By Iota Myrtsioti
THESSALONIKI - Archaeologists are ready to begin work on the largest-ever excavation site in this city's historic center using the so-called «metro-mouse,» the giant drill already used to dig tunnels under the city of Athens.
As the drill moves ahead, it is expected to help unearth finds that will illuminate the history and topography of the city's Hellenistic and Roman periods.
The greatest archaeological interest lies in the site of the six metro stations along the ancient Via Egnatia, where monuments and archaeological exploration point to the existence of a rich store of artifacts.
Potential sites were mapped as part of Attiko Metro's plan for the tunnels, and the Culture Ministry signed a memorandum of cooperation with the construction firm this week.
«The metro will not only improve life for the city's residents but will shed light on its history,» said the ministry's secretary-general Christos Zachopoulos.
The 15 articles in the memorandum offer ways for how findings should be preserved, stored, protected, transported, restored, documented and displayed at the six stations along the route. These displays will be under the exclusive jurisdiction of the archaeological ephorates.
«We have an excellent working relationship with the archaeological services,» said Attiko Metro's board chairman Giorgos Yiannis. «The goal is to respect and highlight the city's rich heritage.»
New Railway Station. This area is the site of the city's extensive cemetery dating from the Hellenistic and Roman periods, as well as layers of Early Christian and Byzantine periods. Finds so far include Hellenistic and Roman graves dating from the 2nd-8th century AD.
Dimokratias Square Station. Sections of the ancient western wall have been found here, and over a wider area, about 40 archaeological digs have unearthed buildings with mosaic floors, mostly from the Roman period, among other monuments.
Venizelos Station. A central area with many monuments, this could be the site of a Byzantine monastery, and Roman and Late Roman buildings and public buildings.
Aghia Sophia Station. Another potential source of artifacts, 50 digs in the wider area have pinpointed buildings dating from the Hellenistic to the Byzantine periods.
Sintrivani Square and Panemistimiou Stations. Sections of the eastern cemetery and perhaps architectural remains of various buildings such as Roman baths and ancient wells are here.
Findings at other stations are not expected to produce many antiquities, apart from a few Hellenistic funereal monuments.