Even More of the Most Heavily Guarded Places on Earth


There are many ways to build a nice house. Some go for pure looks, opting to hire the flashiest architect available. Others go for comfort, and stuff the place full of luxuries and finest modern amenities. And then there are the other structures — the ones designed solely to be as secure as modern technology, large numbers of grumpy guards and/or countless tons of concrete allow. We’ve already discussed some of these extremely well-guarded locations, but it turns out we were only getting started. Here are 10 more of the most heavily guarded places in the world.   

10. Cheyenne Mountain

Cheyenne Mountain nuclear bunker complex in Colorado is one of those supposedly top secret sites that everyone and their dog knows about, which is not exactly helped by the fact that it has featured in multiple high-profile movies over the years. Still, if the powers that be decide that you’re not going in, you’re decidedly not going in.

Construction on this famous cold war structure started in 1961, when the U.S. Military hired a mining company to blast huge caverns inside the mountain. After this space had been cleared, they built a number of buildings within the chambers, fully reinforced with earthquake-proofing springs. There are also many support chambers for supplies, and the site even has its own water reservoir, making it self-sufficient for extremely long stretches of time if the situation so required. All of this was completely protected against virtually any offense imaginable, from old-fashioned ground invasion to EMP blasts and bombing.  

Cheyenne Mountain became fully operational in 1966, and being the ultra-secure fortress that it was, it became the home of NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command). Within the confines of the five air defense centers within their new mountain lair, they controlled air defense programs … and hosted the American end of the much-feared “buttons” that would send nukes flying if the Cold War -era push came to shove. However, there was one thing Cheyenne Mountain wasn’t proofed against: time. Over the decades, the country’s military structure changed, and defensive processes were moved to an airbase near the mountain. This left the mighty Cheyenne Mountain with a status as a “backup” strategic location, manned by just a tiny maintenance skeleton crew.

9. The Bank of Hiroshima

There are many banks that are happy to tell you that their vaults can withstand anything. However, only one of them can make the claim that their entire bank building can take a nuclear bomb in the face and stand to tell the tale. That bank is, of course, the Hiroshima branch of the Bank of Japan, which was put to the ultimate test on the morning of August 6, 1945, when the U.S. unleashed the fury of a nuclear bomb on the city.  

Apart from the heavy, tragic loss of life the bomb caused, it was hell on the city itself. The force of the explosion equaled roughly 16,000 tons of TNT, which was enough to destroy roughly 70 percent of Hiroshima’s buildings. Every building inside the mile-wide radius directly under the explosion was essentially erased from existence … that is, except for a handful of absurdly sturdy buildings such as the Bank of Japan, Hiroshima Branch. Despite being located just 1,250 feet from the bomb’s most forceful fury, the bank remained standing, and was virtually undamaged apart from its third floor, which happened to have its iron shutters open when the bomb exploded and was completely burned out as a result.

To be fair, the atom bomb that had just exploded next door did have some impact on the bank’s operations, and they were forced to cease operations … for two days. On August 8, they were open for business as if nothing had happened, and even allowed other financial institutes with less bomb-proof buildings to set up temporary offices in the premises.

8. Federal Reserve Bank of New York

Fans of the Die Hard movie franchise might recognize the gold vault of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York as the target of a heist in Die Hard With A Vengeance. In real life, the villains might find this chore a bit more daunting, seeing as the vault is the world’s biggest known depository of gold bars: At one point, it held over 12,000 tons, and though activities with monetary gold are on the decline, in 2019 it still houses roughly 497,000 individual gold bars, with a combined weight of 6,190 tons. Just to support the weight of all the gold, the vault has to rest on bedrock, 80 feet under street level and 50 feet below sea level.

If the pure logistical issues of stealing that amount of baggage from such a deep hole aren’t enough, there’s also the fact that the bank is guarded like, well, the biggest gold repository in the world. The gold bars are rigorously measured, recorded and stored in 122 separate smaller vault compartments, where not even a light bulb gets changed without the presence of a control group of three tightly vetted officials. The only entry is through a 90-ton steel cylinder set within a 140-ton frame, which is able to close to an air- and watertight seal that won’t open until the next business day. The vault is surrounded from all directions by thick steel and concrete walls, and monitored from all directions by an array of cameras and motion sensors. Oh, and if for some reason some super-thief were able to overcome all this, the only way in and out of the vault is through the bank building above, which has its own extremely advanced security system … and a private, armed police force.

7. Area 51

Area 51 is a long-standing favorite location of conspiracy theorists everywhere. This mysterious military installation at Groom Lake, Nevada is an active site that has been in operation since at least WWII, but gained notoriety over the decades when several supposed UFO-related incidents were connected to it. The government took until 2013 to publicly recognize the site’s existence, and although released documents imply that the facility is merely a classified aircraft test site, speculation about alien-related activities continues to run rampant.

Being a strictly secret site that nevertheless attracts more than a few enthusiastic UFO fans and other civilian visitors, it’s no surprise that Area 51 takes its security seriously. Employees of the facility enter by flying in with unmarked planes that have special clearance to fly above the Area 51 airspace, which is otherwise heavily restricted. The ground route might seem easier for the casual wannabe visitor, as the site is not fenced. While this might make it appear easy to just drive in and high-five a little green man, that could not be further from the truth. While the perimeter of the base is just a spot in the desert, plastered with warnings signs and some orange posts, just reaching it means you’ve already been caught. The security cordon between the base and the rest of the world is at least 10 miles deep, and full of cameras, magnetic sensors and guards watching your every move. Anyone who ventures on that stretch of land will be monitored every second of the way, and by the time they actually reach those posts and signs (some of which have been known to make direct threats about the use of deadly force), they’re still miles away from the actual site … but only seconds away from being arrested by angry men in white SUVs if they even think of taking a step further.

6. The Intel Smart Tiny House

The Intel Smart Tiny House doesn’t come with a battalion of security guards and probably won’t survive an artillery attack, but few buildings give you more bang for your security buck than this small, yet hyper-guarded tech marvel. A 264-square-foot tiny house doesn’t usually have room for too many technological features, what with needing all the available space for basic amenities such as the kitchen, bathroom and bed. The Smart Tiny House is an ongoing, evolving project designed to change all that: It features all the thermostats, lighting adjustments and other features you’d expect from a much larger, high-end house, and it’s all connected to a single app you can operate on a tablet.

Impressively, this high-tech approach also means that the house recognizes its owner, giving you full control of who to let in and when. The locks are based on facial recognition, meaning that you (and, presumably, your possible identical twin) are the only person who gets to enjoy your tiny high-tech house. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t let other people in, should you so desire. In fact, even if you’re away from home and want to let a friend in, you can remotely open the lockdown with a single swipe on the house’s controlling app.

The house’s technological marvels also guard you against unfortunate houseowner annoyances such as leaky pipes — the sensors will inform you of the leak and automatically turn off the tap to prevent damage. Of course, all of these functions can also be operated with voice control, so if you’ve had a bad day at work and your boss has ordered you around, feel free to vent at home by yelling at your door.

5. Pionen

WikiLeaks has been hosted on a number of servers including a rented one in Moscow, but the most famous one is arguably Pionen, a part of Bahnhof data centers in the southern parts of Stockholm, Sweden. An elaborately designed underground structure that the Swedish Civil Defense commissioned in the 1970s, Pionen lies 115 feet deep in the side of a mountain. Originally intended as a nuclear bunker, the site was eventually turned into a popular rave spot for the city’s young and cool, until it was acquired by Bahnhof and converted into an ultra-secure data center that looks like a James Bond villain lair.

Pionen is elaborately designed to look as cool as possible while still being as protected as you’d expect from a high-security data facility. Its massive vault doors have been described as looking like “a gateway to the future,” and the first thing you see when you enter is a pair of huge, brutal German submarine engines that are prepped to automatically start running backup power in case of power shutdown. On the other hand, the main chamber is dominated by an elevated, floating, soundproof glass cube that’s custom designed for important meetings and, we assume, villainous monologues.

4. Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Svalbard Global Seed Vault looks like a fortress designed to survive the apocalypse, and in a way, that’s precisely what it is. The facility is custom designed to store the world’s largest collection of crop diversity (read: lots of different seeds) in case some of the varieties go extinct or are otherwise in danger. It’s an insurance policy for the food supply of the entire world, and as such, the builders made sure the world absolutely, positively could not endanger it before it’s needed.

To minimize dangerous elements such as power outages, human error and random deers wandering in to snack on the pine seeds, the vault was constructed on the most remote place you can still access with regular air transport: Svalbard archipelago halfway between Norway’s mainland and the North Pole. There, the thick bedrock and permafrost ensure that the samples will remain frozen in the event of power failure. Being a vault, the facility also features sturdy security, including a “black box” deposit system not unlike those used by banks, making sure that the institutions and countries depositing the seeds are the only ones with access to them later on.

3. Guantanamo Bay Naval Station

Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Southeastern Cuba has been a source of constant controversy since 2001, when its migrant-detaining facilities were converted to holding detainees of the “War on Terror.” It has held close to 800 people with an official “enemy combatant” status, and as of 2018, still had around 40 people.

As a facility for holding people, it’s hard to imagine a better guarded one than Guantanamo, because of the heavy military and CIA presence, and also because it strips the detainees from many of their basic human rights. Since the station is not located on American soil and the “prisoners” are considered active enemy soldiers, the Government views they’re not covered by U.S. Constitution, nor are they entitled to all of their basic legal rights. This has led to some pretty interesting takes on the detainees’ basic human rights, as the interrogators have humiliated and tortured them in a number of ways ranging from waterboarding to sleep deprivation, noise and vibration torture. At least nine detainees have died in Guantanamo.

2. Saddam Hussein’s palace bunker

Saddam Hussein was prepared for a bomb or six hundred when they started dropping in Baghdad in 2003. After all, he had several bunkers that, according to their designers, could survive anything “short of a direct hit with a nuclear bomb.” The bunker underneath Hussein’s palace in particular had four-feet-thick walls and a massive 60-foot concrete roof, and was considered to be virtually impenetrable.

While history would prove the designers wrong, it’s true that nothing the U.S. Military’s brightest minds could come up with was ever able to put a single dent on the palace bunker. While the palace itself was bombed halfway to oblivion, the bunker remained undamaged: When the Coalition troops eventually managed to cut through the six-inch steel doors, they discovered an immaculate bunker labyrinth where power still worked and Hussein’s bedsheets remained unruffled. The bombs hadn’t even managed to knock the maps off the tables of the bunker’s command center.  

In the end, the palace bunker was destroyed in a much more poetic manner: By Hussein’s own disgruntled former subjects. Over time, the bunker’s interiors were wrecked and dismantled by looters until it was completely stripped of its former glory. Hussein himself was later caught in a significantly less luxurious bunker: A tiny hole in the ground at a farm near the outskirts of Tikrit.

1. The Dead Hand Bunker

In 1985, the Soviet Union created one of the most horrifying inventions of the whole Cold War. The Dead Hand system was a doomsday machine that was specifically designed to kill millions of people in the event of nuclear war. Its most famous (or rather, terrifying) iteration was a top secret, virtually everything-proof spherical bunker, where two duty officers watched over a system that would launch all available nukes toward the country’s enemies, with explicit orders to do precisely that in the event of a large-scale nuclear attack aimed at the Soviets. The bunker’s specific security systems have not been detailed, but it has been described as “possibly the most secure place of all time in the Cold War,” which is saying something when you look at places like Cheyenne Mountain.

Within this extremely isolated bunker sphere, the officers would wait for the three things they needed to launch the Armageddon: First, Kremlin had to activate the system with a special “predelegation” switch. Then, they had to verify that communication lines with authorities had completely broken down. Finally, the bunker’s array of complex sensors had to detect a nuclear explosion within the borders of the Soviet Union.

As you can probably guess by the fact that you’re not reading this while barbequing a mutant rat in the middle of a radioactive wasteland, the Dead Hand never saw use. However, here’s a strange and frightening thing: We don’t know for sure that the Kremlin ever dismantled the system. For all we know, two elderly and increasingly anxious Soviet officers could still be sitting in a deteriorating supervillain bunker, with their fingers nervously hovering over big red buttons and hoping with all their heart that the light labeled “predelegation” never turns on.

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