In Athens and the general Attica region, there are several underground shelters that the majority of the population are completely unaware of.
The underground air-raid shelters had been built before the World War II era and have never been used as Athens was not bombarded during World War II.
There are no official records of the underground shelters, however. Other than the Greek army and the Civil Protection, few have knowledge of their existence and exact location.
History of air-raid underground shelters in Greece
The Ioannis Metaxas regime, which came to power with the August 4, 1936 coup, considered that an impending armed conflict in Europe was very likely to take place.
Moreover, Metaxas knew that war on the air was going to dominate in the next war, and, consequently, bombardments in urban areas were more than probable.
The possibility led Metaxas and his cabinet to conceive and implement a vast project of Civil Protection, focusing on the construction of numerous air–raid shelters.
Noteworthy are the diversities in the type and size of shelters that ranged from narrow underground galleries or small chambers to organized shelters of hundreds of square meters, including toilets, water tanks, numerous chambers and auxiliary rooms.
The Metaxas regime established some strict standards to be followed in building an underground shelter in Athens and elsewhere. They had to have airtight armored doors so that chemical gas could not sip through in case of a gas attack.
They had to have central chambers, auxiliary chambers, vestibules, galleries, escape exits, toilets, and water tanks.
New buildings over three stories tall in Athens had to have an underground shelter area The underground shelter should be able to support the total number of residents in the building.
An area of 3 cubic meters per person should be provided in an underground shelter. That is, one square meter and 3 meters high for each person.
It was not a random number. It was calculated that when the armored doors closed airtight (to prevent gases from sipping through), the person consumes one cubic meter of air per hour. The maximum time spent in the shelter was set at 3 hours.
The sturdiest shelters in Athens and Attica
An emblematic underground shelter in Athens was the one on the hill of Ardittos. It was about 500 square meters (5,382 feet) and it had the largest central chamber throughout Attica (5 x 35 meters wide, 5 meters height).
It was built in 1936 and could shelter approximately 1,300 people. During the German Occupation, it served as the base for the Resistance. It is now abandoned.
The Lycabettus Hill military shelter was built in 1936 and included a shelter, as well as machine-gun holes carved into the rock.
The underground shelter was built near the church of Saints Isidori. It extends to a depth of 100 meters (328 feet) in the rock, has two entrances, and is larger and in better condition than the more famous shelter of Ardittos.
It is well-preserved, freshly painted, but with signs of wear. It has power, toilets and baths. Its facilities also include two large rooms and other smaller ones, corridors, machine gun nests, storage rooms, appliances and ventilation ducts, tanks, panels and telephone.
It had two entrances ending in the main large hall where the Anti-Aircraft Defense Headquarters was housed for the war against the Italians (1940-1941). It also served as the Wireless Station of the Navy Radiotelegraphy Service.
During the occupation it was used by the Germans, while after the liberation it remained in operation until 1970, then it was abandoned.
Today the space belongs to PSEA (Civil Emergency Planning) of the Civil Protection agency of the Ministry of Citizen Protection.
In Central Athens
In the center of the city and close to the Hellenic Parliament building there were underground shelters underneath Grande Bretagne Hotel, the Ethniki Asfalistiki building, the Bank of Greece, the Army Share Fund and the old Supreme Court Building.
The Ethniki Asfalistiki shelter in central Athens was the most modern of all, built by famous civil engineers Andreas Kriezis and Emmanouil Metaxas.
It had metal doors that closed airtight, and the two floors were connected with a staircase. During the German Occupation, the Nazis used it as a prison and torture dungeon.
In Athens, there was also another large air-raid shelter in Polygono and several smaller ones.
There were several in Piraeus as well, in the neighborhoods of Profitis Elias, Kastela, Drapetsona and others.
In the southern suburbs of Athens that were sparsely populated in the 1930s there were shelters in Ellinikon, Voula and Glyfada and further on in Sounio Cape and Rafina.
In the northern suburbs of the capital, air-raid shelters were built in Papagou, Psychiko and Kifissia.
In 1999, in an Ethnos newspaper report it was estimated that about 200 public shelters survived in all of Greece. Most of them were on the verge of collapse, but they still have strong marks of the past with slogans engraved on the walls or scattered old objects.