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Leigh Turner

Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations and other International Organisations in Vienna

Part of UK in Austria

19th October 2017 Vienna, Austria

Journey to the Centre of the Earth – in Styria

The tunnel is steep: I clutch a rope and lower myself towards an aluminium ladder below.  Water drips, gathering in pools.  Yet when I reach the bottom, a beautifully-carved stone passageway curves around a corner.

The tunnels and menhirs of eastern Styria (Steiermark) are remarkable.  According to the research body Sub Terra Vorau, around 790 underground tunnels and 550 menhirs dot the rolling countryside around the picturesque monastery at Vorau.  Research suggests the tunnels could be more than 10,000 years old; but no-one knows who built them, or why.

I recently had the privilege of visiting the ancient sites.  The first surprise is that some of the tunnels are hard of access – in one case you have to enter by descending a manhole, a first for me – and then squeeze through a narrow passage not unlike potholing.  The second is the quality of the workmanship and the scale of the construction: some of the tunnels are beautiful and must have taken years or even generations to complete.  I was reminded of the underground cities of Cappadocia, in Turkey, whose origins are also lost in time.

The menhirs, too, are intriguing.  Many have circular holes in them which appear to line up with other menhirs, or with chapels built much later.  Some of the holes have been deliberately blocked with wood or stone; one menhir we saw was surmounted by an old metal cross.  All this generates a pleasing sense of mystery.  You can even go on a “Lochsteinwanderweg” (pierced menhir walk) which combines a series of menhirs, culminating at a country Gasthof specialising in cider.

Sub Terra Vorau has a programme of uncovering ancient tunnels which have silted up or been blocked; and is always looking for volunteers and researchers.  You can contact them via their website.  I look forward to learning more about the underground worlds of Styria when the next big discovery is made.

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About Leigh Turner

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of…

I hope you find this blog interesting and, where appropriate, entertaining. My role in Vienna covers the relationship between Austria and the UK as well as the diverse work of the UN and other organisations; stories here will reflect that.

About me: I arrived in Vienna in August 2016 for my second posting in this wonderful city, having first served here in the mid-1980s. My previous job was as HM Consul-General and Director-General for Trade and Investment for Turkey, Central Asia and South Caucasus based in Istanbul.

Further back: I grew up in Nigeria, Exeter, Lesotho, Swaziland and Manchester before attending Cambridge University 1976-79. I worked in several government departments before joining the Foreign Office in 1983.

Keen to go to Africa and South America, I’ve had postings in Vienna (twice), Moscow, Bonn, Berlin, Kyiv and Istanbul, plus jobs in London ranging from the EU Budget to the British Overseas Territories.

2002-6 I was lucky enough to spend four years in Berlin running the house, looking after the children (born 1992 and 1994) and doing some writing and journalism.

To return to Vienna as ambassador is a privilege and a pleasure. I hope this blog reflects that.