There are, in my opinion, 7 archaeological sites that every Greek (or foreigner who is visiting Greece) must see. Acropolis, Delphi, Olympia, Mycenae, Knossos, Eleusis and Vergina. There are of course more which are also beautiful and worth a visit (Sounion, Vrarona, Aphaia, Phaestos, Kameiros, Figalia and many more on islands, mountains and in valleys that I’m not aware of) but for the moment I’d like to pause at the first 7 and particularly to the one of Vergina that up till now I hadn’t visited. I had more reasons to desire such a visit as I had been fortunate in the past to attend lectures on Archaeology by Andronikos himself at the School of Philosophy in the University of Thessaloniki. He had already become a “star” and people were crowding the ground floor auditoria to listen to him. He was spontaneous, enthusiastic and lively as he was talking about his passion. A sense of humour was among his characteristics and addressing the Thessalonians he would say: “What does co-capital mean? There is only one capital of Greece and this is Athens”.
So one day of December that could well have been a summer day, I finally found myself in Vergina, a nice small village near Veria. I had been told that what I was going to see in the archaeological site was really exciting and the truth is that the descriptions are nothing compared to reality. I’m not going to spoil the suspense for those who haven’t been there yet, I only want to say that King Philip’s grave and everything else one can see in the site of ancient Aiges stun the visitor. When you have seen all, ask for the documentary that the people who work there may not remember to show to you.
There is also the archaeological site of the Palace which during the last years has been closed to the public as the excavations still go on. On the way you will see another Macedonian Tomb, excavated by Romaios (in Greek it means Roman), the teacher of Andronikos (Romaios and Andronikos, two suitable names for archaeologists!) What is more suggestive, however, is the nature around, with beautiful green peaceful mountains. One can feel that this nature has remained the same for centuries, exactly as in the Mycenaean landscape which is more arid and wild, making mythology and history come alive before one’s eyes.
Crossing the Aliakmon, one reaches the neighbouring Veria, an interesting city. There is here a very special “strand”, not on a sea or a lake, but overlooking a quiet plain. There are here some ugly high buildings which in cities built amphitheatrically are even uglier because they seem even higher. These appartmant buildings in Veria are all covered with red roofs, maybe for the snow or for a prettier appearance.
St.Paul stopped at this city and addressed the inhabitants; there is a monument erected at the spot where his altar had been (I thought it a little flashy for his personality). Here one can see the old Jewish and Christian districts with beautiful houses that have been restored and with many byzantine churches. In Veria you get the feeling that people are more polite, more…human than in other places of Greece. Was it perhaps my imagination? Smiling people who allow you to cross the road without treading over you in their cars, sweet-spoken women, old men and young men sitting all together at cafes and pastry shops, without shouting or fighting about politics. A feeling of life and motion that isn’t disturbing.
Of course one could object that I was on holidays so everything in this Greek province had seemed perfect to me. All right, let me complain a little bit as a good Greek must always do. There is a television set everywhere which puts people into an intellectual sleep and a big part of the conversations was evolving around football. The songs one could hear at the background in the tavernas of Vergina had commonplace lyrics like this: “I’m jealous of you/I’m jealous of you/Because I love you, I adore you” and a girl in Veria was trying to explain to her girl-friends that a song her boy-friend had dedicated to her wasn’t sung by this insignificant pop singer but by another equally insignificant one! At another point I saw a small gathering of some political party members who were there to comment on how well they did in the municipal elections and celebrate the event with a drink.
Yes, these are things that always make me feel bad about the greek provincial cities and the greek society in general. Football, high appartment buildings, television, pop “bouzouki” music. A verse from a song by Savvopoulos was swirling in my mind: “Empty little villages, incoherent provincial towns”. Yes, the greek provincial towns are incoherent. Abandoned to their fate, emptied of people, they are trying to survive thanks to a few brave souls who love them and haven’t left them yet in favour of crowded Athens and Thessaloniki.
On the other hand I couldn’t help but observe that the highway connecting Athens with Thessaloniki is very good and safe, as well as the Egnatia motorway even if the toll rates are expensive; one can often stop for a good cup of coffee and a clean rest-room. The landscape is beautiful not only at the patches near the sea but also among the mountains.
This is Greece, incoherent and full of contrasts. At one moment you love it passionately and the next one you hate it. First you admire its progress and then you are left speechless with how backwards it seems to be going. Still, it’s my country and I can’t help loving it.
First published on 15.12.10