The Tunnels of Eupalinos


After work in Pythagorio, I have got into the routine of walking out to watch the sun go down. Usually I head towards the waterfront but one night I trek upwards behind the village, following the road as it turns to follow the contours of the hillside. As soon as the sun dips below the hills, the bats make their exits from their hiding places to make loops and swirls in the blue-pink sky and the lights of the town flicker into life beneath me. I keep walking admiring the changing colours and the rising moon. It is around the next bend that I discover the Tunnels of Eupalinos.

During the 6th century BC, the Greek tyrant Polycrates commissioned Eupalinos to build aqueduct to supply fresh water to the ancient capital of Pythagario. It had to be underground to conceal it from enemies who could destroy the city by destroying its water supply.

The Tunnel of Eupalinos, or Eupalinian aqueduct, is just over a kilometer long through Mount Kastro and is only one of two ancient tunnels known to have been excavated from both ends. Through an extraordinary feat of civil engineering, both tunnels met perfectly in the middle. The ancient Greek historian Herodotus refers to them as “a work greater than any others that have been made by Hellenes. The clay water pipes took water to the city for a thousand years until, like blocked arteries, they eventually filled with sediment. The tunnel lay hidden in the mountainside until 1884 when they were first discovered, and then dormant again until the 1970s when they were unearthed. Since June this year visitors can walk the entire length of the tunnel and back.

So the next day, I buy my ticket and wait, apprehensively, with four others for our guide; a young girl who leads us through but does not convey much information. I do not like dark underground places but my curiosity outwits my fear. Eventually, as we climb down some steps, we leave the sunlight behind us and squeeze through a tiny passage until it eventually opens out and we can stand tall.   We walk in line in eerie silence; revering the men of nearly 3,000 years ago whose lives this tunnel had dominated. Who were they we wonder? What hands placed these small bricks into perfectly symmetrical arches? Occasionally there is the writing of Eupalinos himself claiming the aqueduct as his prototype for others to follow. His Greek letters still etched in ochre on the walls: big and bold.

There is a tunnel to the left, and then and to the right there is a very deep trench, 15 feet or more below. It is here where the clay pipes that carried the water are still visible. It is over this trench that we walk on large metal grids that make you feel giddy as your gaze drops to the lit tunnel below you; fine dust from our feet glittering as it falls to its depths to add to the centuries of dust before it. Occasionally, there are white, glistening stalactites that drop like spears from the roof; natures artwork.

A cool breeze flows through the tunnel channeled from the winds outside bringing with it a clean, sweet smell of daylight. Eventually we get closer to the light and can feel the warmth of the sun on our skin and hear the sweet sound of birds once more. All that is left is to marvel at the ingenuity of these ancient engineers and the hardships they must have endured.