Resources for Historical Campaigns

Best Selling RPGs - Available Now @
So for your medieval fantasy or quasi-historical city, you may want to consider the possibility of clean, well ordered environments, no Cockney accents or inept recorder music, nobody throwing 'filth' out of windows randomly, but naughty and slight dangerous, if creative friars, monks and nuns in the nearby convent. And of course, never discount the chance that the devil may be lurking nearby with a creative plan of his own...
Finally, it's amusing to get a hint of the kind of trouble a friar could get into in the medieval world. Arson and deflowering a patrician maiden. Patricians were the wealthy merchant elite of these towns. One wonders what the back story was and if the arson had to do somehow with the deflowering. It's also amusing that the ultimate fate of the Friar (i.e. going to hell) is not even mentioned in the story, since the focus is more on explaining how the feat was accomplished. it's quite possible that there is a kernel of truth in it since the Friar may have well had the extra schooling in geometry and Classical engineering that would be needed to accomplish such a feat. So he might have gotten his way out of jail this way (with or without the help of the Devil! :smile: )
Well, money is from the Devil in some traditions, so...with the help of the Devil, no doubt:grin:!

So for your medieval fantasy or quasi-historical city, you may want to consider the possibility of clean, well ordered environments, no Cockney accents or inept recorder music, nobody throwing 'filth' out of windows randomly, but naughty and slight dangerous, if creative friars, monks and nuns in the nearby convent. And of course, never discount the chance that the devil may be lurking nearby with a creative plan of his own...
I call that Business As Usual, actually:tongue:!

But then I'm going by Pliska, Preslav and Byzantine and Chinese cities in my influences, when building fantasy settings...:shade:
I think some people in Europe, where they still have remnants of this stuff, know better!
...possibly, though some places were indeed dirty and unplanned...I'm thinking of Paris and London, BTW:thumbsup:!
...possibly, though some places were indeed dirty and unplanned...I'm thinking of Paris and London, BTW:thumbsup:!

yeah but even they didn't start out that way. They had water and drainage systems initially, they just outgrew them. Once the monarch took over hordes started gathering to find work or some 'trickle down' from the royal coffers, and the king had other concerns which made the conditions among the commoners outside the royal palaces basically ... irrelevant.
The Medieval Sourcebook at Fordham is an excellent source of information and ideas for adventures. Two YouTube channels are inspirational as well:

Fall of Civilizations

Voices of the Past

Two books that come to mind are The Year 1000 and God of the Witches. The former has fascinating details about everyday life a thousand years ago in England. The latter is a long-debunked piece of false anthropology that claims brownies were an actual ethnic group in ancient Britain, and their flint arrowheads gave rise to the belief that like other faerie folk, they were susceptible to iron. Now as history, archaeology and anthropology it's pure bullshit (like Atlantis), but as inspiration for an ancient/migration era/medieval style of campaign it is a deep vein of pure gold.
Last edited:
The Medieval Sourcebook at Fordham is an excellent source of information and ideas for adventures. Two YouTube channels are inspirational as well:

Fall of Civilizations

Voices of the Past

Two books that come to mind are The Year 1000 and God of the Witches. The former has fascinating details about everyday like a thousand years ago in England. The latter is a long-debunked piece of false anthropology that claims brownies were an actual ethnic group in ancient Britain, and their flint arrowheads gave rise to the belief that like other faerie folk, they were susceptible to iron. Now as history, archaeology and anthropology it's pure bullshit (like Atlantis), but as inspiration for an ancient/migration era/medieval style of campaign it is a deep vein of pure gold.

I like that, particularly the Brownie thing. I always thought Lost Continent of Mu would make a good adventure setting...
Roman cavalry is an excellent example of "Why does Hollywood try to make up some idiotic looking BS instead of just copying the much, much cooler looking real thing from history?"







  • 1690916034395.png
    104.1 KB · Views: 1
I've been asking myself that as well. My best answer was "because they have no frigging idea how the real thing looked like":thumbsup:.

Sure but when you have multi-million dollar budgets, highly paid technical advisors, and entire departments responsible for costumes and effects... it is not like this is so unaccessible.

It's a bit of a mystery but I have two theories. One is that real kit just looks too strange for modern audiences and they won't like it. This can be a thing, for example the film The Northman, which was pretty accurate in a lot of ways, was unpopular with the die hard fans of shows like Vikings and The Last Kingdom which have a huge audience.


Apparently costumes like that were too wide of a gulf for the audience, who wanted the more familiar Judas Priest look.

The other theory which overlaps with this, is that there is an entrenched cadre of 'experts' in Hollywood, who can deliver the kinds of things that Producers want to see and that they think audiences will like (and maybe they are correct) but they are about as historical as a typical US Renaissance Faire.


I got this idea from watching 'Deadliest Warriors' when it was on Spike tv on cable. There were a bunch of 'experts' who were basically stuntmen or stunt coordinators with a (usually very, very vague) knowledge of some historical periods, which they presented as being real. They may be questionable on the level of historical accuracy (and very boring or farcical to look at) but they fit well with the Hollywood system. And as a plus their ideas are going to be pretty cheap to implement and familiar to audiences. Like big gasoline explosions in the 70s and 80s.


On the one hand, costumes and effects of the caliber of 'Deadliest Warrior' are very common in Hollywood. Attempts to rise above this are often halting and self-sabotaging. Even The Northman, which I liked, did not really go 'Full Viking', but was more of a Hollywood hybrid. And in part due to it's rejection by Vikings fans who preferred the familiar to the more plausible and sometimes beautiful, it made less money than Cocaine Bear at the box office.

On the other hand, we see the success of the original Lord of the Rings Trilogy, which certainly benefited from it's major efforts to create plausible, usually at least "Historical Adjacent" weapons and kit, like Aragorn's longsword, or the Iron Age cavalry panoplies of the Rohirrim. LOTR made plenty of money and subsequent attempts to emulate it did not do as well. And we see rising popularity of games like Mount and Blade and Kingdom Come Deliverance which borrow a lot more from historical sources, including HEMA in the latter case. As well as the popularity of YouTube stars like Matt Easton who debunk a lot of the persistent tropes. There may be an audience out there for more plausible, and at the same time, more beautiful kit and costumes that is derived from history rather than from soulless suits, some tired wardrobe department or burned out stunty. The question is, how to connect with them.

So I have some hope things could get better. Admittedly, very very small hope.
You can certainly run into the attitude 'but it should look worse/more primitive' even among the makers of films that are pretty serious about historical accuracy. I really like The Return of Martin Guerre, but I recall reading that Natalie Zemon Davis, who wrote one of historical studies it was based on, thought that the Guerre family's house and possessions were a little too basic; we have some inventories of theirs (IIRC) and it's clear that they had more metal dishes and utensils than in in the film.
You can certainly run into the attitude 'but it should look worse/more primitive' even among the makers of films that are pretty serious about historical accuracy. I really like The Return of Martin Guerre, but I recall reading that Natalie Zemon Davis, who wrote one of historical studies it was based on, thought that the Guerre family's house and possessions were a little too basic; we have some inventories of theirs (IIRC) and it's clear that they had more metal dishes and utensils than in in the film.

Oh yes, agreed 100%. It's not just limited to people who are phoning it in or not making an effort. There are a lot of somewhat 'serious' attempts at historical and "history-adjacent" (fantasy etc.) films which also look ridiculous, and adding more filth and poverty, ala Victorian London, to anything in the ball park of medieval or iron age (other than Roman or Greek) seems to often be the result. This is part of what I mean by 'self-sabotage'.

One pattern I've noticed watching films and shows with my wife - historical shows made (more or less) for women seem to get costumes and sets much better, but either have very little if any fighting or do that part quite poorly; while some shows made (arguably, more or less) a bit more for boys - like Vikings for example, have terrible costumes and sets but fairly decent (or at least a little better) fighting.

There are a few rare ones which seem to be a mashup of the romantic / historical with action historical / genres, like for example Last of the Mohekans, which I thought was quite well done on both levels (good costumes and sets and the fight-scenes were excellent), or to some extent the Witcher (which had at least some good costumes and kit, but also pretty well executed fight scenes). In part because they are targeted to male and female audiences alike.
My girlfriend got me hooked on the YouTube videos of Bernadette Banner, and not just because she's seriously cute:

Karolina Żebrowska also has informative and entertaining videos about period clothing/costumes:

There were some splendid female horse archers when I went to a Sabantui a couple of years ago. Their costumes were excellent, their recurved bows looked the part and some of them even did an archery display, both on foot and on horseback. I was in geek heaven.
yeah this lady Anna Minkkinen is a serious horse archer who competes all over the world.

Check this out from during a visit to Iran... Parthian shot!

So here is a neat little rabbit hole.

In the mid-15th Century, the Czechs elected this 'Knight King', who in the English speaking world is called George of Podeibrady. He was elected on a pragmatic basis, because Bohemia was still facing a lot of trouble, including another potential Crusade. Though a heretic, technically, he was well-liked by the Czech Catholics, at least at first, and even by the German princes. He was a good soldier with solid knightly virtues, kept his word and seems to have almost never lost a battle. He even formed lasting alliances with some Catholic princes in neighboring regions. For example the much feared Margrave (basically duke) Albrecht 'Achilles" of Brandenburg, became allies with Podeibrady. George married one of his sons to his daughter (and thus into the mighty Hohenzollern house).ěbrady

Anyway, seeing trouble on the horizon since the Holy See was again trying very hard to organize another Bohemian Crusade, George sent a Czech baron, this guy:žmitál

...along with about 50 knights, on a diplomatic trip which took them in a huge loop all around Europe. They went across Germany to Burgundy and Flanders, then to England, then across France and into Spain and Portugal, then to Italy where they finally ran out of money, and then back home.

Despite representing a heretic king, they often got a very warm welcome, as the whole idea of the trip amused or excited the Latin princes at that time. Philip the Good for example gave them a lavish welcome. At this time, Bohemian mercenaries were even more sought after than the Swiss. Everyone wanted to see them close up. On the trip, the Czechs brought some 'ringers' - a champion wrestler and some champion jousters, and they seem to have beaten everybody they encountered, just about. One of the tricks they did was their jousters could break a lance against a solid wall without wrecking themselves.

The secret mission of this group was to try to establish a kind of proto- UN or EU, a general peace among Latin polities in Europe, so they could better stand up to the Ottomans and so on. This mission obviously did not succeed but it did put George of Podeibrady in a much more favorable light among many Latin princes. In the end, when the next Crusade did come it was only the Hunyadi family of Hungary who attacked.

What makes it all the more wonderful though, is that an account of the trip survives. Not just one in fact but two - one from a Czech knight, I think in Latin, the other from a burgher-knight from Nuremberg. In German. And all this was translated in the 19th C and then published in English in the 1950s, by a today rather unknown geographical society in England. I got a copy of it and it's really incredible. It's a little bit like a mix of Marco Polo with a touch of Sir John of Mandeville or Gullivers Travels. And the whole time there is a Roshomon effect because you get two slightly different narratives about each event.

I made an article about a very small excerpt of it which is here. It includes a grappling tournament with all the rules etc., and the oddity of their witnessing a fencing match or game being conducted on ice skates while in Flanders.

But this really just scratches the surface. A few details I remember - the English had a brutal regime in Calais, meant to prevent any kind of uprising or plotting against them. At night everyone (all the French people) had to lock their doors and the English released two dozen giant, ill-tempered mastiffs to roam the streets (and enforce the curfew!). In Portugal they met a very friendly king who entertained them lavishly, noting only that he was somewhat obsessed with civet poop. Around the same area they speak of dangerous giant scorpions. They almost got in a perilous fight with some villagers, when a youth who was traveling with them in Gallicia saw some other kids with slings, made a copy of one and was shooting it into the forest, and accidentally hit a guy, wounding him. Another place in Spain, they wanted to visit a relic in a Cathedral which turned out to be under siege by the townsfolk. Both sides- bishop and townfolk- made a short truce and allowed them to pass through and visit the relic (in spite of their being heretics). Spain, in general at this time, seemed to be a wild mix of many different religions. In Catalonia they were attacked by slave-takers while traversing a very narrow canyon. One of the narrators was almost taken, but was rescued. Another guy was taken for good and disappeared.

The only sad part of this story is that the book is out of print and hard to find. There is not a full free online translation that I know of (if you find one let me know) but there is a kindle version, and there is a scan on google books here

And you can still find a few old copies of the 1950s translation, and I'm not sure but there may be translations into Spanish, French, or German too. I wouldn't be surprised re: Spain especially since they spent a lot of time in Spain on the trip and had a lot of wild adventures there.

I hope you found all this almost as interesting as I do!
here is a wonderful source in a searchable format online. An English translation of the marvelous 15th century Catalan novel, "Tiran Lo Blanc"

For some not safe for work, eyebrow raising content go into that and do a search for 'secret place'

For some interesting tactical details search for 'strap' or 'helmet strap'
Ok here is a subject I've explored a few other times at this nexus between historical and gaming. People in a lot of RPGs like to explore underground lairs and complexes. Periodically, I run across posts in RPG forums, groups, SubReddits, youtube videos or Discord channels complaining about unimaginative, illogical or overly simplistic 'dungeon' designs. Of course for most games, this really doesn't matter - the underground monster lairs are based on magic and hand wave the details. It's more of a niche thing that comes up for certain games (like Call of Cthulhu) or certain players and GMs.

I have run into this issue myself, being sometimes in the 'I need some logic or internal consistency' category, or just wanting to have something to look at as a point of departure even for a fantasy game.

Real life underground spaces are a bit different. They are usually made for some kind of purpose: to extract metals or salts from the earth, to hide from enemies or conceal valuable things, as places of worship, as secret dwelling spaces, etc. They have details that you might want to ignore, or which you might find make for interesting story hooks or plot elements you can have fun with.

So I'll go through a few types that we find in pre-industrial Europe as a starting point.

Mines are made to extract something - usually minerals, metals or salts, from underground. Mining technology advanced rapidly in the medieval period. Miners in the middle ages were specialists and for a long time had a lot of bargaining power because nobody knew their secrets. There is a bit of a 'woo' element to a lot of medieval mines because the veins of minerals or metals etc. were often found through dowsing.

Early medieval and back to Classical era mines were often either open pits or dug into the sides of hills, like in this painting from the Von Wolfegg housebook from the Rhineland circa 1480. You can see a much larger version of this image here


You can see a lot going on in this image, ranging from somewhat orderly working of the mine, to decidedly chaotic (some kind of mugging or fight going on in the foreground). Mines were dug into the side of hills because that made them much easier to drain and ventilate. This was facilitated by the digging of special tunnels called adits.

The adits of some very old medieval mines in Central Europe are still visible, and some have tours going down into the mines.

Many mines were shut down once the richest veins above the water table was played out. But then new technologies were invented which allowed them to go deeper underground, and often to re-open old mines.

This is another 15th Century painting of the wonderful and evocative Kutna Hora silver mine in Bohemia, today Czech Republic. You can find a much higher resolution here.


Once again there is a lot going on in this painting. This depicts the frenzied moment of a 'silver rush' going on, as the mine was re-opened due to new technologies. one change is the greater use of machines - in the image you can see mechanical hoists and horse driven ventilation machinery. They also developed some improved alchemical techniques allowing them to draw silver and other metals from ore, rather than pure veins. You can see the miners wearing their underclothes, usually linen shifts, for the mining work, because the mine was probably hot. You can see the tools they use and the little oil lamps they carry etc. You can see the sorting and processing going on up above, and the trade with wealthy merchants, being entertained by musicians.

Kutna Hora is kind of notorious from later eras in which the cemeteries of dead miners were moved, the bones unearthed, some then being used by a priest to make rather macabre decorations somewhat ideal for a Call of Cthulhu campaign.


This altarpiece from the early 16th Century, depicts another kind of frenzied 'gold rush' moment at a mining site in upper Saxony, not too far from Kutna Hora. You can see miners smelting ore on the left, working the mines in the center, sorting ore in the bottom, and some artisans (goldsmiths, probably) minting coins on the right.


There are some interesting details in this one, for example this is a special type of 'wind catcher' which helped with ventilation, which was in part provided by water wheels. In the center near the top of that image (you can see in higher resolution here) you'll notice a vertical mine shaft with a four panel light wooden structure above it that aids in airflow through what is called the 'stack effect'.

Some of these mines got truly gigantic in size. Perhaps the best medieval example is the 'real life Moria' of Wieliczka Salt Mine, near Krakow in Poland.

This huge, very productive salt mine was first established in the 13th Century and continued to be operated into the 21st Century, extracting both brine and rock salt. It goes on for 287 kilometers underground. It is famous for an underground chapel and many reliefs and statues. A section of the mine is open to tourists and it is a Unesco World Heritage site. I include a few photos, you'll find many more online.

Tomorrow I'll get into underground churches and temples, and secret military redoubts.




Last edited:
I smell angry dwarves. Which is odd in a historical campaign....

Well, only if you demand history not include the mythology of the era... or that historical sources are both the start and the end point. My general approach is to look at the historical resources and make whatever you like out of them. Historical adjacent or historical derived fantasy works pretty well. Puts you in good company too - Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, Witcher, etc.
A little palette cleanser before we move on...

Even religious paintings can be fun! (and great fodder for RPGs!) Need proof?

Caption says: "Votive painting donated by Siewert Granzinin 1492. Co-Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, Kołobrzeg, Poland. A knight fleeing from captors prays and seeks shelter in a cemetery, the dead are coming out of their graves to his aid. The picture reflects the medieval idea of the dead caring for the living."

I don't know about that last part. It looks pretty 'summon zombies' to me. And while I'm sure those two guys on the bottom are meant to be saints, they look a bit 'wizard' to me...

Ok i am sorry for the long delay here, I generally try to keep my promises. Excuses are pointless, let me just try to earn forgiveness with what are hopefully interesting posts. I'm going to break this up into three posts in case people want to discuss these things separately.

So previously here we looked at mines, which are a big subject when it comes to the medieval underground, but not, by far, the only one. Let's start right off with one of the weirdest ones.


The Erdstall

This is a strange phenomena, that even more strangely, seems to remain persistently baffling to the experts. Erdstall (a South-German term, but these are also known by many other names in various regions) are funny little complexes of mostly rather narrow underground tunnels, made for purposes we do not fully grasp yet, which are found by the hundreds, all over Europe, usually in rural areas or small villages. At least 2,000 of them are known throughout Europe (including in the British Isles), with 700 in Bavaria and 500 in Austria. Most of these seem to have been constructed in the early to high middle ages. There are some terse references to these in court and financial records starting in the late medieval period, usually just mentioning their existence as part of real estate property. There are probably more of these though, because the locals are not always eager to to discuss them with outsiders.


Needless to say secret tunnel complexes underneath your home or on your property can be useful in various ways, not all of them legal. Or some perhaps legal, like for storing valuables, but not so good to publicize.


One of the weirdest thing about these tunnels is that almost nothing is ever found in them. There is very little trash or refuse. Hardly any artifacts or organic debris. This is in part why they are hard to date precisely and why their purpose remains mysterious. Some of these tunnel complexes have vertical slips, similar to a 'trap' used in plumbing, which are quite inconvenient to pass through, or may be filled with water so as to become a very effective barrier against smoke or gas, which may represent a military or protective use as to prevent being smoked out. This was also done in modern times for example in the Chu Chi tunnels in Vietnam during the Vietnam -American War. There are some references from the Baltic Crusades of Livs and Estonians hiding in small tunnels and being smoked out by enemies in the 13th Century.

However not all or even most of the Erdstall have this feature, or seem suitable at all for defense. Some slips are horizontal, and many of them only have one entrance (at least that we know of). Erdstall are typically very clean but some small pieces of coal, wood and ceramic found inside a few of them in Austria date from the 10th-13th Centuries. One question here is, who cleans these up so rigorously? because very little is found within. Most are small and very narrow, but some are larger and fairly elaborate. You can go on little tours inside a few of these places. Here is a video about them.

Were they for a secret cult? To hide precious goods or people (children) during raids? Man cave? Woman cave? They do not appear to be tombs or graves. Whatever the actual use and purpose of the Erdstall, they lend themselves pretty well to RPG gaming needless to say. Being so often of diminutive dimensions, being so mysterious, and sometimes linked directly to homes and buildings (often with secret openings), they could be great little hideouts for Fey of various types (elves, dwarves, goblins), for a wide range of monsters or bad guys, or for scary cult activities ala Call of Cthulhu etc. In Bavaria these places are often called things like 'elf-holes' or 'goblin-holes', but that is not unusual for anything weird. The truth is we just don't know what the Erdstall really was, just that they do exist, they are old, and they are weird as hell



  • 1694109484391.webp
    76.4 KB · Views: 2
Ok hopefully that was is a bit interesting and / or useful. On to the next topic!

Undergound and Cliff Churches

Churches, shrines, chapels and temples carved into the rock or stone, or featuring underground elements, are also quite common from the medieval period back to the Classical period and into deep Antiquity. One very famous example of this is Petra in Jordan


We also find a lot of these kinds of places, often constructed specifically for defense / refuge, sometimes in the Balkans and Anatolia.

Some good examples include Ostrog monastery in Montenegro,

Church of St. Spyridon at Davelis Cave in Greece,

The "Holy Cave" of Covadonga in the Asturias, in Spain

Kakaviotissa on the Greek island of Lemnos,

The famous, massive Sumela cliff monastery in Turkey

And though I'm at my image limit, there are many others like this, perhaps the most dramatic being the Meteora monasteries, though not in caves, on dramatic mesa like rock formations very high in the sky.

These are mostly found in the Balkans, Southern Europe, and Anatolia, and in parts of Africa like Ethiopia. But also sometimes far in the north.

This one in England was believed for a long time to be an 18th Century invention by an eccentric landowner, but more recent excavations date the site back 1,000 years

Pretty much all of these sites are dramatic and striking locations. Most if not all have very strong, even overwhelming spiritual or mystical vibes, and often feel a bit spooky. Quite a few are also fortresses and have that "Helm's Deep" sense about them, as strongholds of last resort. Many were in fact built in extremely dangerous areas to resist or escape the Ottomans or other foreign invaders, or dangerous locals.

Some are just a building in a hole or a facade over a hole, but quite a few (and there are scores of these in Greece alone, many more if you cast a wider net) have tunnel or cave complexes inside or behind them which make quite interesting places to explore in the real world, and great settings... or inspirations for settings, for any RPG. you can find maps of these tunnels and underground sites as well.
hopefully that too, is interesting. Perhaps worth adding as an addendum to the last post that even if you are not religious and / or religion puts you off, many of these sites are pre-Christian, many are abandoned, and some of the Christian ones are built on top of much older complexes with far weirder settings.

One really good example of a very old one is the super creepy, super scary, super dangerous temple of Pluto (Ploutonion) near Hierapolis which I already described in a separate post on here somewhere but was bitterly attacked by one guy about some kind of error or point of confusion in the wiki to do with how to avoid carbon dioxide inside caves saturated with said gas. Of which I have no opinion (I would definitely stay OUT of the cave at the Pluotonion and would not stake my life on any of these theories, though according to Strabo, the eunuch priests of Cybele did).

And as far as religion goes, that place is right out of a Conan novel. You don't even have to change a thing.

On to the third category ...

Ancient and Medieval Urban Tunnel Networks

Everyone, I think, has heard of the famous catacombs of Paris and Rome, and there are other well known ones as well. The Roman catacombs are ancient, but the French ones were made in the 18th Century when a massive re-build of Paris required digging up dozens of old cemeteries. Sewer and drainage systems are also well known of course, the Roman Cloaca Maxima (build starting in 600 BC) has been a tourist draw since the 19th Century, and many medieval towns also had them... the underground sewers in Barcelona for example date to the 14th Century.

But sewers and catacombs have a lot of 'ick factor' and are not the only type of underground tunnels one finds in cities.

How extensive and interesting tunnels are in a given place depends on many factors - the type of ground (soft or hard?) the porousness of the ground and how high the water table, the engineering capacities of the locals, and the need for underground shelter, storage, or etc. whether for security or some other reason.

Many if not most houses in Europe, particularly older ones, have cellars, and in the medieval period it became very common to dig tunnels either as an escape route from one's cellar, (almost every single real castle in Europe has these) or to link to another one. In some places this was taken to the point that the whole town has a network of underground tunnels, chambers, and galleries, used to store valuable resources, to hide, and to conduct military operations such as armed sorties during sieges.


One famous and interesting example of this is the city of Tábor in South Bohemia, in what is now the Czech Republic.


Tabor was founded in a hilly area on the site of a small earlier settlement. The city was founded in 1420 by a group of heretics, Hussite radicals called 'Taborites'. Knowing that their very existence was provocative to many of their neighbors, the city was made at the outset with defense in mind. It was built on a hilltop, surrounded by fortifications, and the houses were build close together with narrow, winding streets so as to impede invading armies.


But the fun doesn't stop above ground. Beneath Tabor, the cellars had, as was so often the case, were linked together. As the centuries went by, and the Czechs fell under foreign rule, underground spaces were very helpful for stashing goods, or say, weapons that could be stolen or confiscated; for holding forbidden religious services or rituals, and even for purposes like performing alchemy.

As I said, these kinds of places were common in almost every medieval town but Tabor is kind of next level, because entrenched defensive operations were part of the design of the place from the get-go. The town itself is dotted with defensive fortifications and these are also linked to the tunnel network. A small portion of these tunnels has been opened to tourists (rated 4.0 / 5 by TripAdvisor, apparently some tourists not liking that the tour is narrated in Czech). The Czechs themselves say that the tunnels go on for 14 km under the town.


Really interesting things can be found inside these urban tunnels, case in point a secret, hidden alchemy lab (the 'Speculum Alchemiae') which was found in Prague in 2002 after the major European floods at that time. Access is through a secret door. if you need a better historical context for your Call of Cthulhu or Fantasy RPG, then I probably can't help you. This too has been turned into a (slightly kitschy) museum which is rated 4.5 on Tripadvisor. (I should point out, I am not a supporter of Tripadvisor per se, and don't use it myself, I just find it really amusing to read petty and silly tourist reviews of remarkable ancient places like this). Here is a youtube video on the site. The stuff in the gift shop is kitsch, but the artifacts in the lab are real and date from the 15th-16th Century.

Of course, a few tunnels and cellars are not the extent of urban tunnels. There are, as probably many reading this already know, actual entire underground cities. The mother lode of these places (at least that I know about) is in Anatolia, in particular in the region of Cappadocia in what is now Turkey. Obviously I can't do this massive subject justice in a quick forum post but I'll mention a few of the key sites. As a rule, these places are mysterious and they are difficult to date. They seem to have been used in different periods, but the old ones seem to date at least to the 7th Century BC or earlier. In the medieval period these places were used several times as shelters from various wars and raids.



This is an underground city which may have had a population of as many as 20,000 people. This is a massive site with sophisticated ventilation, water, and sanitation systems built in to the site. It was used by local Christians as a refuge from Arabs in the 8th-11th Centuries, from Timurid Mongols in the 14th Century, and Ottoman Turks from the 15th through even modern times.


Many of the local Greeks and Armenians were forced out of the area in 1923 and this site was abandoned. The existence of these tunnels was not widely known by the Turks and most of the complex was discovered by accident by a homeowner who was trying to chase down some chickens in 1963. About half of the complex is now open to tourists.

Kaymakli, also in Cappadocia in Central Anatolia, is a similar large complex, though it is smaller with narrower tunnels. It includes features such as a church, wine presses, kitchens, and industrial sites for processing copper ore.


There are at least another four major underground dwelling complexes in Cappadocia that are accessible to tourists right now, and probably quite a few others either not yet open to the public or even as yet, undiscovered. It's pretty mind blowing.

Needless to say, if you for some reason want a guide as to how people, or humanoids, semi-demonic cultists what have you might live in large numbers in the underground, these places (for which you can find many maps, videos, blog posts, yelp and tripadvisor reviews, and academic articles) can be a very useful resource.

Not, let me remind the gentle reader, that anyone needs to bother with looking at actual underground spaces. I would never make that assertion. But if you want something like this for whatever reason, here it is.


  • 1694117449199.jpeg
    81.2 KB · Views: 3
Last edited:
As an addendum, another unique and fascinating type of historical underground space is the subterranean water system. Both Classical and Medieval towns often had very elaborate, very sophisticated water systems (at least hundreds of which are still operating today and providing free spring water to anyone who wants it - such as at Bern in Switzerland) ... but the most famous of these, justifiably, is the incredible, vast subterranean Byzantine water system under Istanbul / Constantinople, the Basilica Cistern aka Yerebatan Saray ('Subterranean Palace') an almost 10,000 square meter space capable of holding 80,000 cubic meters of water, with 336 beautiful columns holding up the ceiling.

Obviously a magnificent and highly evocative space which has been used as a setting in many films, TV shows, and I think a couple of computer games too.



It is not the only subterranean reservoir in Istanbul though, there is also the 3,600 square meter Cistern of Philoxenos, supported by 224 columns

And the cistern of Theodosius

1694372022028.jpeg 1694372061175.jpeg
And beyond, in Italy near Naples there is the haunting Picina Mirabilis

There are the Cisterne Romane in Fermo

And at least a dozen other significant ones in Italy, Tunisia, Israel, and Spain.

1694372400495.jpeg 1694372431537.jpeg

Nor were medieval engineers incapable of these impressive feats. The 14th Century 'Bottini' medieval water system in Siena for example is extremely impressive, extending 25 km under the city, it continued to provide fresh water to the city until 1914 and still provides potable water to more than 20 of the cities fountains, including the gorgeous Fonte Gaia on the main square.

Banner: The best cosmic horror & Cthulhu Mythos @