New archaeological find in Thessaloniki subway rekindles old tensions in Greece

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New archaeological find in Thessaloniki subway rekindles old tensions in GreeceA marble paved square from the Byzantine times was discovered because of the work done for the creation of Thessaloniki's Metropolitan Subway

The new impressive archaeological discovery in the the Greek city of Thessaloniki is a marble paved square from the Byzantine times which was discovered because of the work done for the creation of the city’s Metropolitan Subway.

It is the first time that such a finding comes to light; a similar shaped square paved with marble is found only in the city of Jerash in Jordan. The square goes back to the 6th century AD and is just a few blocks from the Venizelos Station where the  Byzantine avenue of Thessaloniki, the famous “Decumanus Maximus” has been revealed.  

According to the opinion of Greece's Central Archaeological Council signed by Minister of Culture Ms. Lydia Koniordou, the Byzantine avenue will remain as is while, taking into account the importance of the finding, the issue is expected to come up for discussion at the CAC.

Thessaloniki archaeologists against Attiko Metro company

Tensions between Thessaloniki archaeologists and Attiko Metro, the company which is overseeing work to build the Thessaloniki subway system, have marked the near-decade since construction began in 2006. Recently, the two sides reached a compromise that calls for the temporary removal of ruins in order to allow construction to proceed unimpeded. If the deal holds, it will enable the preservation of 80 percent of discovered artifacts. 

The ruins unearthed in Greece’s second city have led some to hail it as a “second Pompeii.” Current excavations are focused on the so-called “intra muros” stations – those that sit within the limits of the city’s Theodosian walls – and the “extra muros” stations – those located outside these late antique fortifications.

According to BBC, "rather than joy and excitement, the unearthing of what an academic called "a Byzantine Pompeii" at the heart of modern day Thessaloniki, Greece's second city, has caused bitter controversy in a country clutching at economic straws."

Kathimerini reports that works on two intra muros stations, Aghia Sofia and Venizelou, have unearthed sections of the city’s Decomanus Maximus, the east-west boulevard that ran through Thessaloniki and most other cities of the Roman Empire. Excavations of this avenue – the medieval “Boulevard of the Byzantines” – have focused on a vast complex of fountains and colonnaded walkways. The late antique road was initially of marble construction; by the 6th century CE it had been repaved with rectangular stone slabs. Digging at the site of the adjacent Venizelou station has revealed a square of marble construction flanked by workshops and bazaar-style stalls. These ruins are nestled quietly beneath the historical Odos Egnatia, a street that takes its name from the famous legionnaire highway that ran through northern Greece in antiquity.

Metro construction extra muros – beyond the formal limits of the ancient city – have provided rare glimpses of early Christian building practice. In the east, at the construction site for Sintrivani station, a late antique church has been uncovered that stands atop a pre-Christian religious structure; its mosaic flooring depicts the mythical bird Phoenix. In the western part of the city, at the site of the future Plateia Dimokratias station, archaeologists have revealed an arched, rectangular late antique church flanked by scattered graves. Burial practice suggests that the cemetery was in use until the 15th-century Ottoman sack of the city; following that conquest, these suburbs developed into commercial neighborhoods.

Meeting modern commuter needs while tending to historical finds

Thessaloniki’s difficulties are similar to  those that confronted Athens during the construction of its metro system: meeting modern commuter needs while responsibly tending to historical finds. Engineers in Athens anticipated the discovery of entire ancient neighborhoods; they were equipped to excavate them efficiently and to incorporate ruins into their respective station designs. But much of what’s been unearthed in Thessaloniki has come as a surprise to engineer and archaeologist alike. The discoveries speak to the city’s emergence in late antiquity as a cultural hub and – like Constantinople – a strategic bloodline between the Eastern and Western halves of the Roman Empire.

The president of Athens Attiko Metro Yannis Mylopoulos estimated that the first metro line in Thessaloniki will be operational by 2020 and that the whole project will be finished by 2026.He was confident that these deadlines can be met, provided that the main lines are included in the “Juncker” investment package. This, he explained, is necessary in order to ensure that the necessary funding to complete the project will be secured. Moreover, the Attiko Metro chief also stressed that the Thessaloniki project was temporarily halted due to ‘problems of the past’ being resolved and thanked the District governor of Central Macedonia Apostolos Tzitzikostas for his support. On his part, Tzitzikostas commented that all entities need to meet their commitments and stressed the importance of constant financing.

RELATED TOPICS: GreeceGreek tourism newsTourism in GreeceGreek islandsHotels in GreeceTravel to GreeceGreek destinations Greek travel marketGreek tourism statisticsGreek tourism report



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