Athens is perhaps best known for its rich cultural and historical heritage, but did you know that the city’s subsoil is also rich with secrets that span millennia? For centuries, structures have been built underground, from cemeteries and aqueducts, to caves and emergency shelters. This article aims to give you a glimpse into Athens’ subterranean past, and take you on a journey through the various underground structures the city has to offer.
In ancient Athens, the practice of building cemeteries underground was common. This was because of a limited amount of space on the surface, as well as concerns about the spread of disease. The cemeteries were connected to churches via tunnels, used to transport the deceased, and were decorated with beautiful frescoes and intricate mosaics. The Kerameikos Cemetery is one of the most significant underground cemeteries and serves as a source of information on ancient Athens’ burial practices.
Athens’ ancient water transportation systems played a crucial role in the city’s development. The aqueducts were constructed using galleries up to 40 metres underground, and transported water over long distances into the city. However, over time, some of these systems have collapsed, leading to the need to construct new water systems. The aqueducts stand out as a testament to ancient engineering feats that continue to inspire those who study them.
The two most significant aqueducts, the Peisistratos and Hadrian’s Aqueducts, served as the city’s lifelines for centuries. Peisistratos Aqueduct, built in the 6th century BC, was an impressive infrastructure designed to meet the water needs of the expanding city.
Later, in the 2nd century AD, the Roman Emperor Hadrian commissioned the construction of a new aqueduct, which further expanded Athens’ water supply system. The remnants of these ancient structures, some still carrying water, are a stark reminder of the innovative minds of the ancients and their commitment to improving the lives of Athenian citizens.
Due to the ancient rivers and streams in the region, Athens is home to a vast network of caves. These caves were historically used for various purposes, such as for worship or as shelters. The Davelis Cave is an example of significant caves in the region, and stands as a unique example of how caves can help us understand our geological history.
Some of the most well known caves of Athens are:
The Vari Cave, which served as a refuge during wartime;
The Euripus Cave, where ancient artifacts were discovered.
During various periods of Athens’ history, residents relied on emergency shelters built underground for protection from natural disasters and conflict. King Otto ordered the construction of emergency escape routes, and during World War II, Ioannis Metaxas asked citizens to build their own shelters. Today, some of these shelters have been repurposed into warehouses, but they still serve as important symbols of the city’s resiliency during challenging times.
Discovering Athens’ subterranean structures not only provides a unique way to explore its history but can also offer a fascinating experience for tourists. The significance of the city’s subsoil, coupled with the structures found underground, underlines the importance of preserving and showcasing Athens’ subterranean legacy to future generations. We urge you to explore and experience this hidden facet of this ancient city that will take you on a journey through its past. So, if you’re planning a visit to Athens, don’t forget to add some of these underground structures to your itinerary. Your visit is sure to be a rich and unforgettable experience that will leave you with a deep appreciation of the city’s history and culture.