I know I’ve been on a Supernatural kick lately, but I have been watching other stuff. I like to intersperse documentary shows into my regular schedule of dramas and serials because it makes me feel like I’m occasionally still doing something with my brain even though all I’m doing is watching television. Also, I do have quite the travel bug so this show fulfills both those itches.
Cities of the Underworld is a program that focuses on one city in each episode, and examines the history that is buried underneath the ground. It is a mix of history, travel, and engineering. The show covers a pretty wide range of underground monuments, from Roman palaces under Istanbul, to prohibition era underbellies of Portland, to Hitler’s bunkers under Berlin. It is fascinating the way these major cities around the world can hold so much history and so many secrets right under its modern roads and buildings.
So let me geek out a bit here, I am a civil engineer and I can spend hours talking about the marvel in the hydraulics of the Roman aqueducts, or the centuries old columns and arches that hold up modern highrises, or even the central ventilation system built into medieval era underground cave dwellings. It’s no wonder that I can also spend hours watching this show as they explore the mechanisms of these underground cities, some of which used to be above ground but became buried as modern progresses took over, and others that were never meant to see the light of day but had to be built to be inhabitable by kings and rulers.
I try not to take my job too seriously, but there is pride in knowing that I’m practicing the same craft that helped in building these timeless monuments, that I am somehow related to the masterminds that gave rise to entire cities for people and emperors alike. At the risk of sounding like a real egomaniac, it reminds me that the civil in civil engineering means we are helping to build civilizations.
But if you are not an engineering nerd, there is still plenty for you in this show. The history is a bit touch-and-go, but it is enough to pique the curiosity and make you want to know more. I love maps and the show has great graphics that show expansion of empires and the expanding limits of the city as it grew from infant village into metropolis. I especially love how it will contrast the view from underground with what is currently above it. Anyone with even a vague interest in history would find something to love about this show.
Then on top of all that, there’s the travel aspect. I am currently planning a trip to Turkey and Czech in a month, and I’ve been rewatching the specific episodes of the cities I’ll be visiting. I’ve been taking notes of where I can access some of the underground and do a bit of exploring of my own. Even if I can’t get into some of the archeological sites, it is still so fascinating to know the history of a city before going there, and to be aware that a whole historic city is right beneath your feet. You can really appreciate how history has helped build the city into what it is today, how there’s whole city blocks of empires that rose and fell right beneath you, and how it’s not just modern engineers who have had a hand in building these modern cities but that they are building on top of their predecessors. It’s really quite inspiring to know that not only am I helping to continue a legacy in building cities, but that someday someone else will take over my work and build on it, perhaps even literally.