Over the last 6,500 years of human civilization, natural disasters, wars, and flat-out poor planning have toppled countless cities and villages. Ancient workers, with little nostalgia for human history, simply built on top of existing structures, unintentionally creating amazing sites for their modern counterparts to discover.
Which was what happened in 1974, when Chinese construction workers digging a well came across more than sun-packed dirt and knotted plant roots. Something was waiting for them way down deep in the soil. Something enormous.
In March 29 of that year, the construction workers broke ground about one mile from Mount Li, an area rich with springs and waterways. The land was perfect for a well — and something else.
Photo by China Photos/Getty Images
A mausoleum for China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang. The slab of fertile ground made sense to be the area picked for his final resting place. Of course, construction crews expected anything valuable to be safely within the known confines of the historical landmark.
Bill Tyne / Flickr
Still, evidence suggested there might be something bigger hiding in the area. Construction crews in the past had uncovered chunks of roofing tiles and bricks in the area; plus, every historian knew Qin was an eccentric character. When he was involved, anything was possible.
Photo by China Photos/Getty Images
For instance, Qin ascended to the throne at only 13 years old, after his father died. That’s a lot of responsibility for someone just starting puberty, but, that’s how they did back in the day. This pressure has a profound effect on people.
Though Qin was young, across 30 years, he transformed China into one unified nation. This is the origin of his kingly name — Qin Shi Huang or the “First Emperor of Qin.” Fighting for unity wasn’t the only thing on the emperor’s mind though.
Qin was obsessed with preparing for the afterlife. Before his coronation, he ordered the construction of his massive mausoleum, but the perhaps overly prepared emperor knew the structure wouldn’t be enough for his journey to the beyond.
This additional preparation for the afterlife was what the construction workers found so long ago. Buried in the soil was a solid statue. And another. And another. Archeologists were called in. No one could believe the extent of the find.
Photo by China Photos/Getty Images
There were 8,000 terracotta fighters: Soldiers, archers, horses, generals, and others were sculpted in magnificent detail. Each figure was so incredibly realistic, researchers believed they were based on actual soldiers in the emperor’s army. Smaller details really blew experts away.
Every single person has their own hairstyle, build, expression, and pose. They were painted with unique colorations, further emphasizing their individuality. Experts estimate each took ten years to carve, and the more they studied, the more they were blown away.
Photo by studioEAST/Getty Images
The warriors face east, toward lands the emperor and his army had already conquered. No one knows why this placement was chosen, but some believe it symbolized that the nation’s real threat came from Qin’s newly “acquired” subjects and not from those who were still free.
Photo by Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images
These warriors were contained in three separate pits. The first one was 150,000 square feet, and the excavated parts were filled with warriors armed with bows. Behind the bowmen were 11 rows of soldiers wearing armor.
These men held smaller weapons like halberds. Some of the fighters stood in wooden chariots that were pulled by four clay horses and flanked on either side by more warriors. This was just in the first pit.
Photo by China Span LLC/Corbis via Getty Image
In real life, this part of the army would be the first thing that enemy combatants would come in contact with. It was meant to overwhelm the opponents. The archers could hit them from a long distance, and then the armored masses would get a chance. Pit two was different.
The second pit was about half the size of the first. It contained mostly archers, but these fighters were carrying crossbows, not bow and arrows. In the back, lines of warriors on horseback silently stood, preparing to fight any threats to the mausoleum.
During an actual battle, this part of the army functioned similarly to the soldiers and charioteers from the first pit. The crossbowmen in the front line would take turns firing and reloading, while the warriors astride horses rushed into the enemy.
And last, but also least (in size), was pit number three. The warriors in this section were the honor guard — a command chariot controlled by four soldiers surrounded by armored men carrying massive sticks. These guys, experts knew, were special.
Photo by Ryan Pyle/Corbis via Getty Images
Archaeologists believe these soldiers were the commanders of the squadron. The chariot itself was covered in ornate decorations, indicating it had a special position within the army.
There were other smaller pits surrounding the three major ones, too. These were filled with an assortment of civilian figures, like acrobats and assistants carrying bamboo tablets, so they could take notes. But how was this elaborate display even possible?
Kevin McGill via Wikimedia Commons
How these warriors were created is still a mystery. Some researchers think one sculptor would create an entire figure by themselves. Others believe they took a Mr. Potato Head approach.
This group believed each statue’s unique look came from using pre-made ears, noses, and other facial features to help save time. Still others, believed the emperor conscripted prisoners to create the entire army.
Amazing Places on Our Planet, Youtube
The warriors are only a small part of the massive mausoleum site. Through radar, core sampling, and remote sensing, researchers found that the entire complex is 38 square miles. And only a small portion of this has been excavated.
The terracotta figures may be guarding a perfect copy of Xi’an, complete with its natural streams that wound around buildings. Sima Qian, a writer from the time, described the tomb as being filled with a variety of precious things.
Curious why this hasn’t been fully excavated? Well, according to Sima, the site was also heavily booby trapped, making scientists nervous to see what may lie beneath. In China, people have been putting underground space to use even in recent decades.
During the height of the Cold War, the world’s preeminent communist powers – the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union – were also at odds over differing political ideologies. With a willingness on both sides to escalate their conflict to war, the threat of nuclear catastrophe loomed larger than ever.
Tensions between the two nations soon reached a breaking point, and in 1969 the Chinese government was forced to take drastic measures in order to protect the country. At the behest of Chairman Mao Zedong, the people of China began work on a massive underground tunnel system.
Over 300,000 men, women, and children were put to work on the project, constructing 10,000 bomb shelters connected by nearly 20 miles of tunnel. Ancient structures and cultural landmarks were toppled for the sake of Mao’s vision, with nearly all of China’s resources being poured into the endeavor.
By the end of the decade, 75 of China’s largest cities had been outfitted with enormous underground bunkers. With the shelters capable of housing roughly 60% of each city’s population, the survival of the Chinese people amidst the imminent nuclear war was all but guaranteed.
But the bombs never fell, and Mao Zedong’s death in 1976 quelled the fears of annihilation at the hands of the Russians. With new leader Deng Xiaoping ushering in a “golden age” of socialism in China, it appeared that Mao’s massive undertaking had all been for naught.
Being the economic mind that he was, however, Deng refused to let such a significant – and costly – project simply crumble into obscurity beneath the streets of China. Through the Office of Civil Defense, the country began an initiative to commercialize the abandoned bunkers.
Sim Chi Yin
Over the next two decades, laborers transformed Mao’s defunct tunnel system into a network of underground cities, the largest of which formed beneath the sprawling Chinese capital of Beijing. Complete with supermarkets, schools, clinics, and even karate dojos, this project represented another leap forward for China’s expanding economy.
But even after these spaces were repurposed, the Chinese government continued to push forward with their subterranean efforts by mandating that all new buildings have underground defense shelters that could double as a source of income. And so, in addition to stores and clinics, these bunkers became homes.
Today, over 1 million people live below the streets of Beijing, clustered in small communities that range from a few dozen to over a hundred individuals strong. Residents of this underground city are known as the shuzu, or, more commonly, “the rat tribe”.
Scott Sherrill-Mix / Flickr
This peculiar society is mostly made up of young migrants from the countryside who arrived in search of affordable housing in Beijing. And with an average rent of 400 yuan a month – roughly $58 – for one of these rooms, they’re sure getting what they’re paying for.
Each windowless room is typically between 40 to 100 square feet, just big enough to fit a small bed and a dresser or two. Some aren’t so lucky, as there are those that can only afford to stay in rooms that are shared by up to a dozen other people.
Singapore Home Decor
As far as amenities go, a single communal bathroom serves as a dumping point for personal bedpans, and at 50 cents a pop, one can help themselves to a lukewarm, five-minute shower. But despite the poor living conditions, some residents see their situation as motivation.
“Many of my colleagues live above ground, but I think it’s too comfortable,” said Wei Kun, an insurance salesman who shares his 300-square-foot apartment with nine other men. “This place forces me to work harder.”
But even so, a tremendous amount of stigma still surrounds those that call themselves members of “the rat tribe.” Some individuals won’t even tell their families where they’re living out of fear of judgment.
“When my father came to visit me he cried when he saw where I lived,” aspiring actor Zhang Xi recalled. “He said, ‘Son, this won’t do.'” Unfortunately, the Chinese government’s stance on the issue has only grown increasingly mixed as the years have gone on…
Though city officials have expressed concern over the safety risks involved with underground living, most have chosen to turn a blind eye to the practice. With overcrowding becoming a growing problem in Beijing, there’s really no other place for these individuals to go.
“We never allowed residential use of air-raid shelters,” said Xu Jinbao, office director of the Beijing Municipal Civil Defense Office. “But as time went by Beijing became so populous that people started to cram in underground.”
Despite the hardship and controversy surrounding “the rat tribe,” it appears that they’re making the most of the situation while keeping their eyes set on what lies ahead. For these individuals, life underground is not a product of hard times, but rather a calculated sacrifice for the future.
“I found a lot of people still hope one day to buy a house, or at least to live above ground,” sociologist Li Junfu observed while studying underground housing at the Beijing University of Technology. “They have a positive spirit.”
As unconventional as living underground is, it is not the only unusual home to have. The place people choose to settle down is very personal, and because everyone is different, so too are the homes. And some folks are definitely more eclectic than others…
1. Live in the clouds with this airplane house: This house, located in Abuja, Nigeria, was built by Said Jammal as a gift for his wife, Liza, to commemorate their love of travel.
2. The Heliodome is a bio-climatic solar house located in Strasbourg, France. It takes advantage of the Earth’s journey around the Sun by utilizing the seasons: In the summer the house provides shade that keeps the house cool, while in the winter, the sun peers in the windows to provide natural warmth.
3. Through the use of bamboo, plastic bags and bed sheets, Liu Lingchao, 38, constructed this 5′ wide, 6.5′ high mobile domicile. The 132-pound structure was designed by Lingchao in order to be transported with him as he walked nearly 462 miles back to his hometown.
4. Good thing that ring buoy is there! This house can be found on a lone rock on the Drina River, close to the Serbian town of Bajina Basta. It was built in 1968 as a tiny shelter.
5. The Ewok Village: This treehouse is available for rent through the Natura Cobana in southwestern France.
6. The Pot People: These cylindrical homes are located in Socuellamos, Spain, and are “made from old wine vats.” The residents are mostly ethnic Turks who have come to the central Spanish area to pick grapes.
7. Rooftop Rocks! This rooftop villa, found in Beijing, was constructed with fake rocks on top of an apartment building – but the structure was illegal and was demolished in 15 days.
8. Transformer House: Back to China, this house was built on top of a factory in the Dongguan province. Word has it that the government has also deemed it to be illegal.
9. Entrance to Goron Mountain: Benito Hernandez is the owner of this house in northern Mexico. The house has been the home of Hernandez’s family for over 30 years.
10. Crocodile Rock: Theirry Atta built this home in Ivory Coast’s capital. Atta was the apprentice of an artist, Moussa Kalo, with whom he began designing the house before Kalo’s death.
11. Let me just squeeeeze in here. This house was installed as an art piece in Warsaw, Poland by Israeli writer, Edgar Keret. The home – that is only 36 inches wide at it’s narrowest point – was designed as a memorial to Keret’s family, who died in the Holocaust.
12. That’s a lot of books. Gary Chang is an architect in Hong Kong who redesigned this 330-square-foot apartment into a custom home after 3 decades of living inside it’s boxy walls.
13. I don’t want to know how you go to the bathroom in this thing. This upside-down house was built in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk as a local attraction. The home’s rooms are also upside down.
14. Gernonimo! The “Rock” is the home of 15 fundamentalist Mormons. It was founded 35 years ago in a formation near Canyonlands National Park.
15. That’s a cold shower. This house was built entirely of ice as a promotion for a German Bank. Every part of the house is either ice or encased in ice.
16. Dome-iciles: These domes were built by US-based ‘Domes for the World’ for villagers who lost their homes in an earthquake in Yogyakartam, Indonesia.