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Athens Metro Update September 8, 1999
by Nikos Axarlis

Greek archaeologists and scholars are worried that ancient remains in the center of classical and modern Athens could be damaged or destroyed by a new subway tunnel under Ermou Street linking Syntagma Square with the Monistiraki district. Originally the tunnel, part of Attiko Metro's Line 3, was to pass underneath Mitropoleos Street where the Athens cathedral of the Greek Orthodox Church stands. Protests by church authorities led to the new route under Ermou Street. But the new tunnel is to pass underneath the eleventh-century church of Kapnikarea, a significant monument of Byzantine Athens, and Panaghia Pantanassa, a seventeenth-century church that has already suffered extensive structural damage from subway work below it.

A spokesman for Attiko Metro, the state-owned company that oversees the building of the Athens underground, said that work on the new tunnel is slated to begin this autumn following test drills now under way. The tunnel is expected to be completed in three and one-half years. The project must be approved by the Greek Ministry of Culture's Central Archaeological Council.

Liana Parlama, head of the prehistoric and classical section of the Greek Archaeological Service, said that the "tunnel is to be dug by conventional methods 65 feet below the present road surface, that is underneath layers of possible ancient remains." The huge mechanical digger used elsewhere by Attiko Metro, which has caused substantial damage to buildings and destroyed antiquities, will not be employed.

Two years ago the Greek government, following international protests, intervened and forced cancellation of a tunnel being dug by Attiko Metro, also part of the Line 3, that was to pass underneath the archaeological site of Kerameikos, the most important cemetery of ancient Athens. More than 1,000 ancient tombs were destroyed in building what was to be the Kerameikos station, now a huge, empty hole.

© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America