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fl. sixth century b.c.

Greek Architect and Engineer

In the sixth century b.c. Eupalinus designed and constructed a tunnel that brought water from a source outside the capital city of Samos down to its citizens. Deemed one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Eupalinion Tunnel passes from the top of a hill and goes under the earth more than 65 feet (19.8 m) to a water tank in the town. Amazingly, the water still flows the same way today.

Hardly any information survives about Eupalinus. According to the great science fictionwriter Isaac Asimov, who also loved and studied ancient Greece, the Greeks "emphasized abstract thought and paid little attention to their own record as practical engineers." Thus, little remains about men like Eupalinus. What is known about Eupalinus is that he was an architect/engineer from Megara. However, his famous work took place on Samos, an island on the eastern Aegean Sea, only a mile from the coast of Asia Minor. The historian Herodotus (c. 484-c. 420 b.c.) believed that the three greatest engineering feats in ancient Greece all occurred on Samos: the great temple to honor the goddess Hera, the Eupalinion Tunnel, and the amazing sea wall that protects its harbor.

Ancient Greece set the standard for public works, including community waterworks. Leaders realized that such public works helped boost the economy and led to better sanitation among the people. Often, tyrannical leaders would focus on public works to win favor with the citizenry. Bringing water into the cities was a monumental task, and many great thinkers spent their lives grappling with the issue.

The Greeks relied mainly on aqueducts and bridges to bring water into the cities. They favored these devices because they thought water could only be transported downward or on a straight path. Thus, they would build aqueducts through mountains or bridges to pass over valleys.

Eupalinus began work on the tunnel in Samos on the command of Polycrates, the tyrant governor of the region. Interestingly, after Eupalinus designed the tunnel, digging began from both ends simultaneously, which led it to be called the "two-mouthed tunnel" by Herodotus. It is unclear exactly how many people actually worked in the tunnel at one time, but estimates range from at least two and perhaps as many as 15. When the two sides met, they were only off by 15 feet (4.5 m). Scholars believe that the teams were comprised of slaves who carved the tunnel out of the rock using hammers and chisels.

In modern times, a German team studied the tunnel and found details that made its construction even more impressive. At one point, the workers had to deviate from the plan due to unstable soil. Even with this turn, they still found their way to the workers coming from the other end.

Since the aqueduct brought fresh drinking water into the city, it had to be completely lined with stone. Clay pipes delivered the water through a trench dug in the floor. After 10 years of work, the tunnel was completed. It measured more than 3,000 feet (915 m) long and approximately 6 feet (1.8 m) in diameter. Dug through the rock that makes up Mt. Castro, the tunnel is located less than 100 feet (30.5 m) above sea level.

The people of Samos attempted to use the aqueduct in 1882, but were unsuccessful. Nearly a century later, from 1971 to 1973, the German Archaeological Institute of Athens began uncovering the tunnel. Today, the tunnel is visited by flocks of tourist who revel in the natural beauty of Samos.