I live in DC, which is a great place to live and visit. I try to make the most of it. However, I also love to leave my home and see what the world has to offer. Come and join me!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tuesday, September 4, 2007 DON'T TURN ANYWHERE, Tombs at Vergina

We had breakfast and checked out. The desk clerk wrote down directions for how to leave the city and get to Vergina, our next stop. After putting us on the street that would lead to the national road to Athens, which did not exist on the hotel map he had given us so he drew it in with a highlighter, he wrote in big capital letters, "DON'T TURN ANYWHERE AFTERWARD." We found this to be a useful motto not only in this navigation but in all the navigation to come. When we were lost, we would chant "DON'T TURN ANYWHERE!" and when we followed this advice it usually worked out well. We followed his directions and miraculously found ourselves on the E75, which he told us is never referred to as such but only as the National Road (Egnatia Odos) to Athens.

Vergina is the site of some important tombs in Macedonian history. One of the tombs is believed to have been that of Phillip II, the father of Alexander the Great. He was murdered at his daughter's wedding by an arrow shot through his eye. The cremated remains found in an unbelievable gold box stamped with the Macedonian Sun included a skull with damage to the right eye socket, consistent with the mortal injury Phillip received. That combined with the richness of the grave has led archaeologists to believe that they found his tomb. There were certainly a lot of riches in there! So much gold!

As an interesting side note, in the north of Greece, Macedonian history was treated as Greek history. There was an vaguely disturbingly nationalistic set of slogans at the Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum about "Macedonia is....", and one of them was "Macedonia is Greece." I assumed that this was about the Greek objection to the naming of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia including the name Macedonia, as the Greeks believe Macedonia is a province in Greece and only a province a Greece. However, when we got to the south of Greece and Athens, the museums described the Macedonians as conquerors and interlopers. Quite a different read on history!

The drive to Vergina was a little over an hour. We parked in a parking lot for 1.5E. We later realized this wasn't really necessary and we could have parked on the street somewhere, but it appears that operating parking lots is the way many people in Vergina make their living and we didn't begrudge. Especially when we later realized the entire town was a giant archaeological site and I'm sure every farmer lives in fear of finding some precious site in his land and losing his fields.

We wandered around town following signs to an alleged palace. We never found it, but we did stumble upon an excavated tomb that we later learned was probably that of the mother of King Phillip II, Queen Euridyke. Though a man was keeping watch at the site, entrance was free. The door of the tomb was open and we could see a little of the structure inside. There is a decorated marble throne of which we could barely see the arm--I took the word of the lady who had been told by the old man guarding the site that it was in there.

We walked up a little further and came upon some men excavating a church. They let us walk around the grounds. We had been wondering why we saw so much corrugated tin sheeting laying around the town. After seeing this site we figured that anywhere you saw corrugated sheeting indicated that a priceless site lay beneath. The town was covered in it.

After giving up on the palace, which the woman who had been at Euridyke's tomb said was closed, we walked down to the tombs and museum. The site is combined, the museum is underground where the tombs are. Admission is 8E. The museum is very well done with the finds well-displayed and lit and interesting background information. It was customary to build a mound over tombs (you can see a bit of a mound over Euridyke's tomb in the photo), and any old thing was tossed on top to make the mound, including the marble grave markers of those less important than the instant deceased! Of course, the mounds made it pretty easy for grave robbers to identify and loot graves, so these unlooted graves were a real coup of a find.

There is a lot of gold here, including the gold box in which the cremated remains of Phillip II were laid to rest. There was another gold box with the remains of a woman in the antechamber of his tomb, probably one of his wives. I really hope she wasn't thrown onto the funeral pyre still alive. I couldn't stop thinking about it.

From what I gathered there were two sets of grave goods. One set was cremated with the deceased (complete set of silver and gold dishes, fired clay dishes, little icons and knick-knacks in stone and wood) and the other set was left in the tomb for the deceased to use in perpetuity. It was unclear to me from the signage where the burned grave goods were left, either mounded on top of the tomb or inside the tomb, but the archaeologists had recovered both sets.

There is a video, but it wasn't to run for another 30 minutes. I was glad we had seen the tomb of Queen Euridyke and peered inside to see what we could of the structure, because there isn't much to see of the actual tombs at the site. The doors are closed, so all you see are the faces with their painted fresco frieze design along the top, which was kind of a letdown. There were some tourist stands outside the site. K bought a pair of gold earrings with the Macedonian Sun design on them, and I got a nice [gift] for my mother.

We stopped for gas and ran into the first and one of the few non-English speakers of our trip. I was amazed how *everyone* spoke English. It seems unfair that everyone has to learn our language, but I admit that the tiny bit of Greek I learned would not have gotten us very far so I am totally taking advantage of everyone else's hard work to learn English. We couldn't figure out how to get the gas cap off, but luckily the attendant did it easily and filled up the car, which was a little over half empty (we weren't taking any chances) and still cost 26E to fill. Before rejoining the main road we stopped for four figs and a large bunch of grapes at a farmer's stand, 3E. Again we communicated mostly by pantomime, including him making a hissing sound that told us we could use his water tap to wash the fruit. Very nice!

You can see all the photos from Vergina (there are only three and they are all linked in this post) and all the photos from this trip to Greece if you'd like.

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