Saturday, April 7, 2007

Levon's Divine Underground

Katie visited from D.C. a couple weeks ago, so on a Sunday afternoon, she and I, Taline and Sonya drove out to the Yerevan suburb of Arindj to visit Levon's Divine Underground. Though the name would be fitting for a hip club or a punk band, it actually refers to a network of subterranean caves dug by one man - 66-year-old Levon Arakelyan. Levon has been digging these caves for 22 years. He says that God told him he will need to dig another 28 years before he is finished, and before the reason for his digging is revealed to him. This is Levon.

The directions to Levon's house read something like this:"make a left at the post office, park at the end of the road, walk down the dirt path and take a right at the rusty pipe." When you get to Arindj, you basically walk around asking folks where Levon's house is. This is his house.

We banged on the door for a few minutes, until Levon popped out. Didn't bother asking us why we were there; apparently the sight of four Western-looking girls with cameras was pretty self-explanatory. We walked through this door ...

... and entered into Levon's underground world. Levon began digging after his wife, Tosya, asked him to dig her a pit to keep her potatos fresh. He dug a couple of meters (the deeper the hole, the colder the potatos), and then decided he quite liked digging. He kept going.

That was in 1985. He did not have an overarching vision. Levon says that directions come to him in dreams and visions. Once he begins his day's work (he told us he digs 18 hours a day), he knows how many centimeters he will dig, and in what direction.

When you enter Levon's Divine Underground, you descend on a staircase made of what appears to be soft clay. Levon digs the rooms without any support structure, a fact that sat uneasily in my mind, particularly when I considered that Armenia is earthquake-prone. Still, Levon has had thousands of visitors and no one has been buried alive yet.

This is the prayer room. Levon considers himself a religious man, though he usually spends his Sundays digging. After he had completed the room, he says, he realized it was the perfect place for people to make a wish. He asked which of us wanted to make a wish in the room, and then made the rest of us clear out into another room while each took her turn.

Above are Levon's tools, and a giant pile of the dirt he removes with them, sitting on the street outside his house.

The End.


  1. Brilliant, Masha:
    You're right, "Levon's Divine Underground" is a fabulous name for a club. Perhaps it could be franchised for Yerevan and Kabul?

    Who knows why people dig? Or perhaps, who know why so few people dig?

    Thanks for the photos--it makes me feel like I was there--cold and damp, too.


  2. Hi Masha,

    What an amazing find!

    I like the new photo blog better than just flipping through your albums. I think your writing and photos really compliment one another.

    I also like this format better because I can subscribe to your rss feed and keep up on your posts.

    Good to hear from you!

  3. Levon looks like a nice guy, but I don't think he has both oars in the water! Still, it looks like an impressive bit of engineering on his part!

  4. Masha-jan,

    I kind of like the idea of the blog/photo spread. Although the pics don't have your witty & humorous remarks, the story format is great. Plus, it gives me the opportunity to creepily lurk in the shadows and read what everyone else writes!

    Looking at the pictures though, I'm quite impressed in the level of safety measures taken. I clearly see a handrail on one of the stairways - an item not seen on all (or even many) of the stairways I saw when I was there. The place also has plenty of light - that too was missing in many of the stairways I climbed.

    My unsolicited personal opinion is that you ask for too much when you require supports every so often...

    On a side note, wow, but Levon is sexy! Doesn't Jeremy get a little jealous when you visit these people?!



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