Most times travelers go scuba diving, they do so to see colorful fish and beautiful underwater landscapes. Alina and Jekabs are serious travelers, and when they went diving in Estonia, they weren't looking for beauty.
What they found in an abandoned quarry can teach us so much about the history of Estonia, and the atrocities that occurred in this region just a few decades ago. Keep reading to see the stunning photographs that Jekabs took in a place where few people dare to go.
Descending Into The Depths
You never know what could be lurking under murky waters. Sometimes the only way to find out is to do some exploring for yourself. That's exactly what two very brave divers decided to do. They went down into a submerged prison in northeastern Europe just to see what they could find.
What they saw underwater is the stuff of nightmares, but these divers weren't afraid. Their curiosity got the better of them. They decided to swim closer, and what they found is completely baffling.
Meet Jekabs And Alina
Jekabs and Alina Andrushaitis are a married couple. They live in Latvia and they are the creators of "Reverie Chaser," a rapidly growing travel blog. These two have blogged about their adventures and have traveled nearly a quarter of the countries in the world.
They started the blog over four years ago after they won a story competition in National Geographic Latvia magazine. Jekabs takes all of the pictures for the blog and Alina does all of the writing.
One Of Their Most Eventful Trips
In 2016, Jekabs and Alina traveled to Estonia to visit the flooded prison. They wanted to take pictures of the ruins for their blog. They went on three separate dives so they could get all the photos they needed of this sprawling site.
The dives weren't entirely safe (or legal) but Jekabs and Alina are dedicated to their travel blog, and they were willing to face a little bit of danger to get some truly remarkable photographs.
Welcome To Estonia
Estonia is a small country in northern Europe that's bordered by Latvia in the south and Russia in the east. The country is only 17,462 square miles, which is around twice the size of New Jersey.
Estonia is full of beautiful landscapes, forests, lakes, and natural scenery. Almost a fifth of the land in the country is designated as protected areas. The Estonian government does a great job of preserving the land's beauty and integrity.
Estonian Culture Stems From Its History
Native Estonians are most closely related to the people of Finland ethnically, however, because of the country's close proximity to Russia, the Estonian people have been influenced by Russian thinking.
In fact, in 1940, Estonia was taken over by Russia. Russia arrested 8,000 Estonians who were involved in politics and the military. Most of these prisoners were sent to labor camps and many of them were killed. It was a dark time in Estonia's history.
What's Left Of The Past
The dilapidated prison that Jekabs and Alina visited in Estonia is located in Rummy, which can be found 25 miles away from Estonia's capital, Tallin. The ruins consist of two broken structures that were originally built in the 1930s.
The industrial structure is known as the Rummu quarry, and it's an open-pit limestone mine. Not far from the mine are two jail complexes. These structures are now completely non-functional. The remains exist as a reminder of what once was.
The Conditions In The Prison
While Estonia was under Soviet control, the prisoners worked as slaves for the regime. The convicts worked in the mine under very dangerous conditions. Many of the prisoners died because the conditions in the mine and the prison were so poor.
At one point, the prisoners decided to go on a hunger strike, which was especially dangerous given that they were under the control of the USSR. For decades, Estonia was not a safe place to live.
Estonia Was Granted Independence
After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the soviets left Estonia and other surrounding countries. Estonia became an independent nation within two years. After the Soviets left, the quarry and the prison were abandoned. The quarry was abandoned in 1991, and the prisons were permanently closed in 2012.
While these institutions are no longer functional, remains of the buildings that once stood are still in the country to this day. These remains serve as a reminder of the horrors of Soviet rule.
In Came The Flood
While the quarry served as a working mine, it required regular pumping to prevent flooding. After the site was abandoned, there was nobody there to pump out water, so the groundwater seeped in and flooded the whole area.
All of the equipment, buildings, and surrounding trees were drowned. Now you can only see a couple of the site's structures above the water level. Most of the remains lie under this newly formed lake. Jekabs and Alina wanted to see what was under the surface.
Now It's A Popular Swimming Spot
Now that the water has covered up the horrors of the past, this site could even be called a place of beauty. Now there's a beach that borders clean, inviting water, and the spot is a popular tourist destination.
Estonia's national tourist board promotes the quarry as a nice place to go for a walk. The website says, "the hike in the fresh air is enjoyable and engaging." If you didn't know about Estonia's history, you would never guess that this place used to be a prison.
Alina's View Of The Quarry
On her blog, Alina went into detail about just how popular this place is: "When you walk inside you will see dozens of people enjoying themselves on the beach – grilling sausages, swimming, listening to music and smoking shisha," she wrote on "Reverie Chaser".
“There are plenty of Lithuanians, Latvians, and locals here… You might think this is a city beach, just all the run-down buildings and the 'no swimming' sign might make you suspicious.”
A Different View From Underneath
While the site looks gorgeous from above, once you get under the water, the whole place has a very different vibe. Jekabs and Alina dove into the water three times. On their first dive, they saw some submerged lamp posts, pieces of concrete, and even entire buildings.
Their dive was interrupted by some overly excited swimmers, though. Alina wrote, "Only half-joking [our dive master] says that sometimes people jump right to the places they see the bubbles coming up – on top of divers."
Why You Shouldn't Jump Into The Water
While it might seem like fun to jump off of the half-submerged buildings into the water, it actually isn't the best idea. Just below the surface of the water are a whole bunch of hazardous obstacles that could cause some life-threatening injuries, if you aren't careful.
Watch out for rebar, razor wire, and rusted machinery. Basically, you want to make sure you get a tetanus shot before you go swimming in Rummu. Alina and Jekabs were more than prepared.
Some Injuries Have Occurred In The Past
In 2014, a 17-year-old girl decided to jump into the water in Rummu. She jumped from a ruined building and ended up injuring her back pretty severely.
Some people have even died in these waters. In July 2016, Estonian authorities found a man's body in the quarry. He was 35-years-old and he died from drowning. Even though this place is a popular tourist attraction, that doesn't mean that it's all that safe.
The Second Dive
The second time they dove into the lake, Alina and Jekabs discovered an underwater forest. The only problem was, the water in this area was pretty murky, so they weren't able to see much, other than the bright yellow flippers of other divers.
Apparently, it's better to visit the underwater forest in the winter when the water is clearer. During the winter, the water is clear down to 130 feet deep. Alina and Jekabs may not plan on coming back here though...
It's Impossible To Escape Without A Few Scrapes And Bruises
Adventures like this one always come with a degree of risk. Alina and Jekabs did sustain some minor injuries. Alina wrote, "The trees are grown over with algae, so seem soft, but many have clams growing over, and you can get cut. We tested ourselves, and it bleeds nastily underwater. There are also abandoned objects underwater – tires, pots and other things…”
This is not an adventure for the faint of heart. Approach these ruins with caution.
How Deep Is The Quarry?
After stopping for a quick bite to eat, Alina and Jekabs decided to complete their third dive on the other side of the quarry. They saw some half-submerged buildings that were too broken down to enter, but they wanted to explore the area around the buildings.
The quarry isn't that deep. It only reaches 43 feet below the surface of the water. Alina and Jekab mostly stayed around 20 to 30 feet below the surface.
Rummu's Been Featured In Movies
If you're looking at these photos and thinking, man this place is spooky, you're not alone. This location caught the attention of several visual artists because of its distinctly creepy look.
Rummu was featured in a 2015 short film by Einer Kuusk called The Most Beautiful Day. The movie is an apocalyptic fantasy thriller which comments on Soviet-era themes. Also, this location was featured in the music video for the 2015 song "Faded" by Alan Walker.
Possible Future Uses
The Estonian government still isn't sure what to do with these old ruins. Some architecture students at the Estonian Academy of Arts (EKA) started thinking about what this space could be used for back in 2015.
Eventually, they decided to turn the site into a technology park, although that idea is still in its early stages. It will probably be a while before this site is anything other than some old, rusty buildings under a quarry.
Wait, This Is All Illegal?
So, there's one thing that we forgot to mention. This site is actually privately owned, so diving here is actually considered trespassing. There aren't too many signs around that say you can't enter the area, though. There are signs that say swimming is forbidden.
"Would it be right to visit?" asks Alina. “[The] owners are starting to introduce measures to limit who can enter,” she says. “It seems that if you want to see the place, you should do it as soon as possible.”
A Turkish Lake Holds Secrets Of An Ancient Kingdom Waiting To Be Discovered
There is a gorgeous lake in present-day Turkey called Lake Van that is known for its stunning turquoise water. People have been coming to the lake for decades to admire the majesty of nature.
The lake is located right next to an impressively tall mountain, lush green foliage, and an ancient church that sits on the edge of a cliff. In this spot, architecture and nature blend to create a landscape that's part man-made and part divinely inspired. Keep reading to find out what archeologists found under those murky waters and why it was such an important discovery.
A Volcanic Eruption
Back in ancient times, a volcano erupted and the flow of lava ended up blocking Lake Van's outlet. This lake is at a really high altitude: 5,380 feet above sea level. Most water would freeze at that altitude, but Lake Van is salty enough that it stays fluid, even when there’s snow all around it.
Could it be that whatever is at the bottom of this lake ended up there because of the volcano?
A Rising Tide
Lake Van was formed over 600,000 years ago. As you can imagine, the Earth looked quite different in those times. The water levels of this lake have risen since the lake was first formed.
It's entirely possible that the artifact at the bottom of the lake was once on dry land, but the rising water eventually engulfed and sunk the structure. We may never know the real reason this lake carries so many secrets.
A Hidden Treasure
Scientists have always been fascinated with Lake Van because of how old it is. People have been studying this lake for decades, trying to figure out more about its history and ontology.
The scientists were focused on the chemistry and geography of the lake, so they didn't notice this gigantic structure in the depths of Lake Van. If one momentous event hadn’t happened, that structure may never have been discovered.
An Ancient Kingdom
Maps from the 9th century look a lot different from today's maps. Here you can see that Lake Van was once very close to Tushpa, the capital of Urartu. During the Iron Age, Urartu was a thriving kingdom.
The kingdom was active from 860-560 BC— at least, that’s what legend tells us. However, there has been no physical evidence of this kingdom ever existing. No evidence that is, until now.
A New Expedition
In 2017, a group of archaeologists, historians, and photographers traveled to Lake Van based on a hunch that they might discover something amazing. They had heard stories about an ancient kingdom and the structures they may have left behind. But they had no idea whether those stories were true or not.
The curious team thought that it couldn't hurt to do some exploring. If they didn’t find any artifacts, at least they might learn something new about the lake.
A Prior Mission
This lake had been around for hundreds of thousands of years, so the explorers and researchers thought that there had to be something lurking in its depths. They planned to spend weeks looking for proof of this ancient kingdom.
In the 1950s and '60s, researchers had gone on a similar mission. And when they did, they found something pretty interesting… Keep reading to find out more about what they discovered.
A New Look At An Old Site
In the 1950s, scientists were aware that there might be some sort of ancient structure at the bottom of Lake Van. They heard that the structure was built during the Middle Ages between the years 476 and 1450 A.D. In the '50s and '60s, scientists didn’t have access to the kind technology that we have now, that aids in making these types of underwater discoveries.
On this second expedition in 2017, the scientists would be able to discover much more than their past counterparts.
The group of archaeologists, photographers, and researchers teamed up with some of the very best divers in the area. The team was assembled by Yan Yüzüncü Yıl University. The University was funding an underwater excavations study related to Lake Van.
All of these people set off to discover more about this deep, ancient lake. Little did they know, they were about to make a discovery that would illuminate a people's entire history.
The Lost City
This lake has been a hot spot for explorers for decades. People have been coming here in search of a long lost city, similar to the City of Atlantis. Divers have found old bottles, bits of glass, some interesting stones, but no evidence of a lost civilization.
This team of researchers wasn't expecting to find something as magical as the sunken City of Atlantis, so when they did, they almost couldn’t believe their eyes.
An Amazing Discovery
The team put on their diving gear and got their cameras ready. They dove deep below the surface of Lake Van, where they found the lost kingdom.
The entire research team was completely overwhelmed, as they knew the significance of this discovery. They hoped they would find something interesting, but to actually locate a 3,000-year-old building was beyond their wildest expectations. Their dive was about to result in uncovering ancient history.
Search And You Shall Find
Deep in the water sitting on the floor of the lake was a huge castle that had been perfectly preserved by the salty water, after all of these years. The divers and researchers had searched long and hard, and this was the reward for their dedication. It was a moment that none of them would ever forget.
The head of the diving team, Tahsin Ceylan, had actually set out on a completely different mission, so he was especially surprised by this find.
Who Else Is Lurking In The Depths?
Ceylan wasn't looking for a castle, he was looking for a monster. There was a rumor that had been circulating for centuries that there was some kind of mythical sea creature living in Lake Van.
Ceylan said, "There was a rumor that there might be something under the water, but most archaeologists and museum officials told us that we won’t find anything." Do we think Ceylan could be on to something?
The Size Of The Thing
At the bottom of the lake, the ancient castle sat as though it were on dry land, in impeccable condition. The team wondered how the castle ended up at the bottom of the lake, so they started collecting clues to examine.
The castle walls were about 4 meters high and the structure was about a kilometer wide. The researchers wondered how a castle so massive could end up at the bottom of a lake without documentation as to what happened.
An Answer After Years Of Questions
This castle seemed to be evidence that the long lost Urartu kingdom actually existed. The team had unlocked new evidence that could teach us a great deal about the Iron Age.
The area around the lake was also known as the Kingdom of Van. It existed from the 9th to the 6th century BCE. The scientists on the team hypothesized that the kingdom had been destroyed due to rising water levels.
Learning More About The Uratians
The scientists believed that when the Urartian people first built their castle, the water levels of the lake were dramatically lower. The people must have thought that it was a good idea to build their kingdom next to a water source, even if the water was brackish.
There are probably more Urartian structures at the bottom of Lake Van which means that there's more exploring that needs to be done.
Looking At The Numbers
Some of the sections of the castle were still standing strong, while some walls had disintegrated into piles of loose rocks. Sections of the castle and the city surrounding it were found dispersed along the shore of the lake.
The scientists started looking at the quantifiable data. They measured all of the standing walls and wondered how deep they were buried into the floor of the lake. The more they discovered, the more questions they had.
Who Could This Castle Belong To?
The discovery of this castle answers a lot of questions, but it also brings up even more. The team wanted to learn more about the people who had constructed this castle. They also wanted to know who lived in the castle before it was swallowed up by the lake.
After inspecting the walls of the castle for some time, Ceylan's team discovered a drawing of a lion etched into the rock.
Back when Urartu was a thriving kingdom, they used a lion motif to represent themselves. At first, the archaeologists on the team thought that this was irrefutable evidence that this was an Urartian castle, but another archaeologist named Geoffrey Summers had a different opinion.
He said, "It looks more medieval than something from the Urartian kingdom." If Geoffrey is right, it could mean that this castle was still standing (outside of the lake) during the medieval period.
Even More Experts
The researchers determined that some of the stones that the Urartians used to build their castle were originally made during the medieval period. The Urartians were recycling these materials from previously created structures.
An archaeology professor at Marmara University said, "The walls [seem] medieval or late antique period rather than Urartu. Urartian never used any material between ashlar wall stones to connect each other." At that point in the mission, it seemed as though everyone had a different idea about who built this castle.
The Scholar Of Lake Van
A moderately famous scholar named P. Hulin published a report on the ancient mystery surrounding Lake Van. He wrote, "a lofty wall of later than Urartian times runs under the lake."
So, some experts think this is a Uratian castle, some think it's pre-Uratian, and some think it’s post-Uratian. So which one of them is right? P. Hulin had a few more things to say about this intriguing and mysterious castle.
The Writing On The Wall
As part of his research, Hulin discovered inscriptions in artifacts found around Lake Van that spoke about the Urartian King, Rusa. The problem is, these writings had survived all kinds of weather over hundreds of years. The writing wasn't as clear as it used to be.
Hulin was going to have to pull out all the stops if he was going to figure out what was originally written on those stones.
Rusa The Conqueror
King Rusa became the King of Urartu after his father, King Sarduri II died. While his father was still alive, Rusa was a conqueror who expanded the Kingdom of Urartu. During that time, he took over several Anatolian territories.
Once Rusa became king, however, his conquering days would come back to haunt him. You can't just take somebody else’s land and expect them to be okay with it. There were consequences on the horizon.
A New King
Now that King Rusa was on the throne, the Assyrians had an idea. They appointed a new king by the name of Tiglath-Pileser III. That king instructed his people to regroup, build up their strength, and prepare for battle.
He was going to take back the land that had been taken away from him. He wasn't going to be a weak leader like the king before him was. He was prepared to fight back.
A Battle For Power
King Tiglath-Pileser III was preparing his loyal subjects to take back the land that King Rusa's father had taken control of when he was on the throne. Some researchers thought that this was the moment that the Urartian castle disappeared into the lake. Maybe some kind of battle broke out and the castle was completely displaced.
We may never know what really happened to that castle, but we can test all of these theories against the evidence found in the lake.
A Fight To The Finish
When King Rusa took over the Urartian kingdom from his father, he had to immediately fight off King Tiglath-Pileser III's troops. These people had been training for a battle, and it was abundantly clear that nothing (short of brute force) was going to stop them from taking their land back.
Fights over land ownership dominate much of history (and much of current affairs, if you think about it). Land has always meant power, and people have always wanted power.
Hard Work Pays Off
The Urartu kingdom was invaded time and time again, and it had to repair itself each time it was attacked. After all of these battles, the kingdom was gradually deteriorating. Each time, the kingdom needed more resources to make the repairs.
King Tiglath-Pileser III's army was breaking down the Urartu kingdom bit by bit. They saw their efforts working, and believed that with patience and diligence, the kingdom would fall and the land would be theirs for the taking.
The Urartians Admit Defeat
The Urartu people were suffering. They were running out of money and resources and they were growing tired of defending themselves. Eventually, they were forced to admit defeat. They handed over their land and their castles to the people of Assyria.
King Rusa spent most of his reign at war with the Assyrians. In the end, he lost both his kingdom and his mind. He couldn't keep the land he had conquered and felt totally defeated.
The Research Continues
The discovery of the ancient castle at the bottom of Lake Van as attracted many scientists, archaeologists, researchers, and divers to the area. Everyone is determined to find out more about this mysterious structure and how it ended up so far below the surface of the lake.
There is so much more to discover about this massive artifact. Hopefully, the experts will be able to come to a consensus and tell us more about the Urartian people and their kingdom.