To this day, researchers are puzzling over the old tunnel systems in Bavaria and Austria. The so-called earth stables are still a mystery today: Who built them? What was their purpose?
Earth stables: what exactly are they?
“Earth stables […] are subterranean systems of corridors and chambers that were used in the context of rural settlements in the High and Late Middle Ages for escape and hiding purposes. The phenomenon is known from several regions of Europe, but the main area of distribution extends from the Bavarian Forest through Upper and Lower Austria to Slovakia. Built using mining methods, the systems usually appear under old farms, sometimes also under churches and cemeteries,” explains the Historisches Lexikon Bayern.
This is what Erdstallen is all about:
- Erdstall comes from Lower Austria and is derived from “Stelle” or “Stollen”.
- There is only one entrance and a circular walkway or bottleneck
- Other characteristics: niches, benches, steps
To this day it is unclear who built the earth stables and why. “This is an incredibly big archaeological puzzle that nobody has understood yet,” reveals Birgit Symader, chairwoman of the Arbeitskreis für Erdstallforschung eV to National Geographic.
Finds in earth stables
So far, a few relics have been found in earth stables. These include ceramic discs, charcoal and organic material that can no longer be identified. These can be dated from the High Middle Ages to the late 13th century.
However, they only provide information about when the earth stables were last used, but not when and by whom they were built.
The Arbeitskreis für Erdstallforschung eV explains that the current level of knowledge is not sufficient to decode the original function of the Erdstallen. No clear purpose can be derived from their construction. Nevertheless, some scientists express assumptions about the mysterious tunnels:
“Some assume that earth stables were built as functional buildings, for example as places of refuge, hiding places or storerooms for a profane use. Other theories, on the other hand, assume that these subterranean structures were created as places of worship or sacred buildings in connection with pre-Christian rituals or high medieval ideas about the afterlife.”
Working Group for Erdstallforschung eV
To this day, the meaning and purpose of Erdstallen remain only guesswork.
Source: Historical Encyclopedia of Bavaria, National Geographic, Working Group for Erdstallforschung eV