Outdoor museum in a square

The palace section of the Galerius complex in Navarinou Square is an open museum in the heart of Thessaloniki. An extensive, fenced-in archaeological site set below the level of the crowded sidewalk has been cleaned up. It’s now ready to spotlight the building and decorating arts of the 4th century AD. It took 10 years, from 1996 to 2005, to finish the work on the remains of the structure. A team of architects from the Culture Ministry succeeded in reconstructing the damaged building from the ruins of the palace. Exposed for centuries to the weather and without any real protection, the ruins of Galerius’s palace had lost their shape, becoming barely recognizable to the general public. Now, applications of durable materials have filled in the gaps in the walls and highlighted the elaborate mosaic floors. The architects involved described the progress of the restoration to the First Panhellenic Restoration Conference held recently in Thessaloniki by the newly established Society for the Research and Promotion of Scientific Restoration of Monuments. By employing ancient construction methods on the walls and floors, the team managed to connect the monuments and ensure their stability while also completing the excavation beneath the mosaic and marble floors. The core of the archaeological site, as revealed by the dig which started in 1962, is a pillared courtyard flanked on three sides by 11 rooms, whose purpose is as yet unknown. The courtyard and the adjacent area are surrounded by corridors with elaborate mosaic floors. The conservation and restoration of the palace walls and floors were tricky. The oldest mosaic corridors in the main building covered an area of 1,000 square meters and were in very poor condition, with gaps spoiling the design. The mosaic tiles were detached for conservation and repositioning on a new undersurface, in keeping with ancient techniques. A similar method was used to restore the ancient marble floor in the octagon, which had been made with large slabs of colored marble. Some 250 square meters of the original 700-square-meter mosaic survives in fragments. The restoration has highlighted their color composition and decorative motifs. «It was essential that the restoration be recognizable, irreversible and not distort the authenticity of the monument, so that it can be studied by future scholars,» the architects noted.