist route was established, its total length being about 300 metres. During World War II, the tunnels became a safe haven for persecuted Jews. After the war, the tunnels were largely forgotten. It was only when a rock burst damaged some of the buildings and streets in the city centre in 1965 that the lost mine became the subject of interest once again.

Condition and results of archaeological research

In years 1966-1973, a comprehensive analysis was performed in order to create an inventory of the underground tunnels and to secure the structure thereof; however, no archaeologists have participated in this survey. The programme was led by the researchers from the AGH University of Science and Technology in Cracow, with the works being performed by the Underground Mining Works Company from Mysłowice. The first involvement of archaeologists in the programme took place in 1985, when they joined the protective works which resumed in the early 1980s. A. Bronicki and S. Kadrow have examined the old town water well which transected the mine shafts. They have not, however, become involved in the mining operations that were being conducted at the time. Systematic archaeological research was conducted in years 1994-2000 by S. Gołub, T. Dzieńkowski and W. Mazurek, who have later intermittently continued them over the course of the following years. The most recent research surveys were conducted in 2012.

In the course of exploration of the site, two types of underground tunnels have been identified: the mining shafts and the so-called dungeons (arched tunnels burrowed in chalk beneath the brick basements of buildings, featuring stairs hewn in chalk bedrock and equipped with shelves for various food products or other goods; some of these chambers were connected to the rest of the mine, while others were completely isolated from the tunnel system). Archaeological examination of the mine shafts has revealed that the miners of old used structural measures in the form of arched vaults or niches which flanked the tunnels, designed to redistribute the overall load; these were supported by wooden structures, their surfaces being mostly smoothed over. In the side walls, the miners made small niches for oil lamps to illuminate their path; in some cases, they even made decorations inside these niches, as in the case of one of the corridors near the passage leading into a brick basement of a building on Krzywa street, where a carved image of an eagle has been found. Beneath what is now known as Łyczkowskiego square, a small, two-level mine dating back to the 18th/19th century was found, distinguished by its use of a vertical shaft for chalk extraction and ventilation - the first of its kind in the city of Chełm. The cultural layers deposited in the mining tunnels as well as among the rubble in the chalk dungeons and the basements of the tenement house from which the underground corridors could be accessed were found to contain interesting and valuable historical artefacts - mostly clay pottery (entire vessels as well as fragments thereof) the earliest pieces of which dated back to the 13th century. Less common were half-maiolica and glass vessels, stove tiles, metal objects (including mining tools) as well as coins and decorative items of various sorts. There was also a truly unique finding in the form of the remains of the zebu cattle, originating from Asia or Africa. Other intriguing observations made by researchers were related to the presence of stalactites in the section of the tunnels beneath Krzywa street - a phenomenon which is remarkably rare in chalk tunnels of this kind. Researchers explored the backfill deposited at the bottom of the water well (24.5 metres below the ground), which was only indirectly linked to the chalk tunnel system; inside, they have found numerous moveable artefacts: five almost complete wooden stave buckets, three incomplete buckets of the same type, fragments of clay pottery and iron objects (including pieces of weaponry in the form of an ice-axe and a sabre as well as an axe, a few knives, keys and bucket hoops). Some sections of the walls of the well had originally been lined with timber, while near the bottom of the shaft a sturdy casing made of oakwood logs was identified.

The Chalk Tunnels may be visited for a fee (guided tours for small groups of tourists available).

compiled by Ewa Prusicka, Regional Branch of the National Heritage Board of Poland in Lublin, 20-06-2014.

Bibliography

  • Bronicki A., Studnia staromiejska w chełmskich podziemiach kredowych, “Najważniejsze odkrycia archeologiczno-architektoniczne Chełma i okolic”, Chełm 1997, pp. 135-152.
  • Bronicki A., Kadrow S., Tokarski L., Staromiejska studnia na rynku w Chełmie, “Kwartalnik Historii Kultury Materialnej”, no. 2, 1991, pp. 117-137.
  • Gołub S., Nowo odkryte odcinki podziemi kredowych pod ulicami Szkolną i Krzywą w Chełmie, “Najważniejsze odkrycia archeologiczno-architektoniczne Chełma i okolic”, Chełm 1997, pp. 121-134.
  • Gołub S., Podziemne górnictwo kredowe w Chełmie. [in:] Badania archeologiczne o początkach i historii Chełma, E. Banasiewicz-Szykuła (ed.), collective work forming part of the “Skarby z Przeszłości” cycle. Lublin 2002, pp. 85-94.
  • Podziemia Chełmskie. Informator, compiled by Z. Szonert. Chełm 1979
  • Skibiński S., Podziemia kredowe w Chełmie. Chełm 1971
  • Zimmer B., Miasto Chełm. Zarys historyczny. Cracow 1974

General information

  • Type: site with an economic function
  • Chronology: XIII w.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: Chełm
  • Location: Voivodeship lubelskie, district Chełm, commune Chełm
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

Licence:

report issue with this site

Geoportal Map

Google Map

See also in this area