|January 26, 2011
Today we visited Vergina and the Royal Tombs. The tombs were about an hour or so drive from where we staying (probably actually closer to the city of Thessaloniki than we were now!) so after breakfast we set off. We had a bit of trouble finding the site itself as our TomTom seems intent on taking us to strange places. We eventually found some signs in the town of Vergina and found the main entrance, complete with tour bus outside!
Inside, the tumulus (mound covering the tombs) was pretty obvious and we headed towards it. We weren’t expecting the museum to be actually within the mound but what we found was brilliant. The museum was really well laid out and had been built around the excavated tombs. It gave it a really unique and interesting feel, almost as if you were walking around the actual tomb complex itself rather than just between the tombs. The first tombs we saw were numbered IV and I and there was little to say what or who was in these. The decorations on the columns and mosaics and paintings were really well preserved and presented really well in the museum. Unfortunately there was no map or handout given by the museum which meant I resorted to trying to take pictures of the information boards inside but I was soon told not to take pictures inside. This didn’t stop the Greeks taking pictures of the tombs, complete with flash, and not being told but I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of a sign detailing the history of the site.
The next tomb was number II and was the main one here, being that of Philip II, Alexander the Great’s father. Philip II had been killed as he had likened himself to one of the 12 Gods. During a procession for the marriage of his daughter he supplied a statue of each one of the Gods to be shown and alongside he had included one of himself. The elders thought this was inappropriate and within an hour of the act, as Philip arrived at the amphitheatre, he was killed by one of his bodyguards. This story is one of many thought to be the reason behind the assassination but sounds plausible to me! As was the custom, Philip’s body was cremated along with many precious articles he would need in the afterlife including an ornate golden crown. His son wanted to ensure that his father received the most wonderful funeral and that he was showered with gifts and treasures within his tomb to give to Hades. These treasures included an amazing suit of armour and shield which is made of iron with ornate gold and ivory decoration. The iron had eroded significantly, but the ivory and gold were still in great condition where you could see all of the stunning detail. The gold casket where his bones were kept after his cremation was on display and was ornately decorated and with it was the gold death crown which you could see was partially burnt. The gold casket contained Philip’s bones which has been washed in wine and wrapped in a purple cloth after his cremation. The solid gold sarcophagus was then placed into a larger, marble sarcophagus which was then locked inside the tomb with all the gifts and treasures. The tomb was actually discovered by a local archaeologist, too, and it was interesting reading some of his thoughts when he suddenly realised he was probably holding the bones of one of his country’s greatest and well-known rulers.
The next tomb was called the Princes Tomb and this was thought to be the tomb of the son of Alexander the Great, who was killed when he was 13, not long after Alexander the Great’s own death. His son had taken over as king and barely a couple of weeks into his reign he was killed alongside his mother. There is nothing to prove this tomb is his but the fact that the bones have been aged at between 13 and 16 years old and that he received a royal cremation and burial all point to the fact that it is him.
The museum was great, other than not being able to take pictures of signs while Greeks took pictures of tombs, and the signs and exhibits were really informative and insightful, containing a decent amount of knowledge and historical fact. The amount of royal treasures from Philip II’s tomb was unbelievable and really showed that Alexander the Great had the utmost respect for his father. We had a walk around the mound afterwards and from the outside you’d not have guessed that anything much was hidden underneath.
For lunch we found a small café and shared a Greek salad and some souvlaki before heading back to the car and heading to a town called Naoussa. This is supposed to be the centre of the Northern Greek wine producing region and we’d managed to find a couple of wineries online which looked like they would be open for some tasting. Unfortunately, they weren’t! The first one was very annoying as the sign at the front gate said they were open, the tasting room was open but the bloke behind the counter just said they were closed. It was around 2.30pm and the sign said they were open until 4pm but my arguments to him about this were lost in his ignorance. So, without wine, we headed back to the hotel, a drive of about 90 minutes
As we drove back we took a more scenic route along the coast and avoiding the main highway and along the way we found the ruins of an old Byzantine church near the beach which was just 10km from our hotel. It is so cool just seeing things like this which are 400 or 500 years old and seem to be everywhere. This morning we had met Verne, who owns part of the hotel and is the contact that Dave knows here, and we arranged to have dinner with him tonight. We’d said we wanted to try some local wines so he took us to a restaurant where the owner made his own wines and sold them to not only the public but big companies, too, like Olympic Airlines. Verne is Canadian but has lived in Greece on and off for about 10 years so is well at home here and knows the language well. As a result we ended up having a feast of different foods including tzatziki, eggplant with garlic, Greek salad, saganaki (deep fried cheese) and an amazing lamb dish which was so succulent and tender. Of course, we accompanied all of this with one of the house produced red wines and everything was great. Verne was great company too and told us many stories of his time working for the UN around the former Yugoslavia and this was how he knew Dave. He also managed to get the owner to give us a quick tour of the cellar where we tried a couple of other wines and we even got a bottle to take out! At the end of dinner Verne snapped up the bill and paid for us which was a really nice treat as we certainly hadn’t expected it. He’d already got us a preferable rate at the hotel so this was a very nice gesture.
Back at the hotel we headed to bed pretty quickly as we had a long drive tomorrow and the night guard at the hotel told us the weather might be bad so we’d be well advised to set off earlier rather than later!