Archaeologists ready to tunnel for treasure

By Costas Kantouris

Thessaloniki, Greece - Another subway in Greece, another look into the past.

Tunnelling work to build a metro system for the country's second-largest city started on Thursday, as culture ministry officials signed an agreement to protect antiquities they expect to be discovered during construction.

The agreement follows a massive horde of antiquities uncovered while building a new subway system in Athens, which opened in 2000, with extensions added before the 2004 Olympics. Some of the discoveries are on display at Athens stations.

The Thessaloniki subway system will span about 10 kilometres with 13 stations and is due to be completed by 2012.

Work involving two large tunnel-boring machines started Thursday. The machines were named Cassander and Thessalonica, after the king who founded the northern city 2 300 years ago and his wife.

Haris Tsimatzis, a government project inspector, said the position of several subway stations and tunnelling depth had been changed to accommodate archaeologists' recommendations.

"Antiquities will be on display at at least three subway stations - just as they are in Athens," Tsimatzis said.

He said the excavation site would span about two hectares.

Archaeologists are hoping to find a cemetery, more than 2 000 years old, and parts of the city's ancient wall, as well as centuries of old roads, public baths and other buildings.

"We're taking great care to protect the antiquities. Planning has been worked out in such a way that this care will not slow down the project," said Giorgos Yiannis, head of Attiko Metro, the state-run company, which is supervising the Thessaloniki subway.

Yiannis said most tunnelling would occur at 16m to 21m below ground, while most ancient artifacts were expected to be found at between 11m and 13m.

More than a million people live in greater Thessaloniki and about 430 000 cars are registered in the city. - Sapa-AP

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