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Subway to the Past Volume 53 Number 2, March/April 2000
by Yannis N. Stavrakakis

[image] Excavations in the northwestern part of Monastiraki square in November 1998 (Yannis N. Stavrakakis) [LARGER IMAGE]

Nine years in the making, Athens' new $2-billion-plus subway has been a boon to archaeologists, yielding ancient public baths, metalworking ateliers, aqueducts and cisterns, ancient roads, drainage ditches, scattered graves and cemeteries, and more than 10,000 artifacts. While tunnels for the two subway lines were bored at an average depth of 60 feet, well below the ancient city's remains, construction of stations and ventilation shafts cut through archaeologically sensitive strata and required salvage excavations of some 753,200 square feet of Athenian land. It was the largest archaeological effort ever undertaken in the city. Some 50 Athenian archaeologists, excavating between 1992 and 1997, were granted an unprecedented opportunity to observe changes in the city's topography and settlement patterns from the Neolithic period to present. The greatest number of finds was made at four stations in the city center: Syntagma, the city's central plaza; Kerameikos, near an important classical cemetery; Monastiraki, a square close to the Roman-era library of Hadrian, and the Acropolis, at the foot of the ancient monuments.

The Ministry of Culture will feature the most important of these objects in permanent displays at three subway stations in the city center (Syntagma, Evangelismos, and Academia) and at the University of Athens, Zographou campus. Another exhibition at the city's Museum of Cycladic Art, "The City Beneath the City," displaying 500 subway excavation finds, opened in February and will be on view until December 2001. The exhibition will illustrate the city's history from the Late Bronze Age to the late Roman period (1700 B.C.-A.D. 600) with artifacts such as jewelry, coins, statuary, pottery, and tools set in their cultural context with plans, drawings, and charts that show their findspots and how they were used in the past. A catalog will be published in Greek and English. At the close of the exhibition the finds will be transferred for permanent display at a new Museum of the City of Athens to be built near the site of Plato's Academy, about a mile northwest of Syntagma Square.

Yannis N. Stavrakakis is an Athens correspondent for ARCHAEOLOGY.

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© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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