New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Now in its 10th year and going strong, the Greek News annual campaign, “Let’s Go to Greece This Summer!” an initiative of love and support to Greece during the country’s economic crisis, has included articles about destinations in Central Macedonia such as The Plain of Philippi, and Thessaloniki, rich in complex history and exciting in modern innovation. But there are more places to go in his region says Alexandros Thanos, Deputy Regional Governor for Culture and Tourism of the Region of Central Macedonia, who invites exploration of all the significant and remarkably beautiful historical destinations in his region this summer.
“The cultural heritage of Central Macedonia is rich, diverse and scattered throughout the whole region, relating to the entire historical range, from Paleolithic to modern times. This timeless presence of man in the Macedonian region has made it rich with a multitude of monuments, residential complexes, works of art and other creations that cover the historical spectrum,” says Thanos. Located in central northern Greece, in the historical area of ancient Macedonia, the Region of Central Macedonia is the second largest region in Greece.
“The mix of visitors is expanding, and there is an increase in overnight stays. Central Macedonia is top among all Greek regions in tourist traffic. During the last year, the increase of arrivals in the international airport MAKEDONIA (the second largest airport of Greece) has been the highest in the country. Central Macedonia also numbers first in total road arrivals.” The gate of Greece to Europe, Central Macedonia is connected with networks of transportation, communication and energy of international importance.
In a report to the regional council, Thanos noted that overnight stays have also increased. Thanos pointed to a 14 % annual increase in visits to archaeological sites, with the highest increase observed in Pella, which has a 30% hike in visits, saying, “The ancient cities of Aige (Vergina), Pella and Dion characterize the ancient kingdom of the Macedonians.” The ancient site of Aiges, the first capital of the Kingdom of ancient Macedonia, with the Royal Tombs of the Macedonian kings, the treasure of the Tomb of Philippos; the mosaic floors and the urban planning of Pella; the archaeological park and the sacred spaces of the sanctuaries in Dion; Stagira, the birthplace of Aristotle; Amphipolis and Potidea, and the unique mosaics at Olynthos.
Vergina is best known as the site of ancientAigai, the first capital of Macedon, where in 336 BC Philip II was assassinated in the theatre and Alexander the Great was proclaimed king. Discovered in 1976 the ancient site was excavated under the leadership of archaeologist Manolis Andronikos, revealing the burial sites of many kings of Macedon, including the tomb of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great. This tomb unlike so many other tombs, had not been disturbed or looted, creating an international sensation. It is also the site of an extensive royal palace. The archaeological museum of Vergina was built to house all the artifacts found at the site and is one of the most important museums in Greece.
Aigai has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status as “an exceptional testimony to a significant development in European civilization, at the transition from classical city-state to the imperial structure of the Hellenistic and Roman periods”.
Pella became a bustling metropolis in the Classical period. Excavations reveal the monumental palatial complex, which had the biggest agora of the ancient world. This huge building complex included shops, workshops, administrative offices and the city’s historical records. The agora’s main avenue was connected with the city’s port, the ruins of which are still visible today. The ancient agora was constructed according to the famous urban plan of Hippodamus (the Hippodamian grid plan): well-defined city blocks, paved streets with sidewalks, and elaborate water supply and sewage systems. The Abduction of Helen, Rapture, the Amazonomachy and the Deer Hunt are considered the most important group of mosaics in Macedonia. See them at the New Archaeological Museum of Pella.
Archaeological Park of Dion, the most important archaeological site at Mount Olympus in Greece, is located in Dion (Δίον), five kilometers from the sea (in Hellenistic times the distance was only 1.5 kilometers) at the north-east foot of Mount Olympus. In the area comprised by the Archaeological Park of Dion: Sanctuaries were found from the Hellenistic and Roman periods: Demeter Sanctuary, Asclepius Sanctuary, Zeus Hypsistos Sanctuary, Zeus Olympios Sanctuary, Isis Sanctuary. The park displays the importance of ancient Dion in the history of Pieria.
Classical Theater in which the premiere of Bacchae of Euripides took place, was replaced in the 3rd century BC by the Hellenistic theater, a semi-circular mound of earth on which brick-built seats were placed; and a Roman Theater.
Macedonian Tombs. In several excavations Funerary couches, some marble, with elaborate carvings and ivory inserts, silver quarter-drachmae depicting Alexander the Great and a golden Charon’s penny (Charons Obolus), in which the name “Epigenis” was engraved, gold jewelry, gold and silver coins, glass perfume bottles, jars and a copper mirror had been found. These are displayed in the Archaeological Museum.
Some of the highlights of the Ancient City: The remains of the City Walls, a defense against attackers. built from the limestone of Mount Olympus between 306 and 304 BC, under the rule of the Macedonian king Kassander. Destroyed and rebuilt from old sculptures and remains of other buildings, they were again destroyed in an earthquake and not rebuilt. The Villa of Dionysus. Some of the features of the most important private building in the city is the Villa of Dionysus in which were statues of Dionysus, a Nike, and parts of other statues and statuettes. In 1987 a large mosaic, later named Dionysus Mosaic, was found in the spacious atrium, which served as the dining room of the property. Among other finds in this room were a sculpture of four seated philosophers, the statuette of a satyr and a statuette of Heracles. In the last room, there was a damaged mosaic that represents in its midst the head of a Medusa, a statue of Heracles with a club, bow, arrows, lion’s skin and a statue of a deer, and in 1990, a copy of the sculptor Lysippus’s “Eros with a Bow”. The Thermal Baths, heated by a hypocaust-system lying under the floor are in a hall with a mosaic floor, and rooms where Asclepios was worshiped. Since the thermal baths, others of which had a reception hall decorated with paintings, as well, also served as a place for social gatherings, an Odeon was built for social events such as readings, plays, or musical performances in the complex. Across from the Roman temple, Sebasteion, stood a Roman basilica—decorated with a now famous frieze of actual armor and shields— where banking operations were conducted and commercial contracts were concluded. Built in the 2nd century AD, the Odeon, part of the large thermal baths, offered 400 seats arranged in the form of an amphitheater around a semicircular orchestra. The Praetorium was used as a hostel for officials and emissaries as well as to accommodate ordinary travelers, two Tabernae with a luxurious dining room, the Triclinium. Between Praetorium and the Tabernae was probably a stable. Public toilets were accessible to the guests and the city’s population. Episcopal Basilica. At its last heyday, the church appointed Dion to be the seat of a bishop. It was a three-nave church with narthex with painted walls and a mosaic floor, and a baptismal font in the shape of a Maltese cross in a later construction.
The region contains all this, says Thanos but “above all the Region of Central Macedonia is its people: generous, hospitable, gentile, and warm.”