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The Tunnel of Eupalinos: the engineering feat of ancient Samos

Aegean islands ● Samos ● 19 June 2017

Samos flourished in the 6th century B.C. when the ancient capital of the island, Pythagoreion, was one of the most powerful cities in the Mediterranean. The tyrant Polycrates, who ruled Samos between 538 and 522 B.C., subsided a building and infrastructure programme that included the construction of a grand temple for the Goddess Hera, a castle to protect the island from its enemies, and a port. Furthermore, Samos was very rich, and the homes of its 15,000 residents were decorated with treasures brought back by the sailors of the island from their activities all over the sea. However, Samos had severe lack of fresh water supply. This vital need led Polycrates to commission Eupalinos, an engineer from Megara near Athens, in order to design infrastructure that would channel water to the town from the spring at the nearby mountain.

This project had an incredible challenge as a mountain stood between the springs and the town. Even so, Eupalinos managed to dig a tunnel through the mountain using basic measuring tools and complex mathematical calculations. Two teams were digging their way through the mountain, and they managed to meet midway in this tunnel of 1,036 metres length and 1,80 metres width and height, after having extracted 7,000 cubic metres of rock. Herodotus referred to the Tunnel of Eupalinos as a "two-mouthed tunnel". As a result, 10 years after the start of the project, water began to flow through the aqueduct. 

The Tunnel of Eupalinos is being marvelled as one of the biggest and most complex projects in the history of engineering and has given the ingenious engineer a place in history. The tunnel was used as an aqueduct for 1,100 years, but in the Byzantine era it was used as refuge during Persian and Arab invasions. In 1884, it was rediscovered by the German Archaeological Institute.

This year, the Tunnel of Eupalinos in Samos has opened to the public. After the recent completion of restoration and preservation work, which entailed the security of the tunnel, preserved its stone surfaces, constructed corridors and installed lighting systems, visitors can pass through the ancient passage and admire this infrastructure miracle.

This monument can't be observed from a distance. The visitor should enter to have a unique experience, touch the rocks, breathe from the depths of the earth, observe the small channel of the water and think about this achievement that took place 2,500 years ago.