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Alexander's Father

A gorgeous tomb site shows Dad was pretty darn great himself


Alexander the Great, whatever one may think of his conquests, has one indisputably great quality - terrific name recognition value.

However, in all the hoopla over the enduringly famous son, the golden child's father is often overlooked by the casual investigator of Greece. Not for much longer. The sumptuous tomb site at Aigai (Vergina) reveals splendid artifacts and structural remains show that Philip the Second of Macedon was quite a guy himself.

Located at Vergina in Northern Greece, an area which is also often overlooked by visitors to Greece, the discovery of the tombs has put Alexander's forebears literally on the map.

Philip the Second's tomb was discovered in 1977; yes, some scholars debate the identification in favor of a lesser-known son of Philip's, Arridaeus, but Greece believes the gold-drenched tomb must have belonged to the king himself. Similarly, some believe that Philip was assassinated by the order of his own son Alexander, which might downgrade the boy's title to "Alexander - Great Guy, So-So Son."

A substantial palace dominates the site, which also is studded with hundreds of tumuli, mounded tombs, and many small tomb structures. The site also includes some later Roman remains.

The Royal Tombs Museum offers a glassed-in look at the actual excavation sites of the royal tombs. It's an unnerving exploration conducted in near-darkness, and the tomb facades are visited by descending wooden staircases. On my visit, I was lucky - no one was near me, and alone with only the sound of my own echoing footsteps and the cool moist smell of the earth I paid my respects to the remarkable First Family of Macedonia.

While museum movie presentations often leave something to be desired, I highly recommend that you step aside into the small theater area on your way out of the exhibit. The film gives an excellent and very evocative overview of Alexander and his kin; I wished that the film was offered first, prior to entering the tumulus area, but if you can bear to race through the exhibit area without looking, you could watch the film first and then go back to view the exhibits. Note: Until recently, the Archaeological Museum at Thessaloniki held all of the gold artifacts, including the gold casket adorned with a sixteen-pointed gold star which held Philip's bones. These are now displayed at Vergina.

Getting There:

Vergina is located 47 miles/75 kilometers southwest of Thessaloniki, on a relatively easy, well-marked road. Don't want to drive yourself? Organized tours are available from virtually every travel operator in Thessaloniki.

Site operating hours are as follows, but check at the time of your visit:
November 1st to March 31: Daily: 08:30 - 15:00, closed on Monday.
From July 1st to October 31 : Mondays: 08.00 - 19.00[bt] Tuesday - Sunday and holidays: 08:00 - 19:00
Official Website: Archaeological Site of Vergina (Aigai)
Telephone: +30 23310 92347 Email: vergina@culture.gr

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