Vergina: Exploring Philipp II’s Tomb
Another one of Greece’s great archaeological sites is located just 50 miles west of Thessaloniki in a town called Vergina, the modern name for the ancient city of Aigai which was the first capital of the Kingdom of Macedonia. The attractions today consist of two major sites, the monumental palace and the ancient tombs.
This past Friday, I made the day trip to visit the historical site. Unfortunately, the palace was closed for renovations for the season, so I was not able to visit. However, I was able to visit the ancient tombs of Aigai.
The Great Tumulus
In 1977, Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronikos began excavations on a hill very close to the palace. He had the idea that this hill could contain tombs of Macedonian kings. I doubt he could’ve ever imagined what he was about to find.
Through a six-week long excavation, he found four undisturbed tombs, two of which belong to Philipp II (Alexander the Great’s father), Alexander IV of Macedon (Alexander the Great’s son). What Andronikos must have felt while uncovering these must have been like that of a movie. He came upon tombs from some of the most important people in Macedonia. Plus, these tombs hadn’t even been touched since they were buried in the 3rd or 4th century BC.
The Greeks have much practice with handling and preserving ancient discoveries, and this is an amazing example of their work in this. Visiting the Great Tumulus Museum was one of the best experiences I’ve had with a museum. First of all, the dark lighting sets the mood and the atmosphere. Each piece is brilliantly lit while the rest of the room stays dark, which forces you to focus your attention on the pieces in the museum and not anything else going on around you (like people watching).
The museum, located in the tumulus hill, is laid out for one to see how tombs from the average person were built and then moves on to show each individual royal tomb, giving great descriptions on what was found and what probably happened during the ceremonies.
The most important of the tombs was none other than Philipp II’s. Europe’s most important person in that time, Philipp II made Macedonia into a force, setting the stage for Alexander the Great to expand and make Macedonia a superpower.
Inside the tomb, aarchaeologists found a small golden container (now on display) holding Philipp II’s bones and ashes after he was cremated. They also found his helmet and armor, a shield, javelins, spears, remains of bones of animals that were sacrificed at his cremation, and many other items. In the front part of the tomb, another container held the remains of the bones of another person, thought to be those of one of his wives who possibly sacrificed herself at his cremation.
Since these were buried and then untouched for over 2,300 years, many of these relics are still in good condition. Walking from case to case and reading about the items and the ceremony, one can begin to imagine how extraordinary it must have been. Between the story, the relics right on display, and the lighting and layout of the museum, it was one of my best experiences at a museum.
I liked it so much that I went through the entire museum twice.