Greeks rally to save ancient road on subway site
Archaeologists in Greece are fighting a battle to save an ancient Roman road which was found on a planned subway station. Around 200 state-employed archaeologists formed a chain around the site in Thessaloniki, beating drums and holding a banner reading “Culture is not business”.
The ancient road was discovered during works to build a 10 kilometre subway network in Thessaloniki to ease traffic congestion. Work began on the network in 2006 and is scheduled to finish in 2016, but it reached a hurdle when the old road was discovered along with other ancient foundations. Thessaloniki was founded in the 4 th century BC and was an important city during Byzantine times.
The 76 metre long and 7.5 metre wide stretch of ancient road, a junction of the city's main road with a smaller street, mostly dates to the 4th century, with 6th century additions. Archaeologists also unearthed the remains of a row of shops, including many jewellers' workshops, a collapsed monumental stone arch, a sewage conduit and water pipes running parallel to the road.
The group of archaeologists, whose protests are being organised by the Association of Greek Archaeologists, are fighting against government plans to remove the ancient road and foundations and display them elsewhere.
"Such a complex would have no reason to exist in a different location," said archaeologist Giorgos Velenis, who insisted that the government's plans for the remains miss the point.
The archaeologists, who have so far gathered more than 12,000 signatures in an online petition to preserve the road, believe that the metro station should be redesigned to incorporate the ancient remains
"It is important for the city that relics of its history be incorporated in its living fabric, the metro network," said archaeologist Aristotelis Mentzos, a professor at the University of Thessaloniki. "They will draw visitors and city dwellers, but at the same time the city must not be completely alienated from its past."
However, Attiko Metro says it has spent about 75 million euros so far to fund archaeological excavations at construction sites, and says that it would be extremely costly and time-consuming to preserve the entire remains in the metro station.
Greece's Supreme Court is expected to discuss an appeal from Thessaloniki's city council against a Culture Ministry decision to relocate the antiquities for display in another part of the city. The court has already temporarily suspended removal work, pending a final ruling.