Vergina - the glorious sun of humankind
In 1977, on the southern Macedonia plain, 80 km southeast of Thessaloniki, at the foot of Pierian Mountains, one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time was made. The ancient city of Aigai, the first capital of the kingdom of Macedonia was brought to light. The richness of the finds is rare and of incalculable archaeological and historical importance, so much so that the territory of the kings of Macedonia, the land of Philip and Alexander, Eurydice and Olympia, were designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996.
The greatest credit for the excavations at Vergina belongs, of course, to the late Manolis Andronikos. This beloved pioneer, who came to be regarded as the archetypal archaeologist, was a student of Professor Konstantinos Romaios. The tireless multi-talented Professor Romaios had inaugurated a new stage of excavations at Vergina in 1938, but could not complete his work because of the war. He passed the baton on to Professors George Bakalakis and Manolis Andronikos at the beginning of the 1960s. Professor Romaios believed with unwavering certainty that the most important finds would be discovered by excavation at “Megali Toumpa” – The Great Tumulus (or burial mound). This indeed turned out to be the site of the tombs of the kings of Macedonia, buried beneath the protective mantle of soil which had gathered above them over the centuries, untouched, marvellous and majestic, waiting for the fullness of time. In 1977, Manolis Andronikos’ pickaxe freed the great kings of the Macedonians from the darkness, and delivered the shining depth of Macedonia's glorious past to the world.
Archaeologists have always been interested in Vergina. Ancient eyewitness accounts describe Aigai as one of the richest cities of the ancient world and an important intellectual centre. Artists and creative minds flocked to the palaces of Aigai, such as the painter Zeuxis, poets such as Choirilos and even Euripides himself, as a guest of King Archelaus.
His archaeological intuition was captured early on by the significance of the name of a medieval settlement near to Megali Toumpa (The Great Tumulus). It is a small village with the mysterious name of “Palatitzia”, that is, the ‘place of palaces'. The echoes of the great Macedonia kingdom have always resounded here ... In the mid-19th century, French archaeologist Leon Heuzey had already turned his attention to the area of Vergina, hoping to see the treasures of Macedonia with his own eyes. Eventually this great emotional historic moment was destined for Manolis Andronikos and his associates. And so, very fittingly, visitors have the opportunity today to take a guided tour of the ancient remains of Vergina accompanied by the narration of Andronikos himself.
The centuries create Vergina
The archaeological findings indicate that the area of Vergina was inhabited by the first settlers as early as the third millennium BC. The fertile plains, the plentiful water supply and its natural fortifications were ideal conditions in which to create a thriving city. The name "Aigai" reflects the wealth of the region, since it means "land of many flocks". In the Iron Age, from the 11th to the 7th century BC, the wider area of Aigai was a large residential centre. Excavations have brought important settlements and burial sites to light, the size of which indicates the presence of a large population. Artistically skilled handicrafts and rich jewellery are evidence of the prosperity and importance of the region.
Herodotus mentions the noble family of Temenus, natives of Argos, as prominent founding settlers of the city, whose lineage supposedly descended from Hercules himself (they were also known as Heracleidae). Under Perdiccas 1st, a descendant of Temenus, Aigai became the seat of the Macedonian dynasty and one of the strongest centres of the ancient world. The gold ‘kterismata’ (grave offerings) of the necropolis, of unimaginable beauty, are irrefutable evidence of its prosperity, its importance and the historical span of Aigai. For three whole centuries, until the 4th century BC it was the spiritual, artistic and administrative centre of Macedonia, before handing over the reins to Pella.
The traveller who is lucky enough to visit the archaeological site of Vergina will be thrilled by the splendour of the Macedonians dynasty. The royal tombs, the cemetery of burial mounds with the abundant offerings from the Iron Age, the Palace, the Theatre, the Temple of Eucleia, the Acropolis and the city wall, are the living history of the Macedonian kingdom.
Gold and ivory beds, delicate frescoes, gold reliquaries (‘larnakes’) of indescribable beauty, royal weaponry, ivory reliefs carved with great artistry, all of these archaeological findings which have been brought to light reveal the glory, power and importance of the dynasty which, under the leadership of Alexander, spread to the farthest corners of the then known world.
A journey to Vergina is a journey into the light. This light, which shines so brightly from the golden sun of Vergina, symbolizes the shining Macedonian civilisation.