To the south of River Haliacmon, in the “land of Macedon”, as described by Herodotus, on the foothills of Pieria, the ancient “Macedonian mount”, lays Aigai, the first city of Macedon, the land with many goats (“Aigai” in ancient Greek means “goats”).
Aigai was a city formed by distinct villages, an “open” urban agglomeration having a central core and multiple settlements of various sizes developing around it. This multiplicity explains the plural suffix of its name (the diphthong “ai”), like in the names of other ancient cities, e.g. “Athinai”, “Thibai” or “Ferai”, and reflects the ancient model of a society founded on the aristocratic structure of clans having as its point of reference and cohesion pole, the royal authority.
Manolis Andronikos’ discovery of the tombs of the Macedonian kings Philip II and Alexander IV in 1977 rocked the archaeological community and the world at large. Philip’s tomb is large, double-chambered and its facade resembles a Doric temple, with columns, a frieze and metopes carved in relief. The chamber concealed its famous golden larnax with the bones of the dead king intact for more than two millennia.
The Great Tumulus that covered the circle where the tombs were found was reconstructed to create the impression of an ancient grave monument. Maintaining constant temperatures and humidity, the subterranean construction shelters and protects these priceless finds. Apart from the royal tombs, you’ll see the brilliant frescoes depicting the Abduction of Persophone and the Royal Hunt, which are the only examples of the great artists of the Hellenistic period that have survived.
In this darkened space, the beautifully illuminated ancient objects stir a multitude of emotions; awe in the face of death, wonder at the power of the royal dynasty that inspired such creativity and admiration for the modern wizards who designed such a magnificent repository for these invaluable exhibits.
One of the museum’s most important exhibits is the gold larnax, which held the bones of the dead king. It weighed 11kg. Emblazoned on its lid is the Macedonian sun or star and on its sides floral motifs and rosettes. The gold wreath is the most valuable crown we have from antiquity. It consists of 313 oak leaves and 68 acorns linked with unimaginable artistry by a master jeweller.
In the last section of the museum, you’ll witness finds from tomb III, which is thought to have contained the remains of Alexander IV, the son of Alexander the Great and Roxane, who was murdered by Kassander in 310 BC. At its centre lies the silver urn that held the cremated bones of the young prince, surrounded by exquisite ivory reliefs decorating the bier.
Aigai, where the Macedonian kings originated, was the heartland of the Temenides, the dynasty that ruled Macedonia for four centuries and gave the world Philip II and his son Alexander the Great. The ancient city included the outer walls with a tower and entrance gate, the palace, a theatre, the agora with a shrine to Eukleia, the sanctuary of Cybele, mother of the gods, public buildings and private houses. The archaeological site lies close to the tumulus of Vergina and is a Unesco World Heritage Monument and a region of particular natural beauty.