Construction work in Greece uncovers 'Byzantine Pompeii'
Extensive construction work to build a new underground Metro system in the city of Thessaloniki in Greece has led to the discovery of a wealth of archaeological finds, leading some to label the area as a Byzantine Pompeii - a reference to the ancient Roman city destroyed by an eruption in 79 AD.
Founded in 315 BC by King Cassander of Macedon, Thessaloniki became a key commercial and military hub under the Romans and was considered the second most important imperial urban centre of the Byzantine Empire after Constantinople.
The findings have caused battles between the city’s archaeologists, who wish to protect the ancient ruins, and the Attiko Metro, who is already four years behind schedule with the construction of the new underground system, which is being designed to transport 270,000 passengers each day. Residents too, are growing more and more impatient with the delays and the clogged traffic conditions.
“It is frustrating because the entire project is taking far too long. The city looks like it has been bombed, there is dust and debris everywhere. But in the end we will have a Byzantine Pompeii," said Dimitris Mouzouris, a receptionist at City Hotel.
A couple of months ago, the two sides finally reached a compromise to allow the temporary removal of ruins in order to allow construction to proceed without delay. The ruins will then be returned to their original position as part of a series of subterranean museums.
"About 80 per cent of the ancient ruins will be preserved - and when the metro will finally be completed the residents of modern-day Thessaloniki will be able to walk along the same avenues and buildings as the ancient citizens of the city," said Giorgos Constantinidis, the director of the Attiko Metro.
So far, excavations have unearthed a well-preserved marble road, with the remains of what used to be an open air market, complete with a vast complex of fountains, colonnaded walkways and a square planked by shops, workshops and public buildings. In addition, they have retrieved more than 100,000 ancient artefacts including jewellery, coins, vases, and ceramics.
"You cannot stop development, but at the same time you cannot ignore culture - the two need to co-exist," said Michalis Diverios, an archaeologist and professor at Aristotle University.