At the heart of modern day Thessaloniki, Greece archaeologists unearthed what an academic called “a Byzantine Pompeii”.
Six metres below ground, archaeologists found what they say exceeded even their wildest dreams: the commercial heart of the ancient city below the commercial heart of the modern one – marked by a crossroads built by Caesar Galerius in the 4th Century and reconstructed two centuries later, when Thessaloniki had become the second city not of a nation-state, but of the multinational Byzantine Empire.
Descending the staircase to reach the closed-to-the-public dig site, you can see an incredibly well-preserved marble-paved road, complete with the remains of what used to be shops, workshops and public buildings and spaces. The road is still visibly etched by the passing of carriages, while the accompanying archaeologist even points to a marble block showing the markings of a noughts-and-crosses game, presumably carved by children playing in the open air market 17 centuries earlier.
The stone paved main road or avenue of the Byzantine period is very well preserved in a length of 75 meters, underneath modern Egnatia street. In other words, what we have here is a historical crossroads which has survived for no less than 17 centuries, since the time it was planned during Galerius’ reign up until this day. Furthermore, public buildings have been found, which lay at the south of the road, with many building phases from the 6th to the 9th centuries AD. These buildings housed mercantile activities, as Thessaloniki was a very important center of commerce in the Byzantine Empire.
During archaeological excavations since 2006, in the four (from the seven) metro stations in Thessaloniki, archaeologists have found more than 104,000 archaeological findings like coins, vases, golden and silver jewels, ceramics etc
Archaeologist Vassiliki Misailidou said the olive branch wreath made of gold was buried in a simple, box-shaped woman’s grave. It dates to the late 4th or early 3rd century B.C. Another eight golden wreaths were discovered in a single grave four years ago during subway work.
The fact that this commercial use of the area is preserved today not only in Bezesteni, the Byzantine era market, located at the same spot, but also in the modern market of the city, is touching explains the Director of SEA, Despoina Koutsoumba.
“In the case of the Venizelos station antiquities we have something more than that: we have an archaeological ensemble exquisitely well preserved which “interacts” with its historical and modern environment. We have the unique chance to walk on the road of the Justinian Era, only 5 meters underneath the roadway of today’s Egnatia street, while 22 meters deeper the modern project, the city’s subway can extend. A road underneath a road, the ancient public work within the modern public work – this is something special. And it can give Thessaloniki a unique station in Europe, a station which itself will be a site worth visiting” she adds.”
Archaeologists and city authorities dream of a metro station combined with a subterranean museum, that will become a major tourist attraction and a constant reminder of the city’s glorious past – a past lamentably hidden today by decades of anarchical construction and disastrous city planning.
- Founded in 315 BC by King Cassander of Macedon; named after his wife, the sister of Alexander the Great
- Under Romans, became key commercial and military centre, serving briefly as capital of all Greek provinces
- Major early centre of Christianity, which was founded in the city by St Paul the Apostle. Paul’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians, written in AD 52, is the first written book in the New Testament
- It was the second city of the Byzantine Empire after Constantinople, and the most important imperial urban centre in Europe, with a population exceeding 100,000 in the 14th Century – larger than London’s
- Following centuries of Ottoman rule, it was annexed to Greece in 1913