Located 80km to the south of Wroclaw, Project Riese is a massive underground tunnel system that lies beneath the Owl Mountains – the oldest mountain range in Poland. However, to make sure that it withstood the test of time, the Nazis reinforced the walls using steel and concrete. Unfortunately, they couldn’t complete the reinforcement project as the Nazi soldiers abandoned the project during the war’s last days.
Built during the Second World War between 1943 and 1945, Project Riese is reputed as one of the world’s largest military enterprises today. It is still unclear why the Nazis built this underground complex; neither is its exact size known. Some say the underground complex was meant to be used as a factory for weapon making, while others believe that it was to serve as Adolf Hitler’s headquarters.
History of Project Riese
Borch3kawki Wikimedia Commons
Legend has it that the Germans were looking for a safe place that can withstand the increasing attacks and allied bombings by their adversaries. After a thorough assessment of multiple locations, the Owl Mountains met all conditions. The mountain range was considered the safest place of all, because of its hard rock which gives the underground tunnel the much-needed protection against air raids.
But it made the construction process a lot slower. Prisoners of forced labor camps in Poland and the Soviet Union were brought in to complete the construction work. The working conditions were terrible. Many prisoners died due to starvation, appalling living conditions, and exhaustion. A large majority were infected by unknown diseases. An estimated 5000 forced laborers lost their lives while the building project was ongoing.
What to See There?
Even though the tunnel remains a mystery to many, there are a few things it is known for. With over 90,000 cubic meters of excavated tunnels, Project Riese can be accessed through seven different entry points found at Walim-Rzeczka, Jugowice, Włodarz, Soboń (Ramenberg), Sokolec, Osówka, and Książ Castle.
A tour of the mountain will reveal the horrors and life during the Second World War. Inside the mountainous tunnel, you will find traces of uncompleted military barracks, warehouses, bunkers, building materials, and excavated matter. You will also find a few tunnel openings, many of which are inaccessible due to the hardened brick used to create a barricade; while some are flooded. Some tunnels have no end in sight; hence they lead to nowhere.
In addition to these main compounds, a casual walk through the mountains will reveal frequent and somewhat frightening traces of abandoned military barracks, bunkers, warehouses, building materials, excavated matter and tunnel openings, many of which are barricaded, bricked or blocked by hardened cement bags; others are filled with water, and some seemingly go on forever, leading nowhere. Fortunately, there are some tunnels and facilities opened to visitors.
One of the underground complex’s outstanding features is Ksiaz with Castle Furstenstein, which was supposed to be Adolf Hitler’s residential home. The castle was supposed to be reachable only by two underground tunnels that connect to the magnificent building’s cellars.
A tour of the Project Riese is definitely worth your time and every penny. Upon experiencing the tunnel first hand, only then will you understand how unrealistic this project was. If you are interested in history, this is a must-visit.
Myths about Project Riese
1. The Actual Size
Legends have it that Project Riese is bigger than what it’s assumed sized today. There are countless tunnels and infrastructural facilities in the mountainside that are yet to be discovered until this present day. In terms of size, it remains unknown. More than one-third of the underground complex is covered in floodwaters.
As stated earlier, the purpose of this gigantic tunnel is still uncertain. Its history is of great interest to many historians and researchers worldwide. The tunnel is surrounded by lots of controversies and legends, many of which are illogical.
- Many legends have it that Project Riese was built to serve as a military factory. It was purported that Adolf Hitler was to use it in making chemical and biological weapons as well as a nuclear bomb. Another theory claimed that the tunnel was built for testing fighter planes.
- Another legend has it that the project was supposed to be Adolf Hitler’s residence. Some researchers actually debunked this idea. An adherent of this theory believed that the story was made up to cover for the underground tunnels’ actual purpose.
- Yet another story has it that the underground complex housed hidden treasures stolen from banks, museums, and archives. Amongst the hidden gems are the artworks stolen by the German forces in all European countries they invaded, the gold from Breslau, and the riches of the Silesian noble family von Schaffgotsch.
- The legends of the ‘Nazi Gold Train’ couldn’t be left out. It was believed that a certain Nazi German era train laden with lots of gold lies in one of the tunnels. Hundreds of archeologists have searched for the missing train in the underground yet no significant result. Just 15 kilometers away from the site of the Koper and Richter embankment dig, you will find a full-size replica of the missing Nazi Gold Train built-in 2016 by a group of enthusiasts. Local visitors and tourists alike visit this attraction to catch a glimpse of what the train looks like.
How to Get There
Project Riese is a highly recommended tour from Wroclaw. So, if you are in this lovely Polish city, do not miss a chance to witness history firsthand. On getting to the site, your knowledgeable tour guide takes you on tour around the facility.
Explore the fascinating network of underground tunnels, all yet to be completed. More so, it gives you a chance to learn more about the unique history of this place and the significant role it played during the Second World War. Project Riese is a must-see for every visitor to Wroclaw.
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