Roman Tomb in Zara
The ruins of an ancient Roman tomb hidden in the basement of a trendy clothing store.
There are three Zara stores (a trendy clothing chain) in the Athens city center, and archaeological ruins scattered throughout this ancient city. But there’s only one place where these two wildly disparate attractions intersect.
In the basement of the Zara on Stadiou Street, the ruins of an ancient Roman tomb are on full display for all casual shoppers and savvy visitors to see. The tomb is separated from the retail area by a glass wall, so visitors can get just feet away from the ancient structure for up close and personal viewing. And just inside the front door, the floor consists of reinforced glass so you can look directly down into the lower level for a unique perspective of the ruins.
The store is located in a 19th-century building with an unexpected history. It was originally the residence of the wealthy Greek philanthropist, Ioannis Hadjikyriakos. Completed in 1880, the beautiful neoclassical mansion was, at the time, one of the most impressive buildings in the city. In his will, Hadjikyriakos stated that upon his passing, the building should be converted to a hotel so all in the city and beyond could enjoy his masterpiece.
When the renovation was complete the building opened as the Hôtel d’Egypte. The hotel failed to thrive so it was remodeled and named the Hôtel d’Athènes, where business was not much better. The building survived, but after the Germans invaded Greece in 1941, it was requisitioned first by the Greek Army and then by the occupying Germans. When the Germans retreated in 1944, it reverted to civilian use and served many purposes until it became vacant in the 1980s.
When Greece was chosen to host the 2004 Olympic Games, many infrastructure projects began to prepare the city for the coming onslaught of visitors, including a modernization and extension of the Athens Metro System. While the Red Line was being renovated, ancient artifacts were discovered many places, including in front of the Hadjikyriakos building. Further excavation revealed there was an ancient Roman-era tomb that extended underneath the building’s foundation.
Due to strict Greek laws protecting archaeological sites and artifacts, the renovation plans were modified to both protect the tombs and allow the public to admire them. The new plans called for the tombs to be on open display in the lower level of the building, which is how this ancient gem came to be housed in this most surprising locale inside a modern clothing store.
Know Before You Go
The tomb is on display when the Zara store is open to the public, currently daily from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Note that security is present and they are (rightfully) quite aggressive about protecting the tomb, as well as the privacy of visitors to the store.
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