Philip II’s massive palace at Aigai to be opened for the public in May

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In terms of sheer size, Philip II’s palace at Aigai, in the area of Pella (the capital of the ancient kingdom of Macedon), boasts around 70,000 sq ft in the area – which is three times the area of the Parthenon and also more than that of an American football field. And now researchers, experts, and stonemasons from the regional Imathia antiquities ephorate are busy in the ambitious reconstruction project of the magnificent complex that would lead to the public opening of Philip II’s palace by May of this year.

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The overall compound of Philip II’s palace harks back to the style of the Mycenean palace-complexes. In that regard, it doubled as a fortified stronghold with town inhabitants, while also having particular sectors built for royal burials. Added to this high-density usage pattern, the ancient complex occupied a rather strategic site defined by two rivers and the Pieria mountains. This military significance of the stronghold mirrored the desperate political situation faced by Philip II. As we discussed in one of our previous articles concerning the ancient Macedonian army –

When Philip II of Macedon (or Phílippos II ho Makedon – Alexander’s father) ascended the throne of Macedon, his realm was beset on the northern side by the ravaging Illyrians and precariously poised on the southern borders with the opportunistic Greeks. To make matters worse, the Macedonian army was all but vanquished – with their earlier king and many of the hetairoi (king’s companions) meeting their gruesome deaths in a battle against the invading northern tribes. But as the saying goes – “necessity is the mother of all inventions”; Philp went on to initiate a military reform of sorts that focused on training and equipping the infantry levies of Macedon, many of whom came from semi-nomadic shepherding backgrounds (as opposed to the Greek farmer/hoplite tied to his land).

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Given the massive scale of the structure and its environs, the first order of business for the reconstruction entails the reassembling of the nearly 30 large columns that surrounded the palace’s peristyle (comprising the main courtyard of the palace). Some of these columns, possibly around the number of sixteen (especially on the southern part), rise to a height of 25 ft. In addition, the modern stonemasons are using ancient techniques to hand-carve the surfaces of almost 7,000 stone-cut blocks (each measuring 3.3 ft x 2.3 ft x 1.65 ft). These blocks will be used to reinforce their original counterparts and the buttress that structurally supports the foundation of the palace.

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Unfortunately, the project won’t be able to cover all the structural segments of Philip II’s complex at the site itself. For example, the upper-floor, originally accessed via the palace’s entrance way (propylon), along with a 100 ft section of the collonade, have been reassembled inside a new museum at Aigai (as opposed to the main area). Furthermore, by May, the floor area will be preserved thus showcasing the impressive mosaics that depict a range of scenes, including the ravishing of Europa and motifs from nature. Suffice it to say, this incredible endeavor of conservation and recreation pertains to a pretty difficult task, especially considering the previous state of the palace at Aigai. As archaeologist Angeliki Kottaridi, who heads the regional antiquities ephorate, said –

The palace of Philip II was destroyed in the middle of the 2nd century BC, following the conquer of Macedonia by the Romans. Many of its architectural stone parts were used in constructing other buildings. It’s characteristic that many of the stones from the building uncovered by the French excavators in the 19th century were used to build homes housing refugees in the nearby village of Vergina.

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Lastly, fueled by funds of 10 million euros (sourced from both EU and Greek organizations), the reconstruction project will continue till 2022. To that end, the archaeologists are looking forth to further reinforce the ancient Macedonian walls at the site and also stabilize the eroded hills with an arrangement of support systems. Kottaridi concluded –

The reconstruction of the Aigai palace complex is particularly significant, as it will provide Macedonia with the most important example of classical-era architecture in the whole of northern Greece.

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King Philip II and his Companions. Illustration by Johnny Shumate.

Source/ Images Credit (except last image): ANA-MPA

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About the Author

Dattatreya Mandal
Dattatreya Mandal has a bachelor's degree in Architecture (and associated History of Architecture) and a fervent interest in History. Formerly, one of the co-owners of an online architectural digest, he is currently the founder/editor of Realmofhistory.com. The latter is envisaged as an online compendium that mirrors his enthusiasm for ancient history, military, mythology, and historical evolution of architecture.
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