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Athens' newest ancient landmark is instant hit

ATHENS, April 3 (Reuters Life!) - After almost 20 centuries of quietly flowing underground, the ancient Athenian river Eridanos openly and loudly gushes through a subway station in the heart of the capital, to the delight of visitors.

Since its opening to the public last week, the small river has instantly become Athens’ version of Rome’s Trevi fountain, with visitors dropping thousands of coins to its bottom.

When archaeologists started excavations under the central Monastiraki square to build a subway near the traditional Plaka district in the shadow of the Acropolis, little did they know they were about to redesign the Athens tourist trail.

The small Eridanos river, flowing from the springs of the central Athens Lycabetus Hill, was one of three rivers which meandered through the ancient city.

Since Roman times, during the second century AD, it has been covered with a clay roof and used as a sewer in what is regarded as one of the most complex technical works of the time.

A 25-metre cross section of the river, flanked by ancient homes and workshops at its banks, has become an instant attraction, with tens of thousands of people flocking to the site, the development ministry has said.

“Passengers can admire the river up close and all ancient artifacts found there, in what is among the most important public works of the antiquity,” Public Works Minister George Souflias said last week.

Archaeologists have retrieved from the excavation site objects ranging from the 8th Century BC to the 19th century.

Commuters and visitor now gather to hear the sound of the crisp water of what was once a revered river. Now covered with grey concrete buildings, ancient Athens was a garden-like city criss-crossed by flowing streams.

“Look at it. This is the river we have heard so much about and now we finally get to see it,” said visitor Yannis Nikolaou, 47, standing on a 25-metre-long steel bridge with a glass floor stretching over the ancient dwellings and river as the sun drenched the cool underground area through a glass roof.

“This is the second time I visit it in 10 days and it is just like an small oasis in this crazy, busy city,” he said.

Many of the visitors have also quickly turned the river into a wishing well dropping coins.

“It is a delightful surprise in this very modern subway station,” said a Swedish tourists who gave his name as Ole. “But why are they dropping in the coins? Isn’t it an archaeological site that should be protected?”