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The Sacred Salt Spring of Erechtheion, or how the Aegean Sea got to flow high on the top of Athens’ Acropolis

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Abstract

“The Sea of Erechtheus" was a sacred salty well, housed by the Temple of Erechtheion, on the Acropolis (Athens, Greece). According to the legend, it was Poseidon who produced this spring by striking the rock with his trident. It was his gift to the city of Athens, in the competition with the goddess Athena for the patronship of the city. Ancient authors suggest that this salt water well had a hydraulic communication with the Aegean Sea. Pausanias has described it as a "sea-like water" (thalassion hydor) and has also mentioned an intriguing acoustic phenomenon: the noise made by the waves at the harbour of Phalerum could be heard near the spring. Finding sea water in a well relatively distant from the sea might be surprising for the modern reader or visitor to Athens, who knows that Acropolis is few kilometres away from the shoreline and, in addition, the hill of Acropolis rises a few tens of meters above sea level. Since previous studies have not tackled yet the mystery of the "Sea of Erechtheus", the present paper aims to integrate ancient Greek narratives, travelogues, ancient geography, (ethno)hydrology and hydromythology, in order to provide a plausible explanation for this phenomenon. The conclusions support the validity of ancient sources and point to a regular phenomenon common to the frequent landscape of Greece: the intrusion of seawater into the coastal karst limestone aquifers.
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