Finds moved to own park

Unless they had been following the story closely, people might get a touch confused by the fate of the finds from the Amalias Avenue excavations in the early 1990s. An open-air space at the University of Athens campus at Zografou, opposite the School of Philosophy, has been formed in such a way that it gives a direct impression of a small, lively archaeological park. That’s exactly what it is. At the same time, the unsuspecting visitor would be hard put to believe that what lies before their eyes (sarcophagi, an aqueduct, ancient roads, etc.) were not discovered there, at the foot of Mt Hymettus, but a few kilometers away, under Syntagma Square. It’s a minor feat by the Third Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. Thanks to the insistence of archaeologists (headed by director of the ephorate Liana Parlama, whose idea it was), the finds from one of the biggest excavations that ever took place in Athens were neither destroyed nor buried. The most important were extracted, with great care, and repositioned in an open-air space belonging to the Zografou campus, which was chosen because its size and shape closely resembled that of the original excavation site. The significance of the venture justifies the emotional atmosphere on February 25, during the first official inauguration of the park in the presence of the general secretary of the Culture Ministry, Lina Mendoni. Parlama, speaking of «a great day,» gave clear expression to the emotion. Earlier, Professor Georgios Babiniotis had stressed the strongly educational nature of the work. The new exhibition area spreads over three levels on slightly sloping ground. The first level, the only one to have a roof, contains the central section of the baths (the valanium): two hypocausts (where fires heated tanks of water), two hearths and a large, paved courtyard. From the order of the small pillars in the hypocausts, and from the way the walls were built, the two basic construction phases of the baths can be discerned. This level also has part of a metal foundry, together with a section of the clay mold. The different street layers, extracted whole, are what catch the eye on the second level. At the western end, there is a roadside grave pit, with stone slabs and three sarcophagi. Then, the road was carved through the ground – at less than the normal width – and the retaining walls were constructed, using modern materials, before the road strata were incorporated into the road’s interior. East of the road, a stream bed was carved out, again at less than its true width, and the Roman drainage pipe extracted from the original site was placed inside it. Finally, a circular shaft, discovered on the southern banks of the stream, was positioned at the eastern end of the road. Visitors to the third level can see the remains of Peisistratus’ aqueduct (so-called), which brought drinking water to Athens from a spring at the foot of Mt Hymettus. Two aqueduct parts (out of the total of seven that were discovered) and sections of a dense network of pipes and shafts – some in an original style – were put in place. The level’s eastern end has a Byzantine drainage pipe from the original site, while the bottom of a second one was reconstructed, using contemporary materials, exactly as it was discovered during the excavations. At the small building at the entrance, an exhibition area gives visitors a broader picture of the excavations.