Standing in the vast colonnaded courtyard, where 4,000 Greeks proclaimed 20-year-old Alexander king of Macedon in 336 BC is an almost unfathomable thrill. Especially when you have the accommodation practically to yourself.
The palace of Alexander the Great in ancient Aigai, now Vergina, now welcomes visitors after years of painstaking repairs. I wander through the empty theater where Alexander’s father, Philip II, was assassinated by a bodyguard at the wedding of his daughter Cleopatra.
His grieving son was crowned shortly after in the vast palace where I am. It is the largest surviving building from the Classical Greek period, with an area of 15,000 square meters.
But because it’s in the north of the country, old-fashioned Greecefar from Athens’ tourist hotspots and holiday islands, it’s blissfully empty.
My only companions are the lines of Doric and Ionic columns, first rebuilt in 2,200 years, after the Romans toppled them in the second 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 almost a thrill unfathomable. »
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 renovation ‘part of campaign to attract tourists to northern Greece’
Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) was Alexander the Great, the most triumphant ruler ancient Greece ever knew. He marched east through modern Turkey, defeating Darius III, king of Persia. He entered Egypt and even to the extent that India, winning every battle. He died at the age of 32 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, an imposing statue of Alexander on his beloved horse, Bucephalus, stands on the promenade by the Aegean Sea.
Even in Thessaloniki train station, a bronze bust of Alexander takes pride of place. You understand why Greeks revere the palace today. I walk through the dining rooms where Alexandre organized conferences, drinking parties where philosophy was discussed. He was a student of Aristotle, the greatest Greek philosopher, and devoted himself to Homer’s Iliad.
In Thessaloniki, a mighty statue of Alexander on his beloved horse, Bucephalus, stands on the promenade by 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 the ancestor of Alexander. After its destruction by the Romans, the palace became a quarry. It was rediscovered in the 1970s but remained a wreck. In 2007, it closed its doors for this spectacular renovation.
The palace was largely built by Alexander’s father in the mid-4th century BC. You must see his buried grave, a five minute drive away. You descend under an earth mound to reach the tomb, only discovered in 1977.
The remains of Philip and one of his queens were found behind a marble door, with his golden crown and crown of gold oak leaves – the pinnacle of Greek craftsmanship, along with tiny busts in ivory 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, only discovered in 1977,” Harry writes
The renovation is part of a campaign to attract tourists to northern Greece. This should have been done a long time ago. Not only Vergina, but also Thessaloniki is home to some of the most beautiful treasures in the world.
Thessaloniki is well equipped with hotels and restaurants. The Excelsior is an elegant and classic, yet modern hotel with modest prices.
Thessaloniki was a vital Roman city. The Roman forum survives, as do the 4th century AD walls that encircle the city. Two gigantic buildings dating from 300 AD – the Arch of Galerius and the Rotunda – were built in honor of Emperor Galerius (258-311 AD).
These mighty fragments of ancient Northern Greece should be much better known, as should the palace of Alexander the Great.