Because excavating in Athens, no matter how expensive, is never without profit.
Stephanos Α. Koumanoudes, PAE 1869, p. 9.
Athens has been a phenomenal city in the history of Western civilization. Our knowledge about its past is based on specific archaeological sites and systematically excavated monuments, recognizable and thoroughly studied, such as the Acropolis, the Kerameikos, the Agora, and the Olympieion. However, besides these open spaces, there is another, invisible, ancient city, brought into light by significant excavations undertaken within the scope of public works and hundreds of interventions in private plots of land. Wanting to direct research towards these so-called rescue excavations and urban archaeology, Dipylon envisioned developing an innovative digital platform containing all the scattered archaeological remains in the city.
The project assembles for the first time all the rescue excavations carried out in Athens in the last 160 years and covers an area of about 6.7 km2 of modern urban space. The bilingual digital platform enables data retrieval from 1,470 excavation sites around two main axes: first, the use of space and second, the dating of the remains (e.g. road network of Classical times, houses of Hellenistic times, Roman baths). The methodology that we established led to the creation of 12 classes of space use, 65 categories of buildings/constructions, and 90 subcategories thereof. The dated archaeological remains were categorised into 11 historical periods.
The spatial location of the excavation sites was determined through multiple historical and cartographic sources; 670 published excavation plans were georeferenced, vectorized and then linked to descriptive data. The project lasted four years (2018-2021).
We tried to render on a map the image of the topography of ancient Athens as accurately as possible, which was a demanding task due to the vast amount of data. In this endeavour, the contribution of the Ephorate of Antiquities of the City of Athens is invaluable for the inclusion of unpublished plans, in the framework of a memorandum of cooperation.
The words of the English traveller Christopher Wordsworth often resonated in our minds; in 1836, following the track of time on Athenian soil, he wrote: “How much of labour, and perhaps of error, we might have been spared, had we been present but for a single minute at the Macedonian entertainment, at which the Athenian orator Dimades, when in Philip’s court, and when Philip asked him what and what sort of place Athens was, drew a map of it on the table where they were sitting”. And Wordsworth came up with the following sentiment, which expresses our thoughts perfectly: “But still of how much pleasure too, arising from this inquiry, should we then have lost also!”. (Christopher Wordsworth’s, Athens and Attica: Journal of a Residence There, London 1836, p. 179).
The ultimate goal of the project is to better understand the topographic relevance of the scattered ancient remains and therefore the urban development of Athens.
By mapping rescue excavations, the project intends to highlight the faces of a completely unknown Athens. It was designed so as to tame the massive amount of archaeological material, to facilitate research, and at the same time to provide information to any interested citizen or visitor, hoping to raise the awareness among a general audience of the existing archaeological resources.
The digital platform aspires to provide inspiration and solutions to researchers and professionals in the humanities, to cultural management and urban planning bodies, and to citizens and cultural associations. Furthermore, it can be used as a tool for teaching the history of Athens at various levels of education. In particular, it will facilitate those scholars, archaeologists, historians, architects, and urban planners who are interested in the urban development of ancient Athens and the history of archaeological research.
AREA COVERED BY THE MAP
The cartographic project covers about 6.7 km2 of contemporary urban space. It corresponds to that part of the ancient city that was enclosed by the Themistoklean and the Valerian Walls as well as a 500-meter wide outer zone surrounding the two fortifications.
According to a Delphic oracle transmitted by Herodotus (7.140), the ancient city developed around the Acropolis in a wheel-like pattern. In 479/8 B.C., the Themistoklean Wall encompassed the entire city (Thucydides 1.93.2). In the Roman period, a new fortification, the Valerian Wall, included a new eastern suburb that had meanwhile developed since the time of Hadrian, beyond the boundaries of the Themistoklean Wall.
Many important monuments are located in the outer 500-meter wide zone, outside the walls, such as baths, industrial workshops and large cemeteries, as well as stretches of important roads that connected the city with Attica. The inclusion of these monuments in the project was deemed necessary for a more comprehensive understanding of the functions of the ancient city inside and outside its fortification walls.
The ultimate objective is to expand the mapped area of ancient Athens. The Demosion Sema (i.e., public cemetery) towards the northwest is to be added, including the area of the Academy, the location of the ancient gymnasium and Plato’s philosophical school. To the southwest, the project aims to cover the whole area traversed by the Long Walls in Attica, all the way to the sea and the ancient ports of Phaleron and Piraeus.
In designing and implementing the project Mapping Ancient Athens, Dipylon collaborated with philologists, archaeologists, cartographers, surveyor engineers and scientists specializing in databases, CAD and Geographic Information Systems, as well as visual artists. The main contributors are the following, in alphabetical order:
Despina Alexandri (translation), Marina Alexandri (creative director), Giorgos Chiotis (archaeologist, GIS specialist), Alexandros Christodoulopoulos (webMarker), Christina Giannakoula (archaeologist, GIS specialist), Orestis Goulakos (archaeologist, PhD), Maria Karagiannopoulou (archaeologist), Markos Katsianis (archaeologist, GIS specialist), Matina Lampraki (surveyor engineer, GIS specialist), Fred Ley (CAD specialist), Giorgos Panagiotopoulos (webGIS developer), Robert Pitt (epigraphist, translation), Evi Sempou (philologist, co-ordinator), Katerina Stathi (historian, co-ordinator), Aspasia Tsatsouli (archaeologist), Thodoris Vakkas (Geospatial Enabling Technologies).
Lawyers Artemis Stampoulous and Christina Pigaki provided advice on issues of personal data protection and copyright, respectively.
The project was supervised by:
Leda Costaki (archaeologist), Vanda Papaefthymiou (archaeologist), Maria Pigaki (cartographer), and Anna Maria Theocharaki (archaeologist).
Dipylon expresses its thankfulness to the following bodies for their kind permission to use and/or re-publish visual and cartographic material:
- Ephorate of Antiquities of the City of Athens
- Directorate of the National Archive of Monuments
- Archaeological Resources and Expropriations Fund
- National Cadastre & Mapping Agency of Greece
- Municipality of Athens
- American School of Classical Studies at Athens
- German Archaeological Institute, Athens Department
We warmly thank the Packard Humanities Institute for the financial support during the first stages of research, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) for trusting us and becoming our lead donor, the Aegeas Non-Profit Civil Company thanks to whose financial support the project took its final form, and all the anonymous donors who recognized the importance of the project.
The project is under the auspices of the:
- Ephorate of Antiquities of the City of Athens
- Municipality of Athens
- Hellenic National Commission for UNESCO