The subterranean and unknown Athens. This is how one might characterize the “unknown city” under Athens. The shelters. A “city” known only to a few.
This small new city of Athens came into being during World War II. Athens was being bombed and the population needed to have places to seek shelter. So the shelters under Athens were created. It is essentially a network of labyrinthine corridors and cubicles that were meant to protect the world from air raids and more. Some larger and some smaller, places that changed use several times and were even places of torture.
The known and unknown shelters in Athens
The history of the shelters is long, as is their number. General Papagos had spoken of 400 public shelters established by the state. In addition to these, however, there are estimated to be several thousand private ones, erected in dwellings and other private premises by virtue of a peremptory law of Metaxas government. However, we cannot know exactly how many of these were actually built and what condition they are in today.
An extensive record and analysis of the shelters have been made by the researcher Konstantinos Kyrimis, who has also written a book on the subject (The Shelters of Attica). In the last eight years, he has visited about 80 shelters in Athens and Piraeus. Each of them has its own story to tell. Some of these shelters have been protected, but sometimes not. This is because their use has changed several times over the years. Konstantinos Kyrimis himself has stated in lectures and interviews: “From 1936 to 1949, the shelters became a means of protecting the population, centers of torture by the occupying forces, they, in turn, protected the inhabitants of Piraeus from the Allied bombings of ’44.
He also notes that the only shelter that is maintained is the one at the address 4 Korai Street, as a place of historical remembrance. But even this is maintained not as a shelter, but as a German detention center.
The largest shelters
One of the largest shelters in the unknown city under Athens is Lycabettus. This one reaches 500 square meters. The underground shelter of Lycabettus was built around 1936, near the cave church of Saint Isidoros. It extends to a depth of 100 meters in the rock, has two entrances and is larger and in better condition than the most famous but abandoned shelter of Ardittos. Preserved, freshly painted but with obvious signs of time, with electricity, toilets, and bathrooms.
Features also include two large halls and other smaller ones, corridors, machine guns, storage rooms, equipment and ventilation ducts, tanks, control panels, and electrical switches, telephone exchange of the time. Both entrances end in the large main hall, which housed the Anti-Aircraft Defense Headquarters for the needs of the war in 1940. the Wireless Station, the address of the Radiotelegraphic Service of the Navy.
The bunker in Karageorgi Serbias, on the other hand, is about 400 square meters and has 20 side rooms. During the occupation, German soldiers built military shelters in the center of the capital and in coastal areas for fear of an Allied landing. In the 1950s, other shelters were built, not as reinforced as the old ones, for fear of the Cold War.
The shelter of Ardittos was commanded by the Germans during the war and in the end was used as a base for the resistance. During the reign of Paul, it was a royal shelter and perhaps for this reason the idea that it communicated underground with the royal palaces prevailed in the minds of the people.
Do the shelters communicate with each other?
As Mr. Kyrimis has stated, no such thing is true. The fact that the shelters are labyrinthine and dark has often given rise to speculation. The purpose for which they were built was not so that people could walk from one to another, but so that they would be safe and able to get safely to a nearby location.
Apart from those that still belong to the services of the army or navy, there are others, such as shelters on the hillsides, that don’t belong anywhere and are the responsibility of the police to clean. No one even seems to know their exact number and their cement is crumbling with time.
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