Real Dungeons 1: Labirintus

Posted: 22 June 2012 in Reflections

Recently, I visited Budapest, and took advantage of that to investigate their honest-to-goodness D&D style dungeon, called Labirintus. Here’s the first in what will hopefully be a series on Real Dungeons.


About 350,000 years ago, hot water springs and specific rock types led to the formation of caves under what is now Castle Hill.

During the Mediaeval period, a two-level system evolved; cellars were dug 3-5 metres below the houses on the hill to store wine and food, and wells went down into and beyond the lower level, about 15 metres below ground, to access fresh water. Over time these were connected to each other and the caves, forming a labyrinth. Arguably there is a third level as well, since where the water from the springs encountered rock it couldn’t penetrate, it ran off the hill sideways, creating sloping passages. The interconnections made it possible to go down one cellar, cross the city underground, and emerge somewhere else, which was useful for military purposes. The complex was also used by townspeople to shelter from fires and battles.

Later, as the vineyards disappeared and piped water appeared, the labyrinth was used for dumping rubbish and debris. It was largely forgotten, living on in legend, until geologists rediscovered it in the 19th century, exploring and repairing the network and opening it to the public in 1935. At about the same time, the army built bunkers, bomb shelters and a small hospital in it; these facilities were upgraded during the Cold War era for civil defence.

Size and Layout

I was able to gain access to about 1500 metres of the 10,000 metre length of the labyrinth; the overall floor area is about 40,000 square metres. Walls were generally smooth and made of small stone blocks – they reminded me of dry stone walls. The corridors ranged from just under two metres high (I had to stoop in a few places to avoid banging my head) to about 2.5, and from one metre to 2.5 wide – the average passage was wide enough for two people to pass each other, just, and the roof had either an arched ceiling (if low) or raw exposed rock (if high). The average room looked to be about 5-6 metres on a side, and was surprisingly square, although I can’t tell if that was the original wall, something from the 1930s, or a modern reconstruction.

If you prefer D&D style 5′ squares, that’s a series of looping corridors, one square wide and about 6,500 squares long, connecting about 300 chambers each 4×4 squares.

Here are a few images from the labirintus website to whet your appetite. I think they are public domain, but if you know otherwise, let me know.


Side view of the labyrinth layout.



Two plan views of the layout


One of the better-lit and better-preserved sections.
The arches are roughly two metres high, I think.


The labyrinth has a temperature of 10-15 Centigrade and 90% humidity; it’s cool, damp (water dripping from the ceiling in a lot of places) and smells of mould, but not strongly. Except where lights have been run in, it is extremely dark. Even with the lights on and arrows pointing to the exit, I managed to get lost once while down there; you’d need lanterns, chalk, and possibly a ball of string.

What Was Missing

No monsters, although I suppose during the Ottoman occupation you might have encountered resistance fighters and Janissaries hunting each other in the dark. (I have no evidence of that, mind.)

No traps, although blundering around in the dark I suppose you could have fallen down one of the wells, or just the stairs.

No treasure, unless you count wine during the Middle Ages.

  1. I’ve always liked using real places as the basis for fantasy locations. The floor plan for the Seal the Rift! Kith’takharos adventure was inspired by the sewer system of Thorpe, Minnesota. I think the floor plan for the Harlass Orn library in The Missing Harvesters was based a Mycenaean tomb.

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