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The city beneath the city


By Spiros Tzelepis

Excavations, carried out within the construction works of the Athens metro, revealed a whole ancient city under the modern one!


A model demonstrating the structure of the ground at the Sydagma Square station (Photo: S.Tzelepis)

When the metropolitan railway of Athens (commonly the metro or the underground) began to operate in early 2000, what surprised the first visitors and the various news agents around the world was not the railway itself, which is essential for every big city, but the fact that the railway stations are like an underground museum where the visitor can view various exhibits found during the construction works as well as a model showing the structure of the ground. In fact the findings are much more than those available at the stations; the others have been transported to the Museum of Cycladic Art where they are exhibited.


Image Terracotta figurine of a dancing woman (350-300BC)

The construction of the metro, which lasted six years, was an excellent opportunity for archeologists to investigate the subsoil of Athens for the first time since "normal" excavation was impossible in areas where there are modern buildings. So the digging for the underground railway was what archeologists had been waiting for. The results were amazing; in fact what was revealed is literally a city beneath the city. The residents of Athens are proud and well aware of this city's great historical past, but never before was there such an opportunity to reconstruct and see "live" some parts of it. We live, work, move on a city beneath which a whole world has been buried, and now all this appeared to us, challenging and reminding all of the continuity of our city's history.


Image Bronze foot in sandal (late Hellenistic period)

The state archaeological service worked hand by hand with the constructing companies in order to reveal this beauty. The results are amazing: Hundreds of findings made of clay, bronze, marble, glass and ivory outline the development of human life in Athens from the 17th century BC to the 8th century AD, through what we know as the Geometric, Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic and Roman eras.


A showcase with exhibits at the Sydagma Square station (Photo: S.Tzelepis)

The everyday life of our ancestors is there: pots they used to drink water and wine, oil lamps they used to light their nights, the toys their children played with, pots in which they put perfume when they were put in the tombs of the dead.


Image Gold leaves and two finger rings with inset gemstones from a grave of the early Roman period


Image Red-figure pyxis (toiletries box) from a grave of the classical period

Other important aspects of these findings are:

The visitors can enjoy all these exhibits in the metro's stations but also in the Museum of Cycladic Art where 500 of them are exhibited from February 2000 to December 2001.


Image White-ground alabastron from a grave of the classical period.

To conclude, there is one more finding, perhaps the most impressive of all, which is in the Sintagma square station: a tomb with a well-maintained skeleton of one of the ancient inhabitants of the city. This strikes most visitors' attention, and, when passengers get out of the trains, they always stop and give a glance to it; perhaps this way they are facing the human fate.


Photos are from the Museum of Cycladic Art

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Reconstruction: July-August-September 2002

© Copyright 2002 Spiros Tzelepis
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