Standing in the vast colonnaded courtyard, where 4,000 Greeks proclaimed the 20-year-old Alexander king of Macedonia in 336 BC, is an almost unfathomable emotion. Especially when you have the place practically to yourself.
Alexander the Great’s palace in ancient Aigai, modern Vergina, now welcomes visitors after years of painstaking repairs. Walk through the empty theater where Alexander’s father, Philip II, was murdered by a bodyguard at the wedding of his daughter Cleopatra.
His grieving son was crowned soon after in the enormous palace where I stand. It is the largest building preserved from the classical Greek period, with 15,000 square meters.
But, because it is in unfashionable northern Greece, far from the tourist hotspots of Athens and the holiday islands, it is wonderfully empty.
My only companions are the lines of Doric and Ionic columns, rebuilt for the first time in 2,200 years, after the Romans tore them down in the 2nd century BC. Behind me are the snow-capped peaks of the Pierian Mountains. Below me is the Macedonian plain, with its grids of peach trees.
Restored: Aigai Palace has reopened after years of repairs. Harry Mount looks around and writes: “Standing in the vast colonnaded courtyard where 4,000 Greeks proclaimed the 20-year-old Alexander king of Macedonia in 336 BC is an almost unfathomable emotion.” .
The palace, an hour’s drive from Thessaloniki, is the largest surviving building from the classical Greek period, at 15,000 square meters.
Harry reveals that the renovation “is part of a campaign to attract tourists to northern Greece.”
Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) was Alexander the Great, the most triumphant leader ancient Greece had ever seen. He headed east through present-day Turkey, defeating Darius III, king of Persia. He marched into Egypt and even into India, winning every battle. He died, only 32 years old, in Babylon.
Alexander is still the number one hero here. His palace was reopened this month by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. In Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, an hour’s drive from the palace, a powerful statue of Alexander riding his beloved horse, Bucephalus, rises above the promenade along the Aegean Sea.
Even at the Thessaloniki train station, a bronze bust of Alexander occupies a place of honor. You can see why Greeks revere the palace today. I wander through the dining rooms where Alexander held symposiums, parties where philosophy was discussed. He was taught by Aristotle, Greece’s greatest philosopher, and was devoted to Homer’s Iliad.
In Thessaloniki, a powerful statue of Alexander riding his beloved horse, Bucephalus, stands above the promenade along the Aegean Sea (above)
Intricate mosaic floors, depicting goddesses, flowers and winged creatures, survive, as does a shrine dedicated to Heracles, the strong Greek hero, son of Zeus, supposedly ancestor of Alexander. After its destruction by the Romans, the palace was converted into a quarry. It was rediscovered in the 1970s, but remained in ruins. In 2007 it closed for this spectacular renovation.
The palace was largely built by Alexander’s father in the mid-4th century BC. C. and you should see his buried tomb, a five-minute drive away. You descend under an earthen mound to reach the tomb, discovered in 1977.
The remains of Philip and those of one of his queens were found behind a marble door, with its gold crown and gilded crown of oak leaves, the height of Greek craftsmanship, as well as small ivory busts of Philip II and Alexander.
The tomb of Alexander’s father, Philip II, is a five-minute drive from the palace. “You descend under an earthen mound to reach the tomb, discovered in 1977,” writes Harry
The renovation is part of a campaign to attract tourists to northern Greece. It should have been done a long time ago. Not only Vergina, but also Thessaloniki contain some of the most beautiful treasures in the world.
Thessaloniki is well equipped with hotels and restaurants. The Excelsior is an elegant and classic hotel, but modern and with modest prices.
Thessaloniki was a vital Roman city. The Roman forum survives, as do the 4th century AD walls that surrounded the city. Two gigantic buildings from 300 AD, the Arch of Galerius and the Rotunda, were built in honor of Emperor Galerius (258-311 AD).
These powerful fragments of ancient northern Greece should be much better known, as should the palace of Alexander the Great.