The Athens Metro would no doubt amaze an ancient Greek who managed to travel through time to today’s world. It is no less a marvel when one considers the challenges of building a major underground transportation system in a city sitting on six thousand years of significant archeological gems. Which is the challenge that faced Mr. Leonidas Kikiras, president of Attiko Metro since its founding in 1995, and former CEO of the company that built its most recent additions: the eleven kilometers of the Red Line, inaugurated in 2000, and the thirty-five kilometers of the Blue Line which reached the new Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport — just in time for the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Standing in front of a twenty-foot tall glass wall revealing the multiple layers of Athenian history uncovered by the Metro project’s excavations — a wall stretching the entire length of the Syntagma Square station — Mr. Kikiras explained how teams of archaeologists worked ahead of, then alongside of, engineers for a total of six years, protecting and recording the archaeological evidence that was uncovered, including “ancient streets, houses, cemeteries, sanctuaries, public workshops, foundry pits, kilns, aqueducts, wells, cisterns, drains and sewage tunnels.”
Beyond the technical challenges of building a complex modern mass transit system, Mr. Kikiras — who is himself a happy user of his own Metro system — discussed his personal involvement in building the system, which began in 1982 with a role in the original studies for expanding and modernizing a system which started off in 1869 as a steam train line from Athens to Piraeus, and continued with him returning as head of the construction in 1994 — and on through to the inauguration of the Red Line and the Syntagma station in 2000, which was a personal highlight in his life (and one that still gives him goose-bumps on his arms when he talks about it), and the shaping of the Metro system’s Master Plan, which extends to the year 2020.
A Master Class with
The Athens Metro at Syntagma Square