The Council of State judged the removal and subsequent return of the antiquities discovered during the construction of the Thessaloniki’s underground metro to Venizelos station to be fully legal and constitutional, dismissing objections raised by the Thessaloniki municipality. The municipality resorted to the court to block a 2014 culture ministry decision for the construction of the metro station around the antiquities, which are to be preserved and placed on display inside the station. To this end, the ministry instructed that the remains be removed and stored, then returned to their positions inside the station.

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.

In September, 2015, a new decision issued by the Central Archaeological Council (KAS) favored the in situ preservation of the antiquities found, however, KAS 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.

The Thessaloniki Municipality claimed that the ministerial decision violated the constitutional principle of proportionality, since the 'worst solution for the protection of the cultural environment was selected, which results in the permanent disappearance of the specific historic monument as a complete whole'. It also argued that the decision violated laws on the protection of antiquities and cultural heritage.

It failed to convince the court, however, which ruled that the ministerial decisions were legal and in line with the constitution, since the ministry had previously examined all proposals, including that of the municipality. The final decision required that the greater part of Venizelos station be redesigned, structurally and functionally, so that the remains discovered could, in the most part, be restored to their original position, the court noted.

It also pointed out that the Central Archaeological Council had approved the removal for the protection of the remains but also in case deeper finds were revealed, while ruling that the studies for the protection, removal and storage of the finds were legal.