7 Buildings with Secret Passages

Discover how historical figures escaped persecution, sieges, assassinations, and affairs

By Google Arts & Culture

Predjama Castle, Slovenia

Teetering on the edge of a cliff, and sheltered by a natural rock arch, Predjama Castle would be difficult to take in even the best circumstances. In the 15th Century the castle was besieged, after the cruel lord of the castle, Erasmus of Lueg, offended the Holy Roman Emperor.

During the long siege, Erasmus had a secret tunnel dug through the cave and out the other side. He used this to allow resupplies to reach the castle and his troops to pillage the local land. According to legend, the siege only ended when Erasmus was killed by his own men.

Bran Castle, Romania

Often claimed to be the home of both Vlad the Impaler and Bram Stoker's Dracula, historians and literary critics aren't so sure, but everyone can agree that Bran Castle in Transylvania, Romania does look very haunting and dramatic, and it certainly holds secrets…

The twisting maze of rooms hides a secret passage from the first floor to the third floor, which would have allowed frightened officials to make a hasty exit in an emergency. The passageway was hidden behind a fake fireplace and was only discovered in the 1920s.

Coughton Court, England

The Tudor mansion of Coughton Court in Warwickshire, England, was built by the Throckmorton family in the mid 1500s. The Throckmortons were Catholics in a newly Protestant country. They faced persecution for practising their faith, but they refused to abandon it.

Instead, they had a 'priest hole' built into Coughton Court; a secret room for hiding altars, crosses, and visiting priests, if they were raided by the authorities. Many rich Catholic families around England did the same, and many lives were saved by these secret chambers.

The Olde Bell, England

In the seaside village of Rye, England stands The Olde Bell. This quaint, historic pub is the perfect place for a pint of ale, but in the 1730s you might not find yourself welcome; the pub was used by the Hawkhurst Gang, and like any good outfit, they had a getaway plan…

…and The Mermaid Inn

A secret tunnel led from The Olde Bell under a street and a couple of houses, to The Mermaid Inn. If the long arm of the law came knocking, the Hawkhurst Gang could move themselves and their smuggled brandy and tobacco out of reach.

The Passetto di Borgo, The Vatican City

The high walls of the Passetto di Borgo mean it's hardly secret, but it has saved the life of at least two popes. This crenelated raised walkway runs for 1km from the Papal apartments in the Vatican City, to the Castel Sant'Angelo - the formidable fortress in the centre of Rome.

The Passetto was built in 1277 by Pope Nicholas III, though thankfully he didn't have to use it. It was however used by Pope Alexander VI in 1494 and later by Pope Clement VII, after his bodyguard were massacred during the 1527 Sack of Rome.

At the other end is the Castel Sant'Angelo. Originally an ancient Roman Mausoleum, this enormous stone structure was turned into a fortified Papal palace and prison. Today, this imposing building is a museum.

The Vasari Corridor, Italy

Not to be outdone by mere Popes, the Medici family of Florence had their own secret passage built in 1565 to connect their home in the Palazzo Pitti with the seat of government in the Palazzo Vecchio.

The architect Giorgio Vasari designed the raised and covered walkway, which is now known as the Vasari Corridor. The passage actually punches through several buildings on its winding way across the city, over the Arno river, and into the centre of Florence.

After taking a sharp right on the north bank and a detour via the Uffizi (then the offices of the city magistrates), the corridor takes one final leap over the Via Della Ninna and into the Palazzo Vecchio. With this elaborate passageway, the paranoid Medici could move safely.

The Palace of Versailles, France

Privacy was not an option at the Palace of Versailles. During the reign of the Bourbon Kings, between 3000 and 10,000 courtiers and staff present on any day - there were few places to hide from prying eyes. For pleasure-obsessed monarchs, this was a bit of a problem.

Perhaps its no surprise that many private rooms contained hidden passages to allow special guests discreet access at all hours of the day. Here, in the Queen's Bedchamber, is a secret doorway with a particularly special story…

To the left of the Queen's bed is the faint outline of a door. It's through this passage that Marie Antoinette escaped barefoot when the palace was stormed by a crowd of poor market women on the 5 October 1789, in the early days of the French Revolution.

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