Despite its beautiful architecture, stunning parklands and bustling precincts, some of Adelaide’s most interesting spaces are underneath the city streets. Historians and local enthusiasts have devoted years to investigating rumours of intricate underground labyrinths and top-secret tunnels, and although many remain unconfirmed, some truly fascinating subterranean spaces have been discovered. In fact, one of our beautiful hotels - the Adina Apartment Hotel Adelaide Treasury – sits right on top of one.
Over the past two years the team at Adina Adelaide Treasury has partnered with the National Trust of South Australia and the University of South Australia (UniSA) to use thoroughly modern technology (including interactive virtual tours) to bring one of Adelaide finest heritage buildings to life.
The Treasury Tunnels, underneath the hotel, date back to 1839 and are without a doubt the city’s most inviting underground passageways. Originally built so government staff could move between key buildings around Victoria Square, the tunnels and connecting basements were also used to store everything from important state documents to printing materials during the mid-late 1800s and early 1900s. The Treasury Vaults are the most famous of these storage spaces, having housed nearly 13 tonnes of gold between February 1852 and February 1853 alone. These days, the eerily charming spaces play host to regular art exhibitions and events, inviting modern day explorers to enjoy the underground world in its best light.
The nearby King William Street Tunnel is far less inviting – currently filled in with rubble – but adds another layer of history to the city’s underground network. Rediscovered in 1973 but deemed too expensive to restore, the tunnel was initially built to transport livestock across the busy road without obstructing traffic. Of the animals rumoured to have used the tunnel, horses belonging to the state’s mounted police are probably the most famous. In 1886, the tunnel took on a new purpose as a railway branch line connecting the Exhibition Grounds with Adelaide Railway Station. The line operated until 1927, transporting everything from heavy machinery to Boer War troops and citizens bound for quarantine during the Spanish Influenza crisis of 1918.
A number of air raid shelters were built around the city during WWII, further adding to its subterranean landscape. Some gained notoriety as a meeting place for couples, others were attached to private residences and a tantalising number seem to have disappeared over the years, like the two expansive shelters built to incorporate underground hospitals at Daw Park and the 400-person shelter built underneath the premises of the former Carr Fastener Company.
It’s mysteries like this that keep people guessing as to the extent of Adelaide’s secret underground world. Ask one of our friendly hotel staff about the tunnels during your next stay in the city and see if they can shed more light on the lesser-known side of the South Australian capital.
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