There is no mention in the scriptural record of tunnels beneath cities, fortresses or elsewhere. However, Gideon does mention a “back pass, through the back wall, on the back side of the city…through the secret pass” (Mosiah 22:6-7) in the City of Nephi (Lehi-Nephi). Whether there is any connection, it is not known, but it is interesting that we have had several inquiries regarding our response to a comment about the tunnels beneath Sacsayhuaman above Cuzco (February 9, “More Comments Answered – Part V”).
The interesting thing about the tunnels is that some sites in Egypt also have subterranean tunnels, but it is unknown if Lehi or Nephi knew about those or if there is any connection at all to the Nephites in the Land of Promise. But for those who have inquired, the information is that legends dating back hundreds of years cite numerous areas in Peru and Ecuador where ancient tunnels are dug or constructed under cities, and from one place to another, even from one city to another. On the other hand, when researching and writing about tunnels in South America, it is hard to separate fact from fiction.
Legends of Inca gold and treasures placed in tunnels to secure it from the conquering Spaniards abound in Andean lore
As an example, after conquering the Andes, Francis Pizarro, while exploring Huascaran, the highest mountain in Peru and a place that was revered by the Incas, a Spanish force discovered a cave whose interior was blocked off by large slabs of rock. Although they suspected that these stone blocks might conceal a hidden storage room beyond, they were unable to gain access to it. It was not until 1971 that a well-equipped expedition was organized to investigate the site. This expedition consisted of speleologists (scientific cave explorers) equipped with all the necessary technical support. At the far end of the cave, they found six water-tight doors made of enormous blocks of stone. But despite their tremendous weight, these doors were pivoted on stone balls in a bed formed by dripping water, so that four men were able to push them open.
An account of this expedition appeared in the periodical Bild der Wissenschaft (Image of Science, a German monthly scientific publication of current developments in research and technology, by the Konradin Media GmbH, and published in Stuttgart): “Vast tunnels which would leave even modern underground constructors green with envy began behind six ‘doors’. These tunnels lead straight towards the coast, at times with a slope of 14 per cent. The floor is covered with stone slabs that have been pitted and grooved to make them slip-proof. It is an adventure even today to penetrate these 55 to 65 mile-long transport tunnels in the direction of the coast and finally reach a spot 80 ft below sea level. The great ocean lurks at the end of the underground passage of ‘Guanape’, so called after the island that lies off the coast of Peru, about midway between Trujillo and Chimbote, and where it was believed the original passages once led under the sea to the island. After the passages have gone uphill and downhill several times, and after a downhill slope, they end in ocean water.”
Where these tunnels finally ended proved impossible for the expedition to tell, for they appeared to continue on under the sea heading in the direction of the island of Guanape, located a short distance off the coast. What astonished the members of the expedition was that the air in these tunnels was breathable, indicating that a source of fresh air somehow existed in the tunnels. They found the ancient tunnel system so precisely cut and had walls so smooth and so well engineered that they testified to “a very sophisticated technology and a people with capabilities that far surpassed the known development of the Incas.” In this “underground road system, a communications network the Incas inherited from the race that preceded them, with examples of engineering that may well have been left by the same race still baffles us today.”
Images of the underground tunnel complex leading to the sea, referred to as the Guanape Tunnels; on the left is one of the precisely cut tunnels with smooth walls
Richard L. Burger, in his Chavin and the Origins of Andean Civilization (Thames & Hudson, London, 1992), pp 135-137, writes about tunnels: “The subterranean passageway-chamber complexes, referred to as galleries, are the most unusual feature of the Chavin de Huantar Temple.” He also writes about the secret passageways into the Lanzon Gallery of the Old Temple, which houses the famous carved granite shaft.
Left: The Lanzon obelisk, dated to about 800 B.C., called El Toro or Lanzon (the bull or lance), found in the tunnels beneath Chavin de Huantar, where it held a prominent position deep underground in the very center, at the intersection of several tunnels, and where a shaft of light form above could shine down upon it; Right: one of the tunnels
The Chavin Culture, considered to be the Mother Civilization of the Andean area by Peruvian archaeologist Julio C. Tello, that stretched from Ecuador to Argentina/Chile, generally had a peaceful way of life which was a major influence upon the other cultures of northern Peru.
Reaching the Chavin tunnels today
The Chavin ruins are generally not the giant structures with incredible carvings as other cultures are known for. The real marvel of the Chavin is the complex network of underground tunnels and chambers, at their major ruins and the fact that they were built almost 3,000 years ago, evidently using stone tools.
According to Dr. Renwick, “While the entrance was quite narrow, the tunnels themselves were large and "commodious. These subterranean corridors are in almost perfect condition. The masonry is for the most part, as solid as if built only a few years ago, and the passages are so extensive that we were able to spend the whole day exploring the recesses of this building, which must have been reared three thousand years ago”
Archeologists in Peru discovered an underground tunnel and a reception room in a complex dating back to the Wari civilization, according to an El Comercio newspaper article in July of last year. Tunnels also exist at Machu Picchu that run under and behind the amphitheater
Left: Tunnel at Machu Picchu; Right: Tunnels dug through mountains as part of the ancient Peruvian road system
There is also a vast underground tunnel network in Cuenca, Equador, another system of tunnels with ventilation shafts in the province of Morona-Santiago between the towns of Galakviza, San Antonio and Yopi, that are several miles long, and have rectangular cross section with varying width, and sometimes turn at right angles. There is an underground sanctuary with connecting passages in Colombia.
I have personally not been in any of these tunnels, but it is said that a tunnel measuring more than a mile in length, linking Sacsayhuaman to the Koricancha (Old City of Cuzco) exists, but has been sealed off by the Peruvian government because of people having been lost in the past.
It is also claimed that the important buildings in the Coriancha were connected by underground tunnels leading to the fortress of Sascahuaman. Entrances to these
tunnels started at the Chincana, meaning "the place where one gets lost."
tunnels started at the Chincana, meaning "the place where one gets lost."
Top Left: An ancient tunnel entrance found in the area east of Llalo Ecuador; Top Right: Cave far up in the hills above Cusco with tunnels dug in where it was claimed the Inca stored the remainder of their gold and treasure, but eventually the Spaniards found it; Bottom Left: An ancient tunnelentrance in an area known as Chinkana Chica, just north of Sacsayhuaman, Peru: Bottom Right: Entrance tunnel in the area of Chinkana Grande, north of Chinkana Chica, just north of Sacsayhuaman