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Historic metro finds at Thessaloniki

- by Andy Cornish

Thousands of ancient artefacts found.

Excavations to build metro stations in Thessaloniki, the gateway city for holidays in Halkidiki have unearthed more than 100,000 ancient treasures in a find that has triggered huge controversy.

Archaeologists have discovered coins, vases, jewellery and ceramics while tunnelling out four of the city's new metro stations over the past seven years.

Despina Makropoulos, the president of Byzantine Antiquities, outlined the the history of the finds to an audience at the city's archaeological museum recently

During the seven years of excavations at metro stations in Thessaloniki, archaeologists have found more than 104,000 valuable artefacts.

Archaeologists have found what they say exceeded even their wildest dreams with the discovery of the commercial heart of the ancient city marked by a crossroads built by Caesar Galerius in the 4th century.

The new metro stations at Platia Dimokratias and Stavroupoli have been built on sites that have been in use for more than 600 years.

The sites marked entrances to the ancient city called Golden Gate and the Gate of Vardaris and were used as cemeteries from Roman times to occupation by the Turks.

The station at Sintrivani, in the eastern part of the city, was the site of an early christian basilica,while the station of Agia Sofia unearthed the Decoumanous Maximous (Avenue of the Ancient Years) which was the site of many impressive ancient finds.

Archaeologists and city authorities want the metro station combined with a subterranean museum, that could become a major tourist attraction

But the Greek government has removed many of the ancient artefacts and put them into storage but the move has sparked protest by those who want them displayed in Thessaloniki.

Around 12,500 signatures have been collected supporting a scheme to incorporate the treasures into the metro system.

Keeping the ruins could mean scrapping the central subway station – and jeopardising the entire €3.5billion project.

Despina Makropoulos said: "It is true that the works for the construction of the metro were the reason to start learning about the history of our city."

"However we should ensure the rescue of these findings. We want to build our future on the knowledge of the historical past, not on its ruins."