While someflip the pages of glossy travel catalogs in search for brilliance andsunshine, others scour the world looking for urban decay and descend into itsmurky dimension. The funny thing is that what the latter do, can totally changeyour perception of things that are normally considered useless and ugly.
‘Appearancesare deceptive’, ‘There’s no accounting for tastes’, ‘Don’t judge a book by itscover’ and ‘Beauty is only skin deep’ – they all apply to urban exploration targets. It’snot really certain whether the idea behind urbex is to show that ugliness is nota universal term and that beauty can be found in every single aspect of life (or death),but the truth is that photographic documentations of urbex expeditions arenothing short of artistic brilliance. Of course, it’s not a secret that askilled shutterbug can turn rubbish into gold, but when you look at the pics,you really feel those rotting, forsaken places do have a beautiful soul thatsurvives death. But let’s get to the basics.
The core ofurban exploration
Known under a variety of names, including urbanspelunking, draining, urban hacking or even infiltration, urban exploration isbasically exploration of all sorts of man-made structures that either have beenabandoned and have fallen into ruin or, quite the contrary, are still active but normallyunseen parts of working buildings and urban utilities. From abandoned asylumsand power plants to catacombs, storm drains and steam tunnels – the scarier thetargets, the merrier (it seems), which naturally brings on the question of legalityand safety.
Let’s face it, urban exploration is not the safest of hobbies, to the point that the practice is not recommended unless you are trained by a professional. Rotten floors, entrapment hazards, toxic waste, flash floods, broken glass, stray voltage, hostile squatters and guard dogs – urbex comes with a host of inherent dangers and requires profound knowledge of the environment, as well as specialized equipment, including respirators and climbing gear.
Another thing is that from a legal point of view, a considerable number of urban exploration trips may be considered trespassing or burglary, and as acts that often violate local or regional laws may be subject to arrest and punishment. It is important to note, however, that genuine urban explorers are guided by a strict code of conduct that forbids acts of vandalism, damage (locks included) and theft. Some explorers will even request permission for entry in advance.
Main targets of urban exploration
Abandonments are by far the most popular and extensive group of urban exploration targets. Structures such as hospitals, schools, swimming pools, factories, amusement parks and railway stations are filled with an exquisite air of historical mystery and present particularly attractive photographic opportunities.
Activebuildings, rooftops, utility tunnels
Lest you think urban exploration is all about the forgotten and decaying aspects of civilization, active structures receive a lot of attention too. For instance, there’s a popular tradition among student to explore steam tunnels on college campuses. This, however, is often regarded as infiltration and involves the greatest risk of legal consequences. Entering places such as mechanical rooms, elevator shafts and utility tunnels with heating pipes obviously carries considerable life hazards.
Ghost towns are usually turned into official touristattractions by virtue of their historical value, but they too constitute anattractive target for urban explorers, especially those without much of arisk-taking streak.
Cemeteries,catacombs and machine graveyards
If you’re an urban explorer, you’ve got to haveat least a little dose of morbid interest in death… or perhaps a belief thatthe apparent end is only a gate to a different quality of existence. Among the most wanted targets are definitely the mines of Paris, despite restrictionsand heavy fines. A limited part of the network which hasbeen used as underground ossuary, known as the Catacombs of Paris, can belegally visited, but obviously, there’s a lot more to explore than the 1,7 km longsection (a tiny part of a 280 km long network). Urban explorers who illegallytour the mines are called cataphiles.
Sewer, storm drains, transit tunnels
Oftenreferred to as ‘draining’ and gathering groups of devoted enthusiasts such as theCave Clan in Australia, entering storm drains may be considered a separate formof urban exploration. So unyielding is the curiosity of certain explorers thatthey even enter sanitary sewers, which are by the way considered the mostdangerous targets due to risk of poisoning by toxic gases.
Areyou an urban explorer? Do tell us about your targets and motivations!