a maze of secret tunnels runs underground in this Galician town


The origins of the coruña town of Betanzos are also written underground. From his deepest entrails, a whole network of hidden tunnels runs through what are called city ​​of knights. Indeed, in 2002, the council of Brigantine commissioned a team of speleologists to explore these underground caves in order to discover the extent of this network. These early works ―as well as later others by Dédalo de Brig and Espeleo Club de Descenso de Cañones―, allowed the documentation of various galleries in different parts of the historic center, the lengths of which vary from 10 to 80 metersWhile it is true that the passage of time and the accumulation of sediments have made most of them practically inaccessible and impassable.

Despite the research carried out in recent decades on the city’s network of passages, the exact origin of these underground caves is still unknown. Among the stories and legends (such as that of the mysterious synagogue of Betanzos or of the ancient Celtic League) shrouded in unknowns that exist about them, one of the most recognized hypotheses establishes that it could be old mercury (mercury) mines activated during the reign. of Carlos III, in the 18th century. It is currently estimated that there are at least 19 passagesalthough only four have been accessible since 2002 and even last October, a new cave was discovered during works in a section of Calle Santa María.

The possible origin of the caves

Imitation of prehistoric caves in the Parque del Pasatiempo, Betanzos. Photo: Betanzos Town Hall

There are many unknowns about the underground universe that the city of Betanzos hides, but several historians and experts point to mining of mercury and other minerals as their most plausible origin ―Although in the investigations carried out, cinnabar was never found, from which the mineral is obtained. The historian, professor and official chronicler of Betanzos, Francisco Vales Millamarín, came to document in the Bulletin of the Royal Academy of Galicia (of which he was also the perpetual secretary) a series of news and documents that would confirm the existence of a mercury deposit in various parts of the city, between 1785 and 1786. These ancient texts refer to certain mines assigned by Carlos III of Spain. Indeed, the Archaeological Museum of La Coruña keeps in its possession a plaque from a cave sealed in 1786 in the district of A Ribeira, which also mentions the veins of quicksilver that the Marquis of Mos had surveyed.

Most of these tunnels also coincide with the old layout of the streets, which makes experts think that these caves could predate the city and that, therefore, the street of Betanzos was defined according to these galleries. Thanks to the work carried out by Dédalo de Brig and Espeleo Club de Descenso de Cañones, it is now known that the largest of the tunnels, which also has three branches, is located at number 8 Alfolí street. It is as curious as many accesses to these undergrounds are located in private houses or patios, with old accesses condemned or closed due to landslides, and to which the neighbors did not attach importance or were unaware of their existence. In principle, these underground cellars are not connected to each other, so it is likely that in modern times they were used by families as a pantry or private cellar.

Beyond the theory of mining, it is important to highlight another form of religious connection, since it is very curious that most of these conduits seem to lead to the Church of Santa María de Azogue. In fact, it was believed that the name of the temple may derive from an Arabic word meaning “market”, which took place near the church in the Middle Ages. However, the discovery of underground caves has raised the possibility that the origin of this denomination is somehow related to mercury deposits.

the latest find

Cave located in Betanzos (A Coruña). Photo: Betanzos Town Hall

Last October, the town hall of Betanzos had to interrupt the works to improve a section of Calle Santa María. During the aforementioned installation of a sewerage network, workers found an entrance to what appears to be one of the underground caves in the historic Brigantine district. Waiting for Patrimony’s expertiseFor now, the discovery has forced the technicians of the Xunta de Galicia to travel to Betanzos to analyze the situation and define the necessary actions with the municipal representatives.

The University of Santiago will collaborate with the Council of Betanzos to know the extent of these underground passages, and will do so through the Engineering Degree in Xeomatics and Topography taught at the Lugo campus. The two parties will also hold a meeting with the cultural association Dédalo de Brig, which has just carried out numerous works in the area, to assess the possibilities of carrying out actions in the basement of the city. The primary objective, according to the board, would be “draw the maps of these caves, or routes, depths… that is, their characteristics as a starting point for other stages”. In addition, joint work will make it possible to know the route of old sections of the service network dating from the 1940s or 1950s and for which there is no exact trace of their location either.

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