His wife wanted a potato pit. But once this Armenian villager started digging, he just couldn’t stop.
In 1985, Levon Arkelian's wife asked the 44-year-old to dig a hole under their house, in the village of Arinj, where she could keep potatoes cool...
But the professional builder said that once he started burrowing, the rock "drew him in."
Over the next 23 years, he chipped out an entire underground world, using just a chisel and hammer.
At first, progress was slow as he tapped through solid black basalt.
But a few meters below the surface, Levon broke into the underlying tuff.
The buttery volcanic stone made his burrowing easier, and he began to experiment with flourishes of decoration.
Working as much as 18 hours each day, Levon chipped out entire rooms, corridors, and stairwells that run more than 20 meters deep.
With plenty of time but limited money, many of the cave’s decorations were made from salvaged odds and ends.
Levon died in 2008, leaving the hand-chipped chambers to his wife, Tosya (pictured), who now runs a museum for the tourists who stop by.
Along with the shredded boots her husband used underground…
...Levon’s chisels and hammers are also on display.
Tosya shows off the buckets Levon used to remove crumbled stone tailings.
The tons of waste stone that Levon’s chisel produced was given to a local building team, which used it in construction projects.
Tosya says she and Levon, who she remembers for his “terrific sense of humor,” quarreled over the project. “He ruined his health because of this hole,” she tells RFE/RL.
Tosya says she feels sadness when she descends into the underground world her late husband chipped out, but also gratitude: “I feel proud of what he left to me and to our grandkids. It’s a gift.”