Tsk, tsk, tsk, two news items in a row. I know, I know, sorry! But I am invested in this story and I wanted to share it right away. The Central Archaeological Council (KAS) has approved the proposal concerning the in situ preservation of the antiquities, for reasons of public interest, i.e. the preservation and protection of the authenticity of this unique monumental complex. Another reason mentioned is that the monument is facing serious risks because a lot of time has past since its excavation.

A crash course on the project for those who are new to the blog. In March of 2013, I blogged about an excavation conducted at the Venizelos metro station which 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 was (and is) that 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 archaeologists.

By April it looked like Thessaloniki's government and archaeological institutions had found a solution to the problem: they were going to temporarily remove the finds during the station's construction and then restore about 85 percent to 95 percent after the station was completed. The solution proposed had a low cost--0,6 percent to 0.8 percent of the budget--with zero or only a few months delay to the works’ completion. Only a 45 square meter space (out of the area’s 1.600 square meters) would not be restored, due to the placement of vents and escalators.

By February of last year, word got out that the removal of the antiquities from the construction site was suspended in July of last year following a decision reached by the Council of State. In the beginning of April I blogged about the estimation that it will take at least another three years and some 40 million euros for the excavation of ancient ruins to be completed. Well, it seems that that was a careful estimate: the new numbers weren't pretty. the new completion date was somehwere in 2020 and it might cost another 42 million euros in funding for the archaeological work it has lined up to complete the digs, on top of 92 million already spent.

Now, a new decision issued by the Central Archaeological Council (KAS) favors the in situ preservation of the antiquities found two years ago at the heart of Thessaloniki, during construction works of the “Venizelos” subway station. The issue has since then caused a lot of controversy not only within KAS, but also in the local and academic community. The Municipality of Thessaloniki has recently referred back to the Council submitting a proposal about a) the in situ preservation of the antiquities, and b) their enhancement in what the city’s mayor called an 'archaeological plaza'. The in situ preservation was approved, however, KAS has rejected the proposal about the enhancement of the monument on the ground of lacking documentation and asked the Municipality to conduct a complete architectural proposal in collaboration with the relevant services of the Cultural Ministry and the Attiko Metro.

Mayor Yiannis Boutaris, who was present at the meeting, explained the concept of the proposal, which, as he said, will allow the creation of an archaeological “plaza”, which will enhance the antiquities of the city in the heart of the citizens’ everyday life. According to the proposal, presented by professor Alexandra Alexopoulou (School of Architecture – Aristotle University of Thessaloniki), the archaeological site which comprises significant monuments, like the Byzantine Mese Odos, will be “open” to the public, and at the same time underground, beneath the Egnatia street. It will be easily accessible by the openings of the Kapnergati and Alkazar squares, which will descend gradually three metres underneath the road and will be connected by a bridge, built three metres above the antiquities. Furthermore, a big perimeter corridor will give visitors the opportunity to have a full view of the monuments, while from the same spot they will be able to descend and have a closer look at the antiquities.

According to Mr. Boutaris, the proposal does not prevent a future construction of the subway station, as the necessary shafts will be built regardless. “The freeing of the place and the construction of an archaeological plaza do not affect the metro at all. That is why it must be disconnected from it and not be a part of it any longer. We do not object to the construction of the station, although the two stations – Venizelos and Aghia Sofia – are only 370m from one another, which is less than a bus station” he stressed.

Another point underlined at the meeting was that the antiquities must be protected, as they remain at the mercy of humidity and rainfalls, due to the delays, while until now no proposal of detaching the antiquities from the Attiko Metro has been submitted – as asked for by the former Ministerial Decision.

It should be reminded that according to the previous opinion of the Central Archaeological Council of December 2014, the antiquities were to be preserved in situ, as these are unique finds and examples of a Byzantine city planning, not to be found anywhere else in the world.