Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Monumental Roman road discovered in Thessaloniki


Thessaloniki's metro system is four years behind schedule, but that is not really surprising given that each stage of excavation for the metro has revealed more of the ancient town that lies beneath Greece's second city.
Founded by Alexander the Great's general and successor Kassander in 315BC on the Thermaic Gulf, the city has enjoyed continuous occupation, testament to the importance of its strategic position in terms of access to the hinterland and trade.
The city was named for Thessalonike, Alexander's half sister who was born following a famous victory in Thessaly. Alexander's father Philip liked to name or even rename his wives and daughters after events.
The city has been continuously occupied since the fourth century BC and so any kind of excavation for new buildings or works in its historic centre are likely to encounter layer upon layer of evidence of the city's fortunes over the centuries.
Of the ancient city, it is possible to see parts of the city walls built by Kassander, the Forum with its Hellenistic baths, the remains of the palace complex of the Emperor Galerius and the currently under threat temple of Aphrodite. The artefacts in the museum bear witness to the importance and wealth of the city in Hellenistic and Roman times, and rescue excavations continue to reveal important public buildings.

AP Photo/Nikolas Giakoumidis
This time it is a monumental Roman road that has been discovered: archaeologists have uncovered more than 80 metres of an ancient road built by the Romans in the third century AD. The ancient road is only a few meters away from the modern street known as the Via Egnatia and was found when the workers were excavating the metro station 'Aghia Sophia'.
The marble paved street was laid around the third century AD and maintained for at least three centuries. Games and other graffiti, indicating some of the activities of the people who passed along the road, have been uncovered scratched into the surface and ruts from horse-drawn cart of chariot wheels also mark the road. Viki Tzanakouli, an archaeologist working on the project, told The Associated Press the marble surfaced road was about 1,800 years old, but remains of an older road built by the ancient Greeks 500 years earlier were found underneath it.
"We have found roads on top of each other, revealing the city's history over the centuries," Tzanakouli said. "The ancient road, and side roads perpendicular to it appear to closely follow modern roads in the city today."
The monumental Roman road seems to be the Decumanus Maximus of the city. The Decumanus was the main road of a Roman town, oriented east to west and crossing the most important part of the city. At the points where the Decumanus entered and left the Fora or main squares of the town they were paved with marble, just as in this case.

AP Photo/Nikolas Giakoumidis
The excavated stretch of road is 82.5 metres long and 10 meters wide. On the south side of the road the base of a huge colonnade can be seen, and this seems to suggest that this might have been a section of a 'via colonnata' or colonnaded street of the type so famous in some of Rome's eastern cities such as Palmyra and Apamea. Seven column bases are still preserved in situ in Thessaloniki, giving an idea of the grandeur of the original structure.
The south side of the road was connected to a series of public buildings that seem to be of mixed use, but indicating commercial and manufacturing activity.  The ancient road climbed gradually uphill towards the east and passed beneath the Arch of Galerius and the related palatial buildings which in themselves are an illustration of the importance and wealth of the city.
The excavation has also revealed a huge number of small finds, including jewellery, sacred utensils, and tools, and hundreds of gold and bronze coins in addition to a large amount of pottery.
The intention is that the marble paved road will be raised so that it is on permanent display for passengers when the metro opens.

AP Photo/Nikolas Giakoumidis


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