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Atlas Obscura Vienna Sewer System

Beneath the streets of Vienna lies another network of passages: its historic sewer system that dates back to the mid-1800s. It’s one of the most impressive sewer systems in Europe, but this underworld of Vienna is famous for a very different reason: its iconic appearance in the 1949 film The Third Man. Set in the divided, war-torn Vienna of 1947, the film, starring Orson Welles, portrays the issues prevalent in post-war Vienna, including the division of the city into sectors, the black market, and penicillin theft. It eventually culminates in a tense, eerie scene featuring Welles running through the sewers, brilliantly atmospheric in black-and-white and with dramatic camera angles. It made the tunnels famous—to whatever extent a sewer can become a celebrity.

This system of tunnels and underground rivers was the most complex in Europe at the time it was built, and was widely expanded after a debilitating cholera outbreak in 1830. Storm waters and sewage were channeled into a system for the first time and kept out of the Danube and its tributaries.

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