Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Mapping Ancient Athens


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endeavour, the contribution of the Ephorate of Antiquities of the City of Athens is invaluable for the inclusion of unpublished plans, in the framework of a memorandum of cooperation.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).

And see AWOL's Roundup of Resources on Ancient Geography



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