THESSALONIKI to PELLA – welcoming Alexander
Today I am immersing myself in the world of Alexander the Great and his father Phillip II – but Phillip will have to wait until this afternoon.
I will be visiting the incredible museum and the archeological site at Pella – yes, more history coming up – before enjoying a traditional Greek lunch.
The morning begins with another filling breakfast with views over the harbour before heading off to meet the group. We are to meet outside the White Tower so it’s another walk along the water – this, I can say, is most enjoyable early in the morning. Our bus arrives – it is a normal size big bus but there are only 13 passengers plus our driver Alexandros and our guide Demetra so things are looking promising.
Pella is an ancient city located in Central Macedonia best known as the historical capital of the ancient kingdom of Macedon and birthplace of Alexander the Great. Our first stop will be the Pella Museum and we are told that there is a reduced entry fee if you are over 65 and are from an EU country. This does not apply to me but of course two couples complain because they did not bring any ID (who travels without ID?) and they should only pay the reduced rate. This leads to an argument with the guy issuing the tickets and with our lovely Demetra. This is because they were not told before they had to pay. It’s a discount of 2 euro – I am about to kick someone so I move away. Once inside, Demetra tells us that photography is allowed but no flash – yep, you know what is coming don’t you.
Our first stop is this marble head of Alexander the Great (325-300BC). For those who want to be lazy and not click the link Alexander the Great was one of history’s greatest military minds. As King of Macedonia and Persia, he established the largest empire the ancient world had ever seen.
By turns charismatic and ruthless, brilliant and power hungry, diplomatic and bloodthirsty, Alexander inspired such loyalty in his men they’d follow him anywhere and, if necessary, die in the process. Though Alexander the Great died before realizing his dream of uniting a new realm, his influence on Greek and Asian culture was so profound that it inspired a new historical epoch—the Hellenistic Period.
The mosaic (circa 100BC) that leads this post is part of the mosaic on the right. It shows Alexander fighting King Darius III of Persia in the Battle of Issus. You may recognize it from past travels as the original floor mosaic from the House of the Faun in Pompeii that now resides in the Archeological Museum of Naples. This mosaic is made of about one and a half million tiny coloured tiles.
The process of gathering materials for mosaics was a complex undertaking since the colour scale was based solely on the pieces of marble that could be found in nature.
The mosaic is an unusually detailed work for a private residence and was likely commissioned by a wealthy person or family. The fact that this scene was made to be viewed in the house of a Roman civilian reveals that Alexander was more than just a heroic image to the Romans. Since the mosaic was arranged on the floor where the patron could receive guests, it was the first decorative object a visitor would see upon entering that room.
Marble statuette of Alexander the Great as the god Pan. Late 4th – early 3rd century BC. The figure has two small horns projecting from the top of the head, pointed ears and a goat’s tail, in imitation of the rustic half-goat deity Pan, who was popular in Macedonia. It is presumed that the statuette had cloven hooves which are now missing.
As I am wandering about, those idiots who kicked up the fuss about the entry fee are now flashing all over the place with their mobile phones. Demeter and the museum guards keep telling them no flash – I would have ejected them before they even got in. I move far away – pretending I am not part of the group. Poor Demeter.
Next up more mosaics – I just love them.
Pebble mosaic floor from the “House of Dionysus’ shows a scene of a lion hunt from 4th c BC. The composition depicts the moment when the two huntsmen, one on either side of the lion, are preparing to kill the beast. The figure on the left has been identified as Alexander himself while the figure on the right may be his companion Hephaestion or the general Craterus who saved Alexander’s life during a lion hunt at the Granicus River in Asia Minor. The hunt was both a favourite pastime of the Macedonian kings and nobles of that age and also a favourite subject for paintings.
There are many banqueting vessels and plates. Mostly fragments but an occasional jug presents itself intact. The artwork is incredible, and I get the impression that the ancients were not hung up about sexuality. The two items below date from the late Classical Age – 4th century BC.
Above left is a Banqueting Plate depicting a Maened relaxing and a Satyr about to get a grip on the situation. Above right is a phallus shaped rhyton (drinking vessel). Mmmmm –
I come to the conclusion that the residents of Pella are quite fixated with their terracotta work. So many statues of gods and goddesses that must have protected their daily lives. Below are finds from household shrines dating from the late 4th to early 1st century BC. With some of the delicate work I wonder how they have survived.
Above left is Athena wearing a horned helmet. Athena was venerated in Pella as the protector of cattle. Centre is the winged Eros – god of love and sex (here we go again). On the right is a bronze statuette of Poseidon. His trident is missing – but later, if I look closely I may find it in his shrine in the Poseidon House where he was discovered.
Ah mosaics – don’t you just love them? These date 325-300 BC from the House of Dionysus.
Above left is the god Dionysus riding side-saddle on the back of a panther. He is crowned with a wreath of ivy or vine-leaves and holds a ribboned thyrsus (pine-cone tipped staff) in his hand. Above right is a Griffon tearing apart a deer.
Someone’s piggy bank has been discovered! Full of ancient coins this must have been an exciting find. On the right is another mosaic the Hunt of a Deer which is part of a mosaic pavement of the Helen House – 325-300 BC. More terracotta figures are displayed in lots of cases but something that grabs my attention are these bronze pieces.
Depicting a horse and possibly its rider – the date is unknown but the workmanship is amazing.
The veins on the hand and the arm are so real life you can imagine the blood coursing through them.
Time for a break I think – we will ponder what we have seen so far and then move on to more exciting exhibits – –