Thessaloniki and Central Macedonia Travel Guide

Thessaloniki and Central Macedonia Sights

Aigai Archaeological Site

  • Fodor's Choice

Published 03/09/2017

Fodor's Review

Some of antiquity's greatest treasures await you at the Royal Tombs of Vergina, opened to the public in 1993, 16 years after their discovery. Today the complex, including a museum, is a fitting shrine to the original capital of the kingdom of Macedonia, then known as Aigai. The entrance is appropriately stunning: you walk down a white-sandstone ramp into the partially underground structure, roofed over by a large earth-covered dome approximately the size of the original tumulus (mounded grave). Here on display are some of the legendary artifacts from the age of Philip II of Macedonia.

This was the first intact Macedonian tomb ever found—imposing and exquisite, with a huge frieze of a hunting scene, a masterpiece similar to those of the Italian Renaissance but 1,800 years older, along with a massive yet delicate fresco depicting the abduction of Persephone (a copy of which is displayed along one wall of the museum). Two of the few original works of great painting survive from

antiquity. On the left are two tombs and one altar that had been looted and destroyed in varying degrees by the time Andronikos discovered them. Macedonian Tomb III, on the right, found intact in 1978, is believed to be that of the young Prince Alexander IV, Alexander the Great's son, who was at first kept alive by his "protectors" after Alexander's death and then poisoned (along with his mother) when he was 14. To the left of Tomb III is that of Philip II. He was assassinated in the nearby theater, a short drive away; his body was burned, his bones washed in wine, wrapped in royal purple, and put into the magnificent, solid-gold casket with the 16-point sun, which is displayed in the museum. His wife, Cleopatra (not the Egyptian queen), was later buried with him.

The tombs alone would be worth a special trip, but the golden objects and unusual artifacts that were buried within them are equally impressive. Among these finds, in excellent condition and displayed in dramatic dimmed light, are delicate ivory reliefs; elegantly wrought gold laurel wreaths; and Philip's crown, armor, and shield. Especially interesting are those items that seem most certainly Philip's: a pair of greaves (shin guards), one shorter than the other—Philip was known to have a limp. To the right of the tombs, a gift shop sells books and postcards; the official gift shop is outside the entrance gate (across from Philippion restaurant), on the same side of the road. Macedonian souvenirs available here are scarce elsewhere.

The winding road to the site of Philip's assassination goes through rolling countryside west of modern Vergina, much of it part of the vast royal burial grounds of ancient Aigai. On the way you pass three more Macedonian tombs of little interest, being rough-hewn stone structures in typical Macedonian style; the admission to the Royal Tombs includes these. In the field below are the remnants of the theater, discovered by Andronikos in 1982. It was on Philip's way here, to attend the wedding games that were to follow the marriage of his daughter to the king of Epirus, that he was murdered and where his son, Alexander the Great, was crowned.

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Sight Information

Address:

Vergina, Central Macedonia, 59031, Greece

Phone:

23310-92347

Website: www.aigai.gr

Sight Details:

  • €12

Published 03/09/2017

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