The Metro of Athens: The History, the Findings, and the Art

On January 29, 2000, Athens welcomed the great history project, which changed the way Athenians and their visitors moved to the city, and when it opened its gates, it welcomed thousands of people.

The Metro of Athens is a project full of history that is long overdue. The findings that were excavated and put on display along with the contemporary Art embellishing many of the stations make the Metro of Athens unique and full of history. It's true what they say, each rock in Athens has a history and under those rocks lays an entire Ancient World!

On January 29, 2000, Athens welcomed the great history project, which changed the way Athenians and their visitors moved to the city, and when it opened its gates, it welcomed thousands of people. On the first day of operation alone, January 29, it is estimated that almost 1,000,000 passengers were transported.

Studies for the creation of the metro’s network began as early as 1950 but the study that formed the basis for the creation of the current network was prepared after the fall of the Dictatorship, at the behest of the government then.

The Metro of Athens was among the last in Europe. Only those in Denmark followed in 2002 and Switzerland in 2008. Daily, an average of 614,000 Athenians travel by metro. This project proves every day how important its construction is for transport and less traffic on central roads.

Excavations at Syntagma Station
Excavations at Syntagma Station

 

Excavations

Archaeological excavations were a major challenge during the construction of the metro. The stations Kerameikos, Syntagma, Akadimia, and Monastiraki were characterized from the beginning as High Archaeological Risk while other stations had less or no archaeological interest.

Most of the predictions were justified and there were also refutations. The characterized high-risk station of the Academy e.g., had meager findings, while on the contrary, the biggest surprise of the excavations were the ancient ones found at the Station of Evangelismos. The excavation revealed temporary burials and workshops of classical times and also the passage of the ancient road to the Mediterranean.

The excavation that took place during the extension of Line 3 to Egaleo is considered very important, as it took place on the axis of the ancient Holy Road, the road that connected Athens with Elefsina. Egaleo Station was relocated to save and maintain part of the avenue of Iera Odos that was discovered in very good condition.

Ancient Findings in Display
Ancient Findings in Display

 

Finds During the Εxcavations

At Syntagma Station statues of classical times were discovered, a cemetery dating from the Mycenaean to the Byzantine times, as well as a bath complex of Roman times.

A part of the most important cemetery of ancient Athens was excavated near Kerameikos Station. 1200 burials dating from the beginning of the 7th century BC were researched. An important find are the two mass burials dating to the beginning of the Peloponnesian War. The western precinct of the cemetery remains of a ceramic workshop and the Eridanus riverbed were also found.

For the construction of the metro in Monastiraki, archeological excavations were carried out that brought to light residential relics from the 8th century BC. until the 19th century AD. One of the most important findings of the station is the boxed riverbed of the Eridanus River. Buildings, laboratories, tombs, and several water supplies and sewerage systems were found.

The excavation at the Acropolis Station in an area of ​​2500 sq.m., proved the use of the area from the end of the 3rd millennium BC. until the Byzantine years. Also, a few tombs of the Mid and Late Hellenic periods, houses, workshops, roads, and baths were discovered. Finally, The station is decorated with huge posters of Melina Merkouri and reproductions of the Elgin Marbles of Parthenon.

Replica statues at Acropolis Metro Station
Replica Statues at Acropolis Metro Station

 

The Museum-Like Stations

Most of the stations are open museums with ancient finds placed in showcases. The Athens metro was neither the first nor the only one to have this idea but the number of ancients on display is undoubtedly significant. Antiquities are exposed to a greater extent in the following stations:

Syntagma Station

At the station of Syntagma, the stratigraphy of Athens from the beginning of the 5th century BC is exhibited in section to the Ottoman period, while in showcases, one can see the pipes of the water supply and sewerage system of ancient Athens, lamps, tombstones, and part of the mosaic floor of a house found next to the station.

Elaionas Station

Here you can see the surviving part of the oldest bridge found in Greece. These are three pedestals of the bridge of Ancient Kifissos, which date between the 5th and 6th century BC.

Egaleo Station

In the corridors of the station are exhibited clay jugs, lamps, figurines, textile weights, and gifts. Also, the model of the skeleton of a horse is exposed, whose attitude reveals its attempt to save itself from the waters of the flooded Kifissos.

Acropolis Station

Along each platform, the copies from the frieze of the Parthenon impress the passengers. Going up the escalators, one sees a small exhibition of objects from the daily life of the ancient Athenians, while at the exit one can admire copies of the figures of the eastern pediment of the Parthenon, on the subject of the birth of Athena from the head of Zeus.

Monastiraki Station

A huge photo from the underground galleries of the metro, in which many pottery vessels were found, dominates Monastiraki station. A large number of archaeological finds are exhibited inside the station, which were discovered during the construction of the station, such as residential relics from the 8th century BC. until the 19th century AD, as well as buildings, laboratories, and tombs.

The METRO CLOCK at Syntagma Station
The METRO CLOCK at Syntagma Station

Works of Contemporary Art

In addition to the museum stations, works of contemporary art have been placed in many metro stations, which admittedly catch the attention of passengers.

The compositions of the award-winning Opy Zouni, "Columns-Shadows" and "Four Gates in the Space", adorn the walls of the ticket offices and the platforms at Egaleo station.

The painter Giorgos Lazongas put his touch on Eleonas. Plexiglas sheets, hung from the ceiling at the ticket office, depict enlarged fragments of pottery, the "shells", as archaeologists call them. Leaves with turtle images are inserted that refer to the unique animals that live in the nearby ancient cemetery of Kerameikos.

"The METRO CLOCK" by the sculptor Theodoros Papadimitriou, simply knows as Theodoros, in Syntagma wants to capture the timelessness and the flow of Greek culture in time.

The "Thrusts", a work by Theodora Voutsina and the sculptor Miltdiadis Papastergiou, were placed in Agios Antonios.

A work by Kyriakos Katzourakis was placed at Panormos station.

In Evangelismos, Chryssa's "Mott Street", influenced by Manhattan's China Town, catches the eye of passengers.

In Daphne, Dimitris Mytaras created "Dexileos", the figure of the ancient Athenian who raises his spear against the enemy who fell under his horse.

Nikos Kessanlis made the "The Tail" in Omonia.

One of the last artistic interventions that took place in the Athens metro is the creation of Lida Papakonstantinou in Monastiraki. "Time in my Hands" adorns the ceiling of the station. The creation of the artwork consists of 324 pieces of plexiglass that occupy a space of 134 square meters on the ceiling on the ticket level.

Contemporary Art
Contemporary Art

 

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