Open letter to the PM: Thessaloniki metro antiquities in peril

To Mr Kyriakos Mitsotakis,

As Greeks of the diaspora, philhellenes and students of ancient and Byzantine culture, we are greatly dismayed by the recent developments jeopardizing the preservation of the important remains of Late Antique and Byzantine Thessaloniki revealed in the course of constructing the city’s metro. Since the emergence of archaeology as a modern academic discipline, this is one of the most spectacular finds from these periods anywhere in the world. The intact road that was uncovered formed the heart of the Late Antique capital and the second most important city of Byzantium such as it was developed between the 4th and the 12th centuries. Nothing equivalent is known from anywhere else, neither in this considerable territorial and chronological expanse, nor in urban significance. The paramount importance of this finding is such that the city of Thessaloniki can qualify as a primary UNESCO World Heritage site (the largest and best preserved Late Antique and Byzantine city anywhere in the world) and be developed as a tourist destination of the first order.

Although it is both appropriate and technologically possible to keep the archaeological complex around the Venizelou metro station in its place, the metro construction company prefers to dismantle it into bits and pieces, temporarily move them to storage outside the city, and place them back after the station’s construction. This procedure not only destroys underlying archaeological strata and exposes the finds to danger but has also proven to fail. Extremely important finds of the same period in the station around the square of Hagia Sophia were dismantled and moved to storage outside the city. However, the effort to put them back in their original place after the metro works were concluded was unsuccessful, since they could no longer fit in the space from which they had been extracted. This procedure threatens the authenticity of this unique complex of monuments, which is one of the criteria used by UNESCO in order to award the characterization “World Heritage site.”

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