Athens, part 6: the gorgeous Athens Metro

(This is part 6 in a series about my trip to Athens. See parts one, two, three, four, and five.)

Towards the end of my trip in Athens, I started used the beautiful Athens metro to get around. As a word of warning, if you decide to use the metro to get around, be sure to allow time to see the displays and read the signs. Riding the Athens metro is like visiting a museum that happens to have subway tracks through it.

I was fortunate enough to be staying close enough to the historic areas of the Akropolis and the Plaka that I was on foot for the first few days. To see some of the attractions that were farther afield, I had to use the subway.

When you enter the subway, the first thing you notice is that it’s beautiful. Most of the time, the subway is just a way to get around. To be fair, some subway systems are more attractive than others; it is unsurprising that the distinctive art nouveau style of Paris Métropolitain comes to mind. The Athens metro has no advertisements, and even though it has been open for eight years, it is still amazingly clean.

Building the Athens metro was a difficult proposition because of the layers of history in the ground in Athens. Due to the need to protect the antiquities discovered when building the metro, the Greek Ministry of Culture was a key partner in the project. Preservation of artifacts discovered during construction meant that completion was slow as archaeologists did painstaking preservation work.

Many of the artifacts unearthed during construction are on display, and are of uniformly high quality. A guide sign in each station relates the position of the station to where the archeological activities occurred.

It is quite funny to realize that many Athens subway stations have better exhibitions of ancient Greek artifacts than many museums! Here is an excellent example of how the displays are just part of the museum. At the Ακρόπολη (Akropoli) station, there is a large pottery display just beyond the ticket barriers.

When you get down to the platform, the station just gleams. Without advertisements to clutter up the wall, the exhibition continues. On the platform of the Akropoli station, there is a replica of the Parthenon frieze that is currently on display in the British Museum.

In the lobby of the station, another replica, this time of part of the sculptures from the pediment of the Parthenon.

The main transfer point for metro riders is Σύνταγμα (Syntagma, meaning “constitution”), and the station has the largest exhibition. At the lobby level, a wall shows how layers of history accrete over time.

My favorite exhibit was at Ευαγγελισμός (Evangelismos), the station closest to Lycabettus Hill. As I was walking briskly towards the exit, I saw an ancient aqueduct on display. Nearby signs discuss how the aqueduct was built and maintained, and what was learned about the route of the aqueduct building the station.

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