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Outer Moscow, Russian Federation – July 2019. A vertical well with a staircase known as “The Cat’s Hole” – the only open entrance into the Syanovsk caves. It got its name in the 1960s before the authorities began to destroy the entrances. Then there were many more again, but the remaining ones were much wider. It was possible to squeeze and struggle through. The Cat’s Hole was opened up by spelestologists in 1988. In 2007, they strengthened the well with reinforced concrete buttresses to prevent collapses.

In ancient underground quarries, all is in full swing by day and night. Both adventurers and serious researchers – speleologists and spelestologists – come here. Speleology is the study of naturally – occurring caves, and spelestology is the study of underground cavities not used for intended purposes.

In the fourteenth century, in Outer Moscow people began mining stone underground using closed methods. It lasted until the nineteenth century. Under Stalin, entrance to the underground was strictly forbidden, but this did not stop people going on adventures. In the 1960s, the masses started to venture into the underground. Then they started to blow up the entrances to caves. Access to the underground became much more difficult, but the interest for anthropogenic underground caves did not cease to exist. Starting in the 1980s, spelestologists and enthusiasts again started to look for underground caverns, previously forbidden in Soviet times.

Outer Moscow, Russian Federation – June 2019. The living grotto in the Syanovsk caves. In Syanovsk, the grottos belong to different groups of spelestologists. Strangers do not like it here. Those who come for the first time can spend a night in separate living grottos.

The analysis of old rubble, digging up and exploring passages, and topographic surveys all require staying underground for several days at a time. In the caves specialists would start to allocate grottos for toilets, sleeping, eating and collecting water, as well as strengthening areas that were prone to collapsing. The walls were covered with drawings, inscriptions, artefacts and graffiti. These new traditions and rules resulted in the formation of new subcultures.

Visiting caves now is very entertaining. More and more often, they are being visited by thrill seekers, people who like to drink, unofficial excursion groups, and bloggers. Often people go underground without knowing basic safety precautions. That said, the risks in underground caves are not few: one could get lost or end up in a rock collapse. Spelestologists think negatively of amateurs who try to prevent filming and unofficial tours. A few of the researchers carry out excavations and study the underground caverns, but the increase in popularity is starting to disturb their work. They try to keep the whereabouts of newly discovered caves secret.

The photographs in this project were taken in the Moscow Oblast, in the Syankovsk and Novlensk caves, and also in the Kamkinsk quarry, more well-known as Kiseli.

Outer Moscow, Russian Federation – February 2019. The main openings have a wideness of 1.5 metres and a height of between 0.4 and 3.5 metres. Spelestologists can move around the caves, sometimes having to crouch. Some of the openings have very narrow holes which must be crawled through.
Outer Moscow, Russian Federation – August 2019. The high level of moisture helps the growth of mould in the caves.
Outer Moscow, Russian Federation – July 2019 The map of the Syanovsk caves. Topographic photographs of underground passages are taken by different groups of spelestologists. Because of this there are often mistakes which result in people wrongly mapping the routes.
Outer Moscow, Russian Federation – February 2019. The water point where drinking water can be collected. It is made from stretched polythene with a catcher underneath. The collected water is boiled and drunk, or otherwise used for technical purposes.
Outer Moscow, Russian Federation – June 2019. The hall in Syanovsk. The walls of the caves are covered with drawings, inscriptions and graffiti.
Outer Moscow, Russian Federation – August 2019. Spelestologist overalls. In the caves it is dirty, dusty and damp in places. The constant temperature is somewhere between 7 and 10 degrees. Spelestologists enter the caves in changeable clothes, often in cotton or specially designed overalls, boots or shoes. Their hands are covered by gloves and heads are covered with bandanas. Hardhats are not worn in the caves. It is worth being careful underground, you can hit your head on the low ceiling at any time.
Outer Moscow, Russian Federation – February 2019. Decorations made from empty wine bottles in one of the grottos.
Outer Moscow, Russian Federation – June 2019. The Altar of Desires in Syanovsk – an amusing object created by someone who visited the cave no less than five years ago.
Outer Moscow, Russian Federation – June 2019. A head attached to the walls in Syanovsk – a modern art object.
Outer Moscow, Russian Federation – February2019. A speleologist smokes in a grotto in Kiseli (in the Kamkinsk caves). The Moscow speleological clubs use the caves for scientific excursions and developing albums of topographical photos.
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Tatiana Bormatova

Tatiana Bormatova is a Sevastopol based photographer, was born in 1993 in Moscow. She currently engaged in personal projects in Russia. Her work focuses… More »

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