In the footsteps of Alexander the Great

Under the scorching sun of Macedonia miles of grasslands, the swell of the hills and the dramatic rise of the mountains cornering the Aegean Sea hide a precious heirloom handed down from the IV century BCE: the rise of Macedon from a petty kingdom in the northeastern part of Greece to an empire that dominated much of the known world of the time. The actions of Philip II and, probably more so, his son Alexander the Great irrevocably changed the course of history: though never forgotten, this history is here, in its motherland, quite concealed within the walls of desert museums, covered by tons of earth and grass, or sealed off from the prying eyes of scholars and tourists alike under funerary tumuli, scattered full round shapes in a landscape roasted by an unforgiving light.

DSC_0087View of Vergina (Aigai), the ancient capital of Macedon, where Philip II was assassinated in 336 BCE. His body was buried in the Great Tumulus, unearthed in 1977.

The archaeological site of Vergina, one of the ancient capitals, is apparently now buried under yellow grass that stretches as far as the eye can see: nothing is visible of the theater where Philip II was assassinated by one of his bodyguards, Pausanias, with whom Philip had previously had a relationship; nothing of the palaces of the city, or its walls, nothing of the temples. The Great Tumulus of Philip II, however, preserves some of the most magnificent treasures unearthed there, among which the golden wreaths and larnakes (ash-chest) that held the remains of the Macedonian king.

DSC_0245DSC_0264DSC_0254Golden wreaths in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki (not Philip’s though – no photos allowed in the Great Tumulus).

Our tour of the Macedonian Tombs did not go as expected: it was surprisingly both more frustrating and more rewarding than expected. Many of the tumuli were closed to the public – although official channels stated otherwise. In Vergina, only two of the three tombs within the Great Tumulus were visible and all of the other burials scattered around the area were off limits. A call to the Ephorate confirmed that no, not even the cluster of Agios Athanasios, was open – but didn’t stop my sister (the true Alexander the Great enthusiast) from sneaking in to steal a peek of the façade of one the tomb). Nevertheless we got lucky in Lefkadia, the ancient Mieza, where we rejoiced at the sight of the Tomb of Judgement (IV century BCE) and the Tomb of the Palmettes (III century BCE). The guy stationed there, a major in theology, opened the tombs for us and willingly showed us around. Lovely, indeed.

DSC_0396The façade of the Tomb of Judgment.

Near Lefkadia, in Naousa, stands the School of Aristotle, where Alexander the Great and his peers were educated by the philosopher called to Macedon by Philip II around 343.

DSC_0415My sister looking cool as always in Aristotle’s school.

The birthplace of Alexander the Great, Pella, greeted us with a hot and humid weather. The enormous agora seemed to span for miles, filled with grass and trees, eerily silent. My sister and I strolled under the midday sun, the only living souls in the ancient square.

DSC_0135The agora in Pella.

Last, but not least, Dion: one of the most hauntingly beautiful site you’ll ever see. Among the lush vegetation, broken columns emerge from the crystal waters and headless statues keep a silent vigil on their deserted temples. Here I felt the gods once dead come to life again, under the ever watchful eye of Mount Olympus.

DSC_0332DSC_0334Temple of Isis.DSC_0366Around the theater.DSC_0382Detail of one of the mosaics in the baths.

 

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