In Mytilene, one of the largest villages in Samos, in an area called Koutsodontis, there are 45 caves in the hillside. These are all entrances to Ancient Mines. The lowest caves are 147 meters above sea level, and visitors can enjoy a beautiful view of the valley around Chora when they reach them.
All the entrances are supported by man-made carved columns which bear witness to the accuracy of the studies made before work began, the well-planned layout and the careful construction of each and every entrance in such a way as to keep the mountain above the entrances stable.
For thousands of years, time, wind and rain have ravaged these ancient structures and washed the traces and the sweat of humanity from the carved faces of the columns. So today they stand to be admired, both as works of art and feats of engineering.
Inside one of these entrances there is a hole which leads into the hillside. Explorers have found 8 levels of mining tunnels, all of which are also supported by columns. They also measured the maximum depth as being 70 meters. All the levels are 1 km long.
It is very probable that the history of this place hides many more surprises for us to discover. However there are already reliable reports about its use in the past.
According to Herman Kienast, an architect with the German Archaeological Institute, former supervisor of the archaeological excavations at the Temple of Hera, and expert on the Tunnel of Eupalinos (or Eupalion Aqueduct), building materials for the construction of the great Temple of Hera and for other buildings in the sanctum area and in the ancient city of Samos (nowadays Pythagorion) were mined here in ancient times.
The engraved pieces of rock which are still visible on the floor of the mine today are undisputed evidence of this mining activity.
The “Samiaka” newspaper also reported that during the 1821 Greek War of Independence this place functioned as a “Nitrate Mine” where a monk named Ignatius manufactured gunpowder using nitrates. Unfortunately, in modern times, the mine has not received attention commensurate with its importance and historical value.
However, it is significant that since 2002 the Greek Ministry of Culture has, following the advice of the Greek Central Archaeological Council, conducted topographic surveys, measurements, and surface research on the area surrounding the quarries. These are being carried out under the supervision of Maria Viglaki-Sofianou, an archaeologist from the 21st Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classic Antiquities, with the cooperation of the architect, Ioannis Mitsoulis (an employee of the same Ephorate). The architect Herman Kienast also takes part in the research on behalf of the German Archaeological Institute.
During recent years, fires destroyed the surrounding forest which had acted as a “protective shield” for the site by stabilising the ground. Today, erosion has affected the soil, and if action is not taken there is a danger that the site will be destroyed.
Recently, the Prefecture and the Municipality of Pythagorion have attempted to clean up the surrounding area. This effort was supported by the Speleological Association of Samos “EUPALINOS”.
This archaeological site, which is unique on a global scale in terms of how deep it reaches into the mountain and its architecture, “is crying out” for us to take an interest in it, to save it and to promote it.
Following a study on landscaping the site made by the Greek Ministry of Culture, all 45 entrances to the quarries can now be visited by tourists. They have been linked by an impressive path which starts from the top of the hill and passes in front of all the entrances until it reaches the north entrance of the Tunnel of Eupalinos and the Springs of Agiadon, the water of which was channelled through the tunnel.
If action taken by the local authorities was coordinated with special studies and was integrated into relevant European programmes, it would be possible to undertake work which would allow visitors to go inside all 45 caves, thereby highlighting another remarkable ancient work of Samos. Speleological Association of Samos “EUPALINOS”