Mystery Behind the Damanhur Temples

The underground complex was built without the Italian government's knowledge.

ByABC News via logo
January 30, 2008, 12:57 PM

Jan. 31, 2008 — -- Hidden away in a country renowned for its architectural beauty lies a massive hand-built place of worship many tourists never see.

An entrance that looks like a mineshaft opens up to a maze carved inside the mountain holding the Damanhur Temples of Humankind in the Valchiusella Valley, about 30 miles north of Turin. Click here to learn more about the Damanhur Temples of Humankind.

Damanhur narrates the history of human potential through art. With at least nine rooms some with 25-foot high ceilings it looks as if the secret doors and passageways were built centuries ago.

In truth, the unlikely temple is no ancient wonder and was built piecemeal by 150 people over a 15-year period beginning in 1978. The work was so secret, the Italian government never knew it was going on and never gave permission for it.

"We were very good at keeping the secret," Damanhur spokeswoman Esperide Ananas said. "When there was maybe loud work going on we would play records.

"If somebody happened to hear they would think we were just having a party," she said.

The handcrafted structure is full of dramatic beauty, and each apparent dead end really leads into another mysterious hall.

"You have to think that we did that without any engineer or architect," Ananas said. "Everything has been excavated by hand."

At least as mysterious as the temple itself is the utopian society to which it belongs,The Federation of Damanhur. Damanhur, which means city of light, comprises 800 people who live in communal homes.

The spiritual group's writings are in a coded language only they understand and its dances are full of symbolic movements.

Founded in 1975, the Federation of Damanhur thinks of itself as the builders of a new civilization that stands for peace and human potential. It prides itself on being an eco-society based on ethical and spiritual values.