Thessaloniki in modern day Greece is dealing with a situation: an excavation conducted by the 9th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities at the Venizelos station has brought to light a very well preserved 70-meter section of a marble-paved road, the remains of buildings dating back to the sixth to ninth centuries AD, as well as big public buildings of the 7th century; a rarity for the Byzantine world. Trouble is, the site of the find is part of a new subway tunnel and platform which are being built to transport 250,000 passengers daily, and thus decrease traffic congestion and air pollution in the city. The entire subway project has a price-tag of 3.5 billion euros (4.6 billion dollars), and was co-financed by the European Union. To keep the road, the entire subway project would have to be abandoned. To save the subway project, the road would need to be moved, or destroyed--the same thing, according to archeologists.

Now, the road is not Hellenic, so strictly speaking, it does not belong on this blog. Yet, the dilemma of preservation versus innovation knows no boundaries of time and place, and the next find that ends up threatened by modern needs could very well be from ancient Hellas.

As a Hellenist, and as a mortal who is aware of the sacredness of history and the importance of discovering and preserving the treasures of the past, I feel a deep desire to preserve and restore the sites of our ancestors. As a child of the modern age, however, I am aware that the past--sometimes--is simply the past, and modern progress is needed to preserve a quality of life that we have all become accustomed to. Sometimes there is no choice. Stratos Simopoulos, Greece's secretary general for public works has spoken out about the subject to the BBC--and note that the same could be said about any ancient site:

"We realise how important the find is, but it is impossible to keep it there. Everything else is hot air. I respect the archaeologists, but I ask them to respect our expertise as well. The debate can go on for some weeks, but if a practical alternative is not found by then, we are not willing to wait forever. Politics is not only about consensus, but also about collisions."

From that same article: Despina Makropoulou, the head of the Ninth Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities and of the excavation, insists on preservation, saying that these ancients sites are Greece's capital--again, an argument that could be made about any ancient site:

"It is self-evident that we should preserve and showcase the finds for current and future generations. In Greece, we are not in the business of making cars, our heavy industry is culture, the heritage of our ancestors. We must be proud, but also worthy of this heritage."

We live in an age where progress is the only way forward, and where money rules supreme. Especially in a money-starved economy like modern Greece, the government can not stop a development because of an archeological discovery. I would love to rule on the side of preservation, no matter the cost, but the reality of the situation is that modern men is bound by its economy, and that economy does not give a damn about an old Roman road. I understand Simopoulos, but in my heart I agree with Makropoulou.

Still, I think I would fight harder if the find contained a sacred site like a temple or shrine; the level of sacredness of the site matters to me, it seems. Yet, while the site has been studied extensively, there is always more to learn, and even if we had learned it all, simply beholding it has its value, no matter if Gods were worshipped at that site or not.

I'm torn about the decision. I wish for preservation, but understand that the value of such an effort will most likely never top a new development. As for Thessaloniki, there is no solution to the problem just yet. The project is already five years overdue. There is still hope of a situation where the modern metro station can co-exist with the ancient road, but the chances of the road surviving are slim. I'm still on the fence about this. My heart bleeds for the destruction of yet another ancient site, but I also feel helpless knowing that saving this ancient site would require not just a financial injection, but a global shift in thinking, a shift that is not likely to happen.

you can read more about the ancient site here, and about the bind Thessaloniki is in here. What is your opinion? Do you feel there is a difference between ancient sacred sites and other ancient sites? Can you see a solution to the predicament? I would love to hear from you.

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