The metro of Thessaloniki, a Greek tragicomedy


The discovery of ancient ruins belonging to the Byzantine-era in nowadays Thessaloniki during the construction of the metro has added another obstacle to a project that started in 1989, and now has no clear kick-off date. During the excavations at Venizelos area of the town, the Decumanus Maximus and Cardo Maximus crossroads were discovered, having survived for 16 centuries. In the intersection of the two old streets, an impressive tetrapylon stands some metres under the actual ground. These findings belong to the Byzantine-era, when Thessaloniki was an important commercial, political and military centre, as well as a trade hub in the region.

Ancient ruins from the Byzantine- era. Credits:

The discovery of these old underground antiquities has now created a conflict between the conservative Greek Government and part of the civil society.

What is happening now with the metro?

The Ministry of Culture of Greece has decided to remove and relocate the most important findings at Venizelos future metro station into a new location, most probably a museum that would attract tourists, and therefore, money. The main reason to do that is that the construction of the metro needs to keep going, as the rails and excavations are on their way, and there is no room for plan changing.

However, a group of citizens organized themselves to stop what they consider a violation of the principle of preserving heritage in its original context. Since the decision from the political authorities was taken, several demonstrations have been happening by the civil society, under the name of “Movement for the Protection of Cultural Heritage”.

Their arguments are in the alignment of guaranteeing the integrity of the antiquities, in order to be recognized as a monument of world cultural heritage by UNESCO. According to them, leaving the findings on the place would also turn the place into a touristic and scientific pole of attraction.

Moreover, an official letter signed by dozens of scientists, experts and University professors was sent to Greece Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to stop what they call a “destruction of the city’s cultural heritage”. There is no official date for the removal of the archeological and historical findings, but it will presumably create a new conflict between a part of the society and the Government, and a new setback for the culmination of the metro.

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