The ancient Lavrio mines, which were so rich in minerals that their exploitation made possible the rise of Athens as a naval power, are revealed in a documentary.
The film shows the labyrinth of underwater tunnels in their now-flooded shafts.
Greek scuba divers Errico Kranidiotis and Stelios Stamatakis, who have pooled their efforts as part of their firm “Addicted to H20,” have been exploring the underwater galleries and shafts at Lavrio for years.
Now, the intricate maze of shafts and “rooms” in the mines, located at the Attica shoreline near Sounion, can be seen for the first time by way of the documentary, which takes viewers on a somewhat frightening trip through the submerged tunnels.
Lavrio mines have shafts that have lain undisturbed since abandonment
The two men discovered the underwater shafts in 2019 and 2020, capturing stunning images of these ancient mine passages for the first time.
Kranidiotis spoke to Greek Reporter recently about how he and his partner first became involved with the exploration of the Lavrio mines and what the two divers discovered there.
“I built a website about five months ago (titled ‘addicted2h2o.com’) and a team of cavers who were exploring the area of Lavrio found us through that site,” he stated. “They saw the kind of dives that we did, that we are competent in cave diving, and they contacted me.
“In the explorations that they had done, they had reached a point where there was water which was five levels beneath the ground, about 100 meters (328 feet) in depth, in this Lavrio area,” Kranidiotis said. “Obviously, they couldn’t continue further, but they were very interested to find out if the mine continued underwater, and that was something that we established from our dive.”
The mineral riches of Lavrio have been mined since ancient times. The geological activity between the tectonic plates of Eurasia and Africa formed the geological arc of Attica-Cyclades, essentially making Lavrio a place that is extremely rich in minerals.
Veins of ore visible on top of ground at Lavrio
Incredibly, the veins of ore have been clearly visible even on the top of the ground there ever since the Neolithic Age.
The first inhabitants of the Attica region mined copper from Thorikos for the manufacture of tools. Mining activity increased greatly beginning in 3200 BC reaching its peak in the 5th and 4th century BC during the glory days of the Athenian Republic.
Indeed, it was the Lavrio mines’ riches that made possible the creation of a fleet of triremes under the ruler Pericles, who ordered the building of the craft in order to stem ongoing Persian invasions of Greece.
And it was these vessels that made possible the defeat of the Persians at the Battle of Salamis, ultimately saving the West from invasion.
Although the mines fell into disuse for centuries, they were exploited once again. After the passage of centuries, the mines operated again beginning in the nineteenth century.
The newly-established Greek state benefitted from the Lavrion wealth, and the Lavrio Companies grew to be an industry leader from that time until almost the end of the 20th century.
Flooding kept shafts from being looted, keeping ancient mining areas intact
Like many mines, those at Lavrio battled constantly against the inflow of water. Pumps continually took the water out of the shafts until the flow was so great that the shafts had to be abandoned. The amount of flooding at the end of the mine was such that the entire area was eventually given over to the waters.
But that fact is what saved these areas from the looting that took place elsewhere further up in the shafts.
Starting in July of 2019, Kranidiotis and Stamatakis carried out exploratory dives in the area of Plaka and Agios Konstantinos. Now, their video presentation of these dangerous dives showing previously unknown areas of the ancient mines is being presented to the world for the first time.
The Greek scuba divers have an undying love of the sea and all of the innumerable wonders of the underwater world despite the many dangers that are always present in diving in underwater caves.
Both in their early forties, the divers also have daytime jobs—Kranidiotis is an employee at a large Fintech company and Stamatakis works in the telecommunications industry.
They have now completed an impressive total of over seventy different cave dives around Greece in the past three years, exploring grottoes on the islands of Evia, Kefalonia, and Antiparos.
Asked by Greek Reporter what was so special about the mines of Lavrio, Kranidiotis says “The unique part of it is that there is a lot of history to it. It originates from the 5th or 6th century BC, when the ancient Greeks used this area to mine a lot of minerals, mainly silver, which was used to fund the Parthenon in the 5th century BC, in the Classical Period.”
“Like going back into time”
“Most of the Parthenon was funded by these metals, primarily the silver that was mined in this area,” the diver explains.
“In later years, the late 1800’s to early 1900s, it was privately owned by several companies,” he added. “Οbviously, mining continued using the more modern techniques that were available at the time, but there’s a lot of history in that area, generally in Lavrio where we explored, which is Agios Constantinos (St. Constantine) and Plaka.”
Kranidiotis explains that “they are separate mines but they are also connected in that they were the entire area which is called ‘Lavriotiki.’ Ιt was the first industrial mining that took place in ancient times—kind of where it all started, in the case of mining.”
The riveting new documentary shows the mineshafts that have lain undisturbed for many centuries, offering not only invaluable insight into Greek history but putting Greece on the international diving map regarding sites offering unique scuba experiences for professional divers.
Greek Reporter asked Kranidiotis to describe his experience going into the mines. “It was like going back into time!” he exclaimed, adding that “one of the best things for [him], at least, in cave diving in general is that you visit caves that are exactly as they were hundreds or thousands of years ago because they’ve been covered by water—it’s kind of a time capsule.”
“You visit mines where there are huge stalactites or stalagmites,” he said. “It’s like time has frozen, it has paused at that time when the cave gets filled with water so, in a sense, you are kind of visiting the past and you’re getting an energy of what it was like thousands of years ago.”
Underwater cave, mine diving “not for adrenaline junkies”
“And it’s the same with this mine—the history behind it and reading the story that originated from the 5th to 6th century BC,” the veteran diver explains to Greek Reporter. “It was the first mine dive I have done where it was quite unique, feeling you are amongst the first people to look at this mine.”
“It was amazing,” he maintained, “especially the section we entered where you can see the tracks used by the carts to transport the excavated ore and metals out to the surface.”
Most of us perhaps think these divers who venture underground in almost impassable tunnels filled with water with many meters of stone above them must be completely fearless. But the opposite is true, according to Kranidiotis.
“Strangely, another key element to be able to do this is that you must have an amount of fear,” he states. “A lot of people get the impression that [in] doing this kind of diving, or cave diving in general…you’re fearless, but it’s not the case.”
“This isn’t for adrenaline freaks or junkies,” he warns. “It’s totally the opposite: you have to be very calm and composed and you have to have an element of fear before starting a dive like this. If you don’t, then things will probably go very wrong because you need to set limits. You need to respect the limits set by the environment and your own personal limits.”