Members of the Oxford University Byzantine Society have voted to condemn the decision of the Central Archaeological Council (ΚΑΣ) to remove antiquities from the excavations at Venizelos Metro Station in Thessaloniki.
In 2011, the excavations conducted by the Hellenic Archaeological Service brought to light one of the most important archaeological discoveries of recent years at the junction of the Egnatia and Venizelou streets. The mese of Byzantine Thessaloniki, developed in the 4th century and reconstructed in the 6th century, was revealed in an excellent state of preservation, in addition to its junction with the central perpendicular axis (cardo) which led to the city’s Byzantine port.
The ruins of a monumental Tetrapylon are still preserved at the junction of the two streets, as well as the central water drainage system and the bases of the colonnade of the porticus with a rectangular forum along the street. The discovery is of unique historic value not only for Thessaloniki, but also for the history of Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantium, the Balkans, and of the Eastern Mediterranean in general.
The issue has been intensely debated since 2013, when ΚΑΣ dictated the removal of the antiquities in order to facilitate the construction of the metro. This decision was strongly opposed by the scholarly community, both in Greece and abroad, as well as by a large section of the Greek public. In 2017, after several revisions, ΚΑΣ had authorised a technical solution that would preserve the antiquities in situ, without obstructing the construction of the metro. Over the past three years, the construction works have been moving forward in accordance with this solution. On 19 December 2019, however, ΚΑΣ once more voted to remove the antiquities unearthed during excavation work.
The in situ conservation of the archaeological remains at the Venizelos Metro Station in Thessaloniki would be consistent with the European Convention for the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage signed in Valetta (1992). This Convention was ratified by Greece in 2005 and mandates signatories ‘to make provision, when elements of the archaeological heritage have been found during development work, for their conservation in situ when feasible’ (Article 5, IV).
An online petition against the decision can be found here.