Let me share with you a fantasy of mine:
The year is 2023, the city is Thessaloniki, Greece, and the place is the city’s central Metro station.
Crowds of commuters come and go. Some take a glance at the enormous glass window which offers a view to a section of the old Roman road, discovered there during the construction of the Metro. Some have grown used to the sight and barely spare a glance, while others proudly compare it with the mere reconstructed stratigraphy of another road, displayed at the Athens Metro.
A few yards beyond, a queue of visitors has already begun forming in front of the new museum-cum-site. Cheerful groups of schoolchildren are going in through a separate entrance.
The museum is full of surprises. Not only can one actually walk on a section of the ancient road, but one can almost feel he’s actually in the ancient city, as the road is surrounded by accurate reconstructions of building facades, based on archaeological and historic data.
The illusion of strolling through the ancient city becomes more real with the use of holographic images of people who walk, work and even interact with the visitors.
Other visitors follow their guide, while others proceed at their own pace, guided by applications available for their cell phones or tablets.
In another section of the museum, visitors can learn how the excavation was conducted, while the room where visitors can examine finds from up close is always full with people attracted to the novelty of actually touching selected artifacts.
At the end of the route, the museum’s cafe and gift shop, are always full.
Behind a reinforced wall, one can hardly hear the noises of the works for the expansion of the museum. The discovery of a large house will allow the reconstruction -for the first time- of an exclusively residential building.
Close to the exit, a poster narrates the story of the museum and site – the construction, the excavation, the wise and brave decision of the metro company to maintain the finds in situ at a huge cost and build a museum to house and exhibit them, with the cooperation of an international team of experts. Then there is mention of the Museum’s grand opening, with speeches by various politicians, extolling, once more, the city’s and the country’s cultural treasures.
Few, if any, will remember that ten years ago, the finds were slated for destruction, except the most important that perhaps would have been removed and rebuilt, in an abandoned military camp. Fewer will recall pleas of archaeologists and appeals of countless others to preserve the finds and display them where they were found.
Yes, this is the reality that my fantasy battles with. But before you say that what I dream of is impossible, take a look at what a few brilliant souls conceived of and realised in Britain – the Jorvik Viking Centre and Museum a marvel of conception of immense archaeological and educational value.
If it could be done in Britain, so it can in Greece. A unique archaeological treasure is worth preserving and using all means available to instruct future generations with it.
If you have not heard of the discoveries made during the construction of the Thessaloniki metro, read about them here .
If you want to add your voice to many petitioning for their preservation, sign the petition here.
And if you, like me, despair with people who regard the possibility of making a historic discovery as “high archaeological risk,” think that an entire museum, such as the New Acropolis Museum, could be built above an archaeological site. Why not a mere station?