Transported through history: the Greek mosaic floor adorns the new metro station

ATHENS, Nov 2 (Reuters) – In a domed passageway outside Athens, crowds study billboards and gaze through the glass beneath their feet at a mosaic floor of a 4th-century house century BC surrounded by ceramics and other household items.

These are not visitors to a museum, but passengers on a new metro line that connects Piraeus, the seaport that serves the capital, to its airport.

The mini-exhibition of objects, which also features original pieces and copies of an ancient well and cistern irrigation system, is integrated into the structure of the Piraeus terminus, inaugurated last month.

Metro builder Attiko Metro worked closely with archaeologists to create it, and the treasure represents a culmination of thousands of artifacts found during the construction of the line.

“We give the passenger a little taste of a daily moment in an (ancient) house in Piraeus,” said archaeologist Stella Chryssoulaki.

With so much history underground, the construction of underground metro lines in Greece – the first was inaugurated in central Athens in 2000 – has always been a tricky issue.

“We have proven here in Piraeus that (history and modernity) can co-exist. There is always a way,” said Attiko Metro project director Evangelos Kolovos, whose teams had to adapt to the needs of archaeologists without delaying it or exceeding its 730 million euro ($723 million) budget.

RARE DISORDERS

Working at a depth of up to 17 meters (56 feet), the archaeological excavations spanned ten years and covered 7,500 square meters while six stations and a 7.6 km (4.7 mile) extension tunnel uncovered been built.

“We put the earth in big bags, we took it out carefully, so that we could continue the excavation, and in another place we spread it out, and we gave the archaeologists the possibility of checking there and removing all the ( discoveries), “said Kolovos.

One find in particular still resonates with him.

“They found a little old ring. They put it in my hand. I’m still emotional when I remember it,” he said.

In a workshop in Piraeus, artifacts – some recovered from ancient shafts into which archaeologists were lowered while tied to ropes – fill boxes stacked on the ceiling, while the shattered remains are spread out on long tables while restaurateurs assemble them.

“We saw…small objects that we didn’t know existed, and…we still don’t know what many of them are for. A huge field of research has opened up before us,” Chryssoulaki said.

The team was unable to salvage all the cisterns, although similar cisterns have been dug in the past. They spent time painstakingly preserving rarer finds, including a wooden door that would have decayed if exposed to dry air.

For passengers passing through the port, from where ferries carry tourists to the Greek islands, the travel time between the new station and the airport is less than an hour. As they pass through, they can now remember other travelers long gone.

“On the surface and below the surface, we will always have all these layers of people who have passed through here, lived here, fallen in love, fought and felt pain here,” Chryssoulaki said.

($1 = 1.0099 euros)

Reporting by Deborah Kyvrikosaios; edited by John Stonestreet

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