Sunday, June 8, 2014

A great king's magnificent tomb

Back on the highway retracing some of yesterday's travels, we followed the signs to Vergina, the site of Phillip II's tomb. Archeologists have been interested in the site since the mid 1800s, when the first excavations uncovered Phillip II's palace. Threats of malaria caused this exploration to be abandoned. Further excavations were undertaken in the 1930s but then abandoned because of WWII.

The Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronikos became convinced that a hill called the Great Tumulus concealed the tombs of the Macedonian kings. In 1977 he undertook a six-week dig at the Great Tumulus and found four buried chambers that he identified as undisturbed tombs. Three more were found in 1980. Excavations continued through the 1980s and 1990s. Andronikos claimed that these were the burial sites of the kings of Macedon, including the tomb of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great (Tomb II). Andronikos maintained that another tomb (Tomb III) was that of Alexander IV of Macedon, son of Alexander the Great and Roxana.

It was somewhat unkempt outside the entrance so we weren't really sure what to expect. What a surprise, the museum was well laid out with beautiful displays. It was quite dark inside, which added to the air of mystery.

The museum, which was inaugurated in 1993, was built in a way to protect the tombs, exhibit the artifacts and show the tumulus as it was before the excavations. Inside the museum there are four tombs and one small temple, the heroon, built as the temple for the great tomb of Philip II of Macedon. The two most important graves had not been looted and contained the main treasures of the museum. Tomb II of Philip II, the father of Alexander was discovered in 1977 and was separated in two rooms. The main room included a marble sarcophagus, and in it was the larnax made of 24-carat gold and weighing 11 kilograms. Inside the golden larnax the bones of the dead were found and a golden wreath of 313 oak leaves and 68 acorns, weighing 717 grams. In the room were also found the golden and ivory panoply of the dead, the richly-carved burial bed on which he was laid and later burned and silver utensils for the funeral feast. In the antechamber, there was another sarcophagus with another smaller golden larnax containing the bones of a woman wrapped in a golden-purple cloth with a golden diadem decorated with flowers and enamel. There was one more partially destroyed burial bed and on it a golden wreath. Above the Doric order entrance of the tomb there is a well preserved fresco measuring 5.60 metres which represents a hunting scene.

In 1978 another burial site (Tomb III) was discovered near the tomb of Philip, which belongs to Alexander IV of Macedon son of Alexander the Great. It was slightly smaller than the previous and was also not sacked. It was also arranged in two parts, but only the main room contained a cremated body this time. On a stone pedestal was found a silver hydria which contained the bones and on it a golden oak wreath. There were also utensils and weaponry. A narrow frieze with a chariot race decorated the walls of the tomb.

The other two tombs were found to have been looted. Tomb I or the Tomb of Persephone was discovered in 1977 and although it contained no valuable artifacts, its walls were decorated with a marvelous wall painting showing the abduction of Persephone by Hades. The other tomb, discovered in 1980, is heavily damaged. It had an impressive entrance with four Doric columns, and may have contained valuable treasures.

As well as the tombs and magnificent frescoes there are displays showing the king's weapons, the utensils employed in his funerary ceremony, the symbols of his authority and the bronze eating utensils. I particularly like the sieve, to catch any sediment from the wine. In the tomb itself is a wonderful fresco with the royal hunt.

The next stop, and the heart of the exhibition, was a showcase with the remains of the funerary pyre. Here, among the gold chests and wreaths and the precious gold and ivory banquet couches stands a trophy to his memory, his gold and ivory armour. There were vases, weapons, and jewelry.

The ascent to the throne by Philip II marked Macedonia's finest hour. Philip embarked on an unprecedented building program in his capital, Aigai. Walls were rebuilt to ensure the city's safety, and the gods acquired new temples. A new palace was built, the largest building Greece had ever seen. Beside it stood the theatre, where Philip would one day be struck down by an assassin's dagger.

Unfortunately the palace site, which is huge, is closed for renovations and not scheduled to reopen until 2018.

Not far away was our final destination for the day, Veria. We were fortunate to be staying at the small  Kokkino Spiti Hotel, a beautifully renovated house in what was the old Jewish quarter of the city. Looking out the window, far below us through the greenery, we could see and hear the fast flowing river.

By now it was raining heavily but we needed dinner. We wended our way through narrow, cobbled streets to a restaurant that had been recommended to us. Once again the menu was limited but I had some lovely duck and Seamus a delicious wild boar steak. We were really full when the server and owner brought us some slices of lovely lamb sausage from the family farm. He brought some bougasta, a pastry filled with some mmmm mmmm custard, a fine ending to the day.

No comments: