Thessaloniki to Attica – the quick way

I drove back to Thessaloniki airport and turned in my pretty little Clio. It was only around lunch time and my ticket to Athens was for 3:30, so I went to the Aegean Airlines service counter to see if I could change it for an earlier flight. There wasn’t one, so I looked around to see what I could do to fill in my time.

I spotted a much enlarged replica of one of the ivory heads of Alexander that adorn the supper couch that was found in Philip II’s tomb. Alongside it was engraved the oath that Alexander took with 9,000 of his officers, Greek and Persian. The oath begins, “It is my wish, now that wars are coming to an end, that you should all be happy in peace. From now on, let all mortals live as one people, in fellowship, for the good of all. See the whole world as your homeland, with laws common to all, where the best will govern, regardless of their race.” An airport, a modern crossroads for people from all over the world, was an appropriate place, I thought.

When I checked my bag through, the attendant told me that I was travelling alone, she had a special offer for me. The flight was fully booked, so she could offer me one hundred and twenty-five euros cash, and a discounted flight anywhere in the next twelve months if I’d accept going on the next flight at 5:30! I must admit, I considered it for a few seconds, but I wouldn’t get to Athens till 7:30pm and I had a car booked and a hotel in Mati on the coast. I’d also exhausted things to do in Thessaloniki airport and didn’t want to spend another two hours there. I turned the offer down.

I didn’t really get it though. What’s wrong with fully booked? I’ve heard that airlines deliberately overbook, to cover themselves against empty seats. Maybe it’s true. I wondered on the plane if anyone had taken up the offer – maybe some lucky backpacker.

I picked up my car at Athens airport – a bright red Leon hatchback – and drove to Mati. My hotel was in a quiet tree-lined avenue, and I found a parking spot nice and close. A nice easy finish for a long day.

Dion and further on

As Vergina was the traditional burial place of the Macedonian kings, Dion was the traditional place of worship and sacrifice when they were celebrating victories, or asking for big favours like a successful invasion of Asia.

Alexander made splendid sacrifices to Zeus the Olympian Father, the aspect of Zeus most often worshipped at Dion, possibly at this massive altar,

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which also had behind it three rows of eleven stone blocks equipped with iron rings for securing the sacrificial animals. Later, Alexander had bronze statues of the twenty-five cavalry companions who fell at the battle of Granikos in 334BC erected in the sanctuary. They so impressed Metellus after he won the fourth Macedonic War in 146BC that he took them to back to Rome with him.

Zeus must have been pleased with Alexander’s sacrifices, as well as with the accompanying artistic and athletic contests that he held in Zeus’ honour, because in the thirteen or so years that Alexander was in Asia, he never lost a battle.

I’ve heard people say that Alexander was a bloodthirsty megalomaniac. This ignores the preceding history between Greece and Asia, the legacy left to him by his father Philip II and the mores of the time. There’s plenty of information about the first two, for those who are interested in following the above links, and further. As for the mores of the time, the question was not whether or not a king made war, it was a question of how he made it. Alexander certainly conquered cities who resisted and punished those such as Tyre, which murdered his heralds and used the barbaric weapon of boiling sand tipped from the battlements.

Bernard Cornwell in the Sharpe novels frequently comments on the ferocity of soldiers who eventually take a city they’ve besieged, a reaction to the horrors they endure in taking it. Shakespeare describes it too, in Henry V’s speech to the governor of Harfleur.

“Therefore, you men of Harfleur, take pity of your town and of your people, whiles yet my soldiers are in my command; … if not, why, in a moment look to see the blind and bloody soldier with foul hand defile the locks of your shrill-shrieking daughters; your fathers taken by the silver beards, and their most reverend heads dash’d to the walls; your naked infants spitted upon pikes …”

“will you yield, and this avoid, or, guilty in defence, be thus destroy’d?”

Alexander preferred if possible to win cities by his twin reputations for being unconquered in battle and his mercy when unopposed.

But back to Dion!

It’s an enormous site. As well as the sanctuary of Zeus Olympios, there was a sanctuary to Zeus Hypsystos (“the highest” – another aspect of Zeus),

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and sanctuaries to various gods, including Aesklepios, Demeter (where I noticed an ear of corn growing!), the Muses, Isis (yes, the Egyptian goddess), Aphrodite, and Dionysus. There may be more. There were two theatres, the largest, the Hellenic which has modern seating in it now for performances, and a smaller Roman one. There’s also a stadium. The town itself is a large one, with a seemingly endless main street.

DSC07085A statue of Hera was found in 2006, built into the extensive defensive city walls by the early Christians as fill!

There’s a public baths complex, with loads of mosaic floors. The Romans in particular used the public baths as a social meeting place. They even built an odeion as part of the baths complex for musical and other small performances. The hypocaust has been exposed and is being reconstructed,

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and the extensive underground drainage and sewer system can be seen in places. Courtesy of Hadrian, there are even public toilets.

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After the site, the museum was a little disappointing, although I think all the good finds are probably in Thessaloniki and Athens.

I left Dion, heading back past Thessaloniki to Halkidiki. I had intended to go to ancient Olynthos as the last stop on my tour of ancient northern sites before flying back down to Attica, and had booked two nights in a guesthouse outside Polygyros. As I drove up the narrow stony track to the guesthouse, I was hoping that it had a restaurant because it seemed pretty remote, and being directionally challenged as I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t trust myself to get back from the town in the dark.

There was no restaurant. The hostess, who had little English, suggested, “Delivery? Souvlaki? Big!” and nodded encouragingly while measuring between her hands the size of said souvlaki. I was hungry, but not for Nia Vardalos’ “meat on a stick”. She took me to talk to another guest, who was reading on the veranda. She spoke to the guest, who turned to me and laughed, “I have to translate.”

After a little three-way conversation, the guest, whom I’ll call E, asked, “Why do you want take-away when you could go out somewhere nice?” I replied that I didn’t really; I’d much rather go out somewhere. E asked if I’d like to go with her. So we made plans to leave in half an hour and thus began a really enjoyable evening with an intelligent, funny and apparently, as I found when she tried driving back to the guesthouse, similarly directionally challenged woman as I am.

With a combination of directions from local gents, none of whom objected to being hailed and asked for help by E, who is very vivacious and attractive – certainly our waiter thought so – and a more reliable source, the GPS, we made it back and arranged to meet next morning for a jaunt to some little villages in the hills. I had already decided against visiting Olynthos. I needed a rest.

In the morning, I was even less inclined to do anything more strenuous than sit on my balcony and listen to the goat bells, a sound that I’ve loved since being woken by it in Delphi in 2007, so we chatted over breakfast, and for the rest of the morning, along with our hostess. At one point I caught the word “Avstra-leea” in the Greek conversation, and E turned to me laughing. “Vaso [our hostess] is an expert in astrology, and wants to know your star sign.” I replied that it was Cancer. This was duly relayed, and further discussed animatedly, and E turned back to me. “Do you know what time of day you were born? Vaso thinks there is another sign that influences you.” “Like an ascendant sign? 4:30 in the afternoon.” Another animated discussion, and Vaso nodding at me wisely.

E, trying to suppress laughter, said to me, “We have decided – unanimously! – that you have an ascendant Sagittarius.” E, a civil engineer, logical and incisive, who mentally calculated the exchange rate of my airfare into Euros in seconds, believes in astrology about as much as I do. She was splitting her sides as she translated. “Vaso says a Cancerian couldn’t possibly travel all the way from Australia alone. You must have an ascendant Sagittarius, and it also explains your archery!”

E had to return to Thessaloniki that day, so we exchanged phone numbers and email addresses. After taking it easy all day, I ventured out alone that evening to find a taverna in Polygyros for dinner and found my way back to the guesthouse afterwards. Without the GPS.

Filoxenia and filoto

After my great day at Vergina I left my hotel outside Halkidona, heading southish toward Dion, my next ancient site. For a change of scene, I’d decided to stay at the seaside town of Olympiaki Akti, which is a little way from Dion. I made good time and was there mid-afternoon. I had to stop a couple of times to take photos as I came in sight of Mount Olympos.

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It’s no wonder the ancient Greeks thought it was the home of the gods. The surrounding land is pretty flat and the mountain seems to rise up from nowhere. It looks more a mountain range than a mountain. There are 52 peaks, up to 2,917 metres high. That’s Mitikas, called Pantheon in the old days, because it was the meeting place of all the gods. Their palaces were in the ravines, or as Homer called them, the creases of Olympos.

Dion is at the foot of Olympos and was a site sacred to Zeus, for whom the town is named. Dion means “of Zeus” which is Dias in ancient Greek. The “d” in Dion and the “Z” in Zeus both pronounced,  “th” as in “they”. This was told to me by my landlord. He couldn’t quite get my name, so I said, “Diane, you know, like Artemis.” So he called me Artemis from then on. We talked about mythology, and ancient history, especially in regard to where I’d been so far and where I was going, and about politics. I asked who he thought would win the Greek election. He wasn’t sure, which was probably a good call. When I asked him what he thought of Alexis Tsipras, he said, “First, he was good, but then …” and with a wry expression, he picked up his key ring and turned it over, and then back again, an eloquent illustration of a back-flip.

Poor Tsipras. He’s been in office for seven months, and people expect him to have already fixed the problems that have accumulated under a government that’s been in power for forty years. The problem that my landlord saw however, and that most people see, is that Tsipras was elected on the platform of “no austerity measures”, which makes sense, because the austerity measures are crippling the economy, not to mention the people. Unfortunately, I think Tsipras wasn’t tough enough to stand alone against the “Troika” – the European Commission (EC), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). I think Yannis Varoufakis was, but the Troika refused to negotiate with Greece while he was the Finance Minister, so he resigned his post.

How is that democratic? How can a union of other countries and banks have the power to decide what Greek finance minister they’ll work with? It flabbergasts me. They couldn’t win an argument with him so they told him to take his bat and ball and go home, and send someone nicer.

Unfortunately that was the beginning of a rift between Varoufakis and Tsipras, so they’re no longer working together. Unfortunate because I think they had the beginnings of a good team. I asked my landlord what he thought of Varoufakis. He replied, “He rock star. He want everybody look at him.” So, not everyone is as impressed with him as I am. Fair enough too as I don’t live in Greece, I’m not Greek (even though I’d like to be) and I don’t live with the politics daily. In my defence, at least I’m interested.

The landlord told me that they will have an election on 20 September.  I told him that I knew, and that I will be in Athens on that day. I’m looking forward to it. We chatted for about forty minutes then he said he was going to make some food for himself, and would I like some. I agreed because hospitality is important to Greek people and I felt honoured. He made filoto, which he explained was a traditional dish, very simple, made with whatever you had to hand. It often has spinach but he was just using feta.

He browned a thin circle of flaky bread, like cooked filo pastry, called perek, in a wad of butter, then crumbled a thick slice of feta onto it, turned it onto a plate, browned another perek in another wad of butter, and turned it onto the previous one covering the cheese, then browned both sides a bit more in more butter. My arteries were trying to crawl into a hole, but I had to be polite, didn’t I?

A couple of wedges of lemon squeezed over and we were set. It was delicious. We chatted more as we ate, about our children, and then of course it came round to our partners, or in my case, that I don’t have one. He, it turned out, was divorced. By the time we finished eating it was beginning to feel like foreplay, so I thanked him profusely for the meal, excused myself as graciously and speedily as possible, and retreated to my room. I didn’t emerge till 8pm. Still full from the filoto I sneaked out and bought some grapes for supper, found a cafe that made me a cup of tea to take away, and returned to my room. Great wifi in that room.

Vergina – a personal pilgrimage

After Pella, I was very much looking forward to Vergina, the ancient royal town of Aegae before Archelaos I moved it to Pella. Aegae remained the traditional burial place of the kings of Macedon. The first thing I noticed on the way that it’s well sign-posted. It looks as though Greece is really keen for people to visit the monuments here.

After arriving in the town, it was still well sign-posted, a detail I’ve noticed is often missing. Often the last sign before actually arriving is at least a kilometre from the site, and even up to five! But Vergina was easy. There was even a sign for parking for the Museum, which is also the site of the great tombs, so I drove in and parked. It was then I realised I’d been had. The parking lot was a private venture, and there was a small inexpertly made sign advising of one euro fifty charge. I didn’t mind though, even though it turned out there’s plenty of on street parking available nearer the museum. Every little bit that goes back into Greek pockets, the better for the economy.

The entrepreneurial gentleman running the parking lot was gesticulating at me that I had to move my car, because the spot I’d chosen was apparently a prime spot for a motor home. Obediently I moved to where he indicated, and shuffled back and forth till he was satisfied. He asked me, “Sprechen sie Deutsch?”. I replied, “Nein,” at which he repeated, “Nein!” and laughed. I paid and off I went, hearing him as I left talking animatedly in German to someone. I think he actually was German.

I walked off down the hill in the direction the sign indicated. As I walked through the gates, I saw the tumulus, 13 metres high and about 100 metres in diameter.

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It’s a reconstruction of that which was raised over the tombs sixty years after their creation, after looting by Galatian invaders in 274/3 BC, and which was excavated from 1976-80. The re-constructed tumulus provides a protective shelter over the tombs and monuments. As I walked towards the entrance I saw it was designed to replicate the real thing too, which gave me a slight chill as I prepared to walk through it.

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Once inside however, I was quickly brought back to the present by a polite young man telling me sadly but firmly that I couldn’t take photos inside, even without flash. Equally sadly I put the camera back in my bag, and prepared to try to absorb everything I saw. (The pictures I’ve included of inside the tumulus are from the net.)

Inside is dimly lit, the only light coming from the spots perfectly designed to illuminate only the exhibits. It’s very atmospheric. Interestingly it seems to have the desired effect as visitors move quietly and speak in hushed tones if at all. I moved through the exhibits taking my time to examine everything. As well as grave steles, there were replicas of the wall paintings found in the tombs, and grave goods and offerings of many people, ordinary, noble and royal. The collection of the goods that were burned on the pyre of Philip II, father of Alexander, is enormous, especially when you consider that the pieces left over from the flames are only the small metal fastenings, seeds that were somehow protected, small bones of animals that were sacrificed for the funeral and the dead king’s weapons.

An entire room is dedicated to the finds from Philip’s tomb. The image below shows much of it.

After his cremation, the bones were cleaned and placed into a gold larnax, decorated with the sixteen rayed-star of the Macedonian royal house, and rows of lily, palette and rosette ornaments. The larnax is displayed surmounted by his grave wreath of gold oak leaves.

And then it was time to go down the stairs to the gate of the tomb.

The faint noises from the floor above faded away as I descended. I stood alone at the bottom of the stairs, surrounded by dark silence, before the massive marble doors, and thought about Alexander being here, possibly on this very spot, burying his father with huge ceremony after his assassination.

I admit to being a bit emotional. There was some trembling, and a few tears.

Over the years I’ve read a lot about Alexander, and while he’s known as Alexander the Great for his enormous and unprecedented accomplishments, I have a great deal of respect for his father Philip’s statesmanship, generalship and kingship.

Another, smaller, tomb was thought to be that of his most recent wife Eurydike (the Macedonians practised multiple marriage for diplomatic reasons), murdered after Philip’s death by Olympia, Alexander’s mother. The information there says however that it was that of an earlier wife, who because of her Thracian heritage and the customs of her race, went willingly to the pyre with her dead husband. The magnificence of the tomb, though short of Philip’s, is said to reflect the honour in which Alexander held her sacrifice.

Another tomb, known as “The Prince’s tomb” is that of a youth aged about 14 years old, said to be King Alexander IV, murdered with his mother Roxanne by the regent, Cassander. I think it was because he was beginning to show qualities like Alexander’s, and quite possibly there were too many of the army very willing to follow the son of Alexander. It’s one of the great unanswered questions for me – what would he have been like, and how would history have been changed had he survived?

After leaving the tumulus, I followed the signs to the ancient theatre, further up the hill. I had been told that it and the palace site were both closed for conservation work, but I wanted at least to have a look through the fence.

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Although there wasn’t much to see, as it’s grass covered and there are only a couple of earthen rows of seats visible, I was glad, in the cool quiet of the early evening, to have added it to my pilgrimage. It was the place where Philip was assassinated, and where Alexander was acclaimed king.

Down-hearted in Pella

After Amphipoli I made for Pella, the birthplace of Alexander, and to me, the equivalent of sacred ground. The GPS told me I’d arrived at my destination, and it wasn’t long before I saw something that left me in no doubt.

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The statue was similar to the enormous one one on the Thessaloniki waterfront, but much smaller. Just right for a square in a small town, in fact. Instead of holding a sword, Alexander holds a winged Nike, or Victory, on his outstretched hand.

A little while later, I was in the Pella Museum, reading that while Pella is an inland town, it wasn’t always. In the sixth millennium BC, it was on the coast. Since then, the silt deposited by the rivers has filled part of the Thermaic Gulf, leaving Pella now at the apex of a large triangular agricultural plain, twenty-three kilometres from the sea.

The Museum is a lovely building, but I didn’t find any treasures relating to Alexander. There were a couple of impressive mosaics, one of a lion hunt,

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and one of Dionysius riding a leopard.

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These are both photos for the museum. The real mosaics are on site, protected by roofs, but very dusty. An interesting one is of a female centaur, a fairly rare representation in ancient art, and probably in modern art too I’d imagine. It was from a banqueting hall floor, about 300BC.

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There was a poignant little pile of gold threads that had been sewn into grave clothing. After the cloth had long since disappeared, the gold thread it had been stitched with was left, along with the gold jewellery and pieces of gold foil used to decorate the clothes and armour.

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After leaving the museum, I walked the site, which is enormous, as one would think of a royal city inhabited over hundreds of years. There’s been a lot of restoration done, especially with the use of concrete blocks, unfortunately to my mind, delineating the perimeter of the agora.

The excavated palace, which was closed for conservation work, was built after Philip’s and Alexander’s day, and destroyed by the Romans, then by hundreds of years of the local population, using it as a ready made quarry, so I was left still wondering where Alexander had lived. Where was the magnificent palace that Archelaos built when he moved the administrative capital to Pella from Aigai? So far I haven’t found out.

I know Alexander spent most of the first twenty years of his life in Pella, but he’s long gone, ever since he left for Asia at the age of twenty-one, never to return.

Disheartened but hungry, I went for dinner at a taverna in the little town of Halkidona near my hotel. There were no customers, and the lady came out to point at the menu as soon as she saw me. I sat down and ordered grilled chicken. I should have known better. Small town, deserted taverna. Where was she going to get chicken breast except from the freezer?

It arrived too quickly. It was hard to cut, and I looked inside. It was semi raw. I picked at a couple of chips that I didn’t think had been contaminated, and ate some bread, and that was all. Well, she wasn’t happy. “Problem?” she asked, and called over her son to help translate. I didn’t have the heart to tell her, because she looked so hurt, so I made a show of explaining it was so big, and I was full. I paid and left, feeling a complete wuss.

Still hungry, I looked for another taverna that she wouldn’t see me in, but they were all located around the plateia as usual. I could feel her watching me, so I went across the road to a cafe, and got a take-away tea, then to the bakery next to it to console myself with baklava. Two pieces, which I took back to my hotel to enjoy while I worried about salmonella.

Roads less and more travelled to Amphipoli

Next day I headed back along Odos Egnatia to Amphipoli. I was still driving extremely sedately, and straddling the line separating the slow lane and the paved shoulder, as is the courteous way to drive in Greece if you aren’t driving fast. It allows cars in the slow lane to overtake without having to leave the slow lane. I know, right? I was happy to take it easy though. After forty-three years of driving on the left side of the road and in a right hand drive car, it takes more than a couple of hours to do exactly the opposite without thinking about it.

I was looking forward to Amphipoli, especially since all the publicity about excavation at the the Kasta Tomb about September 2014 to July 2015. It’s been strangely quiet since then, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to see it of course, as work is underway, but I certainly wanted to see whatever else was to be seen, beginning with the lion.

In Greece, getting to a place isn’t difficult. It’s getting to the exact part of the place that’s the challenge. There’s little signage, especially for the antiquities. There’s often a sign about five kilometres away, then you’re on your own, till you actually get there. Google Maps doesn’t always recognise the ancient name either, or wants to send you via a dirt track that may conceivably lead to the place, but if you try to drive it, it’s becomes narrower, steeper, and ends up a barely navigable, rocky footpath. Broken axle or ankle territory.

DSC06810“Turn right,” said the Google Maps lady. “Turn right.”

I looked up the indicated track through the olive grove.

“Are you sure?” I asked, but she repeated her instruction, so I gingerly obeyed.

After fifty odd metres, I said, “Nuh. It’s not happening. I’ll find another way.” I got out of the car to make sure I could reverse safely into a little clearing among the olives to turn round. The olives looked beautiful. It was going to be good crop.

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As I checked the ground for ditches, large rocks and anything else that could possibly leave me stuck in the middle of nowhere with a car that won’t go, as has happened before (see “Of fallen rocks and the kindness of Greek people” and “Check before parking on the roadside to visit old tombs”) I noticed on the rocky ground some sizeable rocks that looked like bits of marble. I looked closely, and they were. I wondered if they were ever part of a building, or if they were just natural rocks – made of marble. I don’t know, but it’s very common.

I got back onto the road and kept driving, looking for the brown and gold antiquities sign that would tell me I was in the vicinity. I found one, and after a couple of false turns, I rounded a bend and there was the lion, on a corner of two roads, looking magnificent.

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It’s very similar to the one at Chaeronea, however the Lion of Amphipoli is larger. Greek soldiers found bits of it in 1912-3, then British soldiers found more in 1916. It was all put back together in 1937.

I asked the man selling fruit to the sightseers where the site of the ancient city was. “All around here,” he told me, sweeping his arm round expansively. I looked around and saw nothing but the road, fields, trees, and the lion. It turned out that like other sites in Macedonia, only some has been excavated, and they’re in separate locations. I was getting a bit down-hearted.

I got some directions to the museum from a Greek lady, which were a bit confusing at first because she was pointing left and saying right. Hardly surprising, because I know plenty of people who do the same thing when English is their first language, including me, but eventually we sorted it out, and I found the Museum.

There were many grave goods, including lots of gold. The Macedonians followed the Mycenaean style of graves, which was itself in the Homeric style, cremating then burying their dead with all those goods that the dead person valued and which would be useful to them in the afterlife.

DSC06831An interesting exhibit is the silver ossuary and gold grave wreath of Brasidas, the Spartan general who died in the battle of Amphipoli in 422BC defeating the Athenians under Kleon, and according to Thukydides was honoured as a hero and founder.

Also for my archery buddies, here’s a kylix, a shallow drinking cup from the C5th BC, with an archer depicted inside.

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While there I learned of an Hellenistic house and also the remains of an ancient wooden bridge across the Strymon River, still a substantial stream today. Things were looking up.

I found the house, which was under lock and key in an eco-shed, and the “guard”, a slender, pretty young lady who wants to visit Australia, took me inside. The rooms had painted walls in red, blue, yellow, brown and black geometric patterns, and floors of white limestones with occasional black and green stones. This house was built in the C2nd BC and excavated in 1982.

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The guard told me how to get to the ancient bridge, a few minutes drive away, to see her colleague, another guard. If she wasn’t there, wait a few minutes. The guard was indeed absent, so while waiting I explored the north wall of the city, a bonus that I hadn’t known about, which stand up to 7.5 metres tall at places.

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The guard, another slender, pretty young lady, returned with the two Greek tourists she’d taken to the bridge, and showed us all more of the walls. The other people departed, and the guard told me that the bridge is five minutes away in the car, and if I would drive, she would come with me. At the site, she led me along more of the excavated city walls to another locked eco-shed, which remained locked, but into which I could see clearly through the protective wire fence. The bridge was built in the C5th BC, and is mentioned by Thukydides, as being instrumental for Brasidas during the Peloponnesian war, and later by Arrian, who says that Alexander used it when crossing the Strymon on his way to Asia. The British general and archaeologist W.M. Leake relates crossing it himself in 1835, so it lasted well. It was excavated in 1977-8 and is 275 metres long. The piles, existing trees, have petrified.

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I loved Amphipoli. While so much of the city is still to be excavated, the concentration on several important finds works well. I’m really looking forward to returning one day to see the Kasta Tomb.

Driving on the right to Philippi

I’d booked a rental car to spend a week touring the major archaeological sites in Macedonia, and took a taxi to the airport to collect it. The rental was with Sixt. The office staff were lovely and their shuttle took me to the pick up point. The beautiful little BMW hatchback was brought to me and the attendant, doing the shuttle drives and the pick-ups and returns all on his own, began hurriedly to go through the start-stop instructions, when I suddenly realised he was stepping on a clutch!

Now, I drove a manual car for twenty years, but that was twenty years ago, and I’m from Australia, where we drive on the left side of the road, and our cars are right hand drive. I began to panic. “But I ordered an automatic!” I blurted! The attendant ordered, “Wait in the shade madam. I have no time to deal with this now,” and left in the shuttle again.

I thought, “Oh bugger, I’m a problem. I’ll be lucky to get out of here by dark.” It was about 12:30pm. I began to worry. Did I order an automatic? I’d been flicking in and out of web pages, and I’d been tired, doing the booking late on my last night before leaving Australia. I checked booking record on my phone. I’d ordered a manual car! Would I have to accept it or or would I have to go without? What would I do instead? In this mode my panic escalated as I sat, trying to stay calm.

The attendant returned with a different car. “Madam,” he snapped, “Here is your car – automatic.” I jumped up, thanking him and apologising for my stupid mistake. “It’s not my problem madam; it’s not my car!” I was very embarrassed, and mumbling apologies, in which he was not in the least interested, I got into the car and out of his way as quickly as possible!

Nevertheless, I was so grateful that the company had fixed my mistake.

The car was a neat little Renault Clio. It was a few days later that I realised that the mythological muse of history was called Clio. I don’t believe in omens and “signs”, but this is Greece ….

Using my phone as a GPS, I set off and reached Philippi within a couple of hours, and in plenty of time to look at the site and the museum. The island of Thasos had established a colony called Krenides, and when the colonists had trouble with the native Thracians, asked Philip II of Macedon for help. He helped, and noting the strategic, agricultural and resource value of the area, took over the colony and reestablished it as a Macedonian city. It was later a Roman city, supported by the Via Egnatia, which passed through it, and the site of the battle at which Mark Antony and Octavian, later Augustus, defeated Brutus and Crassus. Later again, in the first century AD, it was the first place in Europe a Christian church was established.

Needless to say, with that much history, it’s a great site.

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It has a theatre begun in Philip’s time for traditional drama, poetry and musical performances, and redeveloped during Roman times to provide for more spectacular entertainment, often involving involving wild animals. There’s also a forum and an agora, and as well as remains of temples and administrative buildings, a couple of basilicas.

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The museum had a few good artefacts, but was mostly information boards which I photographed for all the detail. I left thinking about the rows of sorted and numbered bits of masonry, and the parts of the site where remains of buildings lay in disorder. There is years of work still to do to fully excavate, examine, interpret and conserve the site before the full extent and history of Philippi, especially pre-Roman, will be known, and I don’t see how Greece can do it in the current circumstances.

On the other hand, it’s waited 2,000 years. It can wait a bit longer. I got into the car, turning on the blessed air-conditioning, and used my phone to book a hotel at the nearby village of Krinides. Gotta love technology!