A controversial decision this week by Greece’s Central Archaeological Council (KAS) to transfer a section of an ancient Roman road discovered during excavation works for the Thessaloniki Venizelos metro station has triggered the angered reaction of cultural groups and archaeologists worldwide.
The KAS announced the majority-vote decision after a 19-hour session this week according to which the significant finds be removed in order to allow the construction of the northern port city’s subway and be reinstalled at a later date once the metro station is complete.
Among the first to react was Europa Nostra, a Europe-wide cultural heritage federation representing citizens’ organizations that work to safeguard Europe’s cultural and natural heritage.
Underlining the “European significance” of the finds and describing the culture ministry’s decision as the “latest worrying developments regarding the invaluable antiquities that had been discovered at the Venizelos metro station in Thessaloniki”, Europa Nostra appealed to the ΚΑS and to the Greek government expressing its concern about the recently suggested plan against their in situ preservation.
Besides Europe Nostra, other experts including archaeologists are claiming that transferring the finds would damage them. They argue that Greek officials have decided against building the station around the antiquities because it would be more time-consuming and expensive.
According to Attiko Metro SA CEO, Nikos Kouretas, the cost of transferring the finds is estimated at 70.6 million euros, allowing the metro station to open in 2023, when EU funding will end.
The alternative option – to proceed with works around the antiquities – would raise the cost to 124.5 million euros and the project’s completion would be pushed back to 2026, Kouretas said.
The archaeological discoveries will be accessible to visitors and “will be displayed as befits every country that respects and honors its heritage,” said Thessaloniki Mayor Konstantinos Zervas, adding that the removal and reinstallation method was “technically secure, with a smaller cost and faster completion”.
Protests of Greece’s handling of the Thessaloniki treasures – which include a 76-meter-long and 7.5-meter-wide, Byzantine-era, marble-paved road, 7th-century shop remains, a collapsed monumental stone arch, water pipes and a sewage system – first began in 2013 and with an ongoing petition with over 26,000 signatures calling for the artefacts to remain untouched.
“There is no danger for the antiquities to suffer any problems if everything is implemented correctly. Internationally the method has been implemented both in Italy and in Egypt at the Aswan Dam,” classical archaeology professor at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and a KAS member Michalis Tiverios told AP. “Entire temples have been moved kilometres away.”
European Convention for the Protection of Archaeological Heritage
Europa Nostra is calling on the Greek government to take heed: “The implementation of the already agreed conservation ‘in situ’ of the archaeological remains at the Venizelos metro station in Thessaloniki, would be consistent with the European Convention for the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage signed in Valetta (1992)” – a convention which was ratified by Greece in 2005 – and mandates signatories “to make provision, when elements of the archaeological heritage have been found during development work, for their conservation in situ when feasible”.
Officials are now saying the subway will be completed by 2023.
Photos: ELLINIKI ETAIRIA Society for the Environment and Cultural Heritage (ELLET)