Tour around Kavala
Author: Ivana Stanojević
Most of you have visited Kavala on your way to Thassos island or beaches around this city. My favourite greek cities are Nafplio, Volos and Kavala. This small excursion was more of a historical and educational character, so we spent the most of the time in historical sites which are so interesting even for the kids from eight in the morning, when we departed from Thessaloniki and started with tour, until four o’clock in the afternoon when we finished tour of Philip.
Ten days ago, we were 8 local, greek-serbian women, with five children enjoying this lovely day with an amazing guide, and a great company of world travelers.
Maybe is not related to this topic, but I would like to say that travel forums in Greece are not like 90% of forums in Serbia. On this forums they are not speaking what foods are allowed to pass across the border and how many spoons are in apartment, but about traveling and sharing travel informations. I have been a member of a forum for six years, and many times I participated, but also organized one-day excursions of this type, as well as socializing at least two - three times in a year in Thessaloniki. Friendships are great, people are open minded, and the expense is very low since it is not organized because of money interest, but the organizer is there only to take care everything is going alright with the organization. We are all sharing cost of buses and guides, and that’s it, if we agree that we all go together for lunch, we are sharing and this cost also.
Kavala and its surroundings belong to the administrative region of East Macedonia and Thrace and because of position, have a very high historical significance. A place where all civilizations, tribes, and empires intertwined and clashed trough history. A city rich in gold and silver, surrounded with Rhodopes in the north and the sea in the south, is a real small historical paradise.
There could be a lot of writing about all this, but I will summarize our little excursion.
Itinerer was Amphipolis - ancient Philippi and Kavala.
Amphipolis, as an ancient city under the mountain of Pangeo, was just before the rise of the Macedonian dynasty, from his very beginning as a city in Thrace, then to the Athens colony, and after the Peloponnesian Wars and the Spartan, had the central place and importance in the surrounding area. Sheltered in the hills from the sea and the attacks, in fertile riverbed of the Strimonas, it was soon developed in important city-polis and an important port on the map of ancient Greece. Later was conquered by the Macedonian dynasty (mid-4th century) and it becomes the city from which Alexander the Great moved on his eastern journey, and never returned. In the last couple of years, Greeks are actively working on the excavations of the archaeological site of Kasta, near to the ancient Amphipolis (which you may have heard in media in speculations whether or not Alexander’s grave was found). Of course, the tomb is not Alexander’s. This does not in any way diminish the significance of this site, and what has been found has exceptional importance and beauty and certainly belongs to someone, very important from that era. The speculations are of course quite different, so it was also possible that the tomb belongs to Alexander’s mother Olimpija, woman from Thrace by origin, but the probability is minimal. Serious archaeologists say that archeology as a science of assumption even in those most obvious cases. And in the case of this site, they are still at the level of assumption. They also said this tomb could be of Alexander’s commander Hefestion. What is known for sure is that the entire tomb has a marble ring that is very well preserved (the circumference of the hill) with extent of 497m. The surface of the tomb is about 200 acres that makes it the largest tomb in Greece. It is believed that the tomb is from the early Hellenistic period, which means the end of the fourth century BC - very close to the reign of Alexander. For those who visited city Vergina, for example, or some other ancient Macedonian tombs, it is known that they were buried, then filled with soil and covered in the shape of a hill. Everywhere, throughout Northern Greece, you can see these strange hills without vegetation, and you know there are ancient Macedonian grave - tumba.
It is believed that this tomb does not belong to the royal family, because their tombs were differently furnished and built, but certainly, as I have already said, belongs to some important person from history (the assumption is that Alexander ordered the construction of this tomb for his good friend Hefestion). All of us who lived in Greece at that time were waiting for some news from Amphipolis about this tomb. And indeed, excavations have found remarkable remains, for example, two sphings at the entrance (without heads and wings), two extraordinary cariatids (women’s sculptures) when entering another chamber, a remarkable mosaic of the abduction of Persefone by Had (one of the most common mosaics in various locations is abduction of Persefone, you can find out more on line if you are interested).
On some of the links which I will leave you in the end of the text, you can see the digging process as well as the computer model how the tomb should look like. They also found five human bodies, one elderly woman, two younger men, one newborn and one more man who was burnt. Probably the last one - the burnt deceased, was the one for whom the tomb was built, and the rest are closed alive to accompany him eternally (this was practiced at that time). So, for example, Philip II is buried with two women - live! Also, skeletal remains of one horse were found.
Indeed, whoever has not visited so far Vergina, you have to. Personally, I have not seen anywhere such an archaeological site, and I have seen many, not only in Greece.
However, the archaeologist of this locality believes that much more will be found in hill, but unfortunately the financial state of Greece does not allow further excavations. It is important to note that the financial part does not only cover the process of discovery, but conservation also, which is much more expensive, so archaeologists choose consciously to leave it in the state in which it is, and to not expose the objects to the conditions which would destroy them. The tomb was built from marble from Thassos and has been robbed several times in past, so unfortunately there are no inventions of personal, valuable things, which is commonly found in such tombs.
Archaeologists believe that the site itself will be protected according to regulations in several years, so it will be open for visitors. Since this is not possible for now, we did not go there, but we saw the hill of Casta from the hill across where the Archaeological Museum of Amphipolis is located and the old settlement.
A few years ago, before the excavations began, on another occasion I came very close to the hill that looked like abandoned stone pit, but now this area is secured and inaccessible.
At the top of the hill there was a monument to the lion from Amphipolis whose remains were found in the Strumica river during the First World War. The location where the lion is now located is not far from the original, so it is possible to see it closeup. It is said, that after the end of all works and reinforcements, the lion will be returned to its place, to the top of the tomb.
The Amphipolis Museum itself has very interesting exhibits from all periods of existence. First of all, from the earliest period, where the Athenians colonists settled and suppressed the local Thracians (Hedon, worshipers of god Dionysus) in the middle of the V centuty BC, then from the time of the Spartans, ancient Macedonians and Romans who during the period of their reign built through this city the ancient road Egnatia , (connects city Igumenica with Konstantinopolis, Byzantium before) and determine it for one of the four administrative cities in the Roman province of Macedonia.
After the arrival of the Slavs in the 6th century, the city began to lose its significance where the population descended to the coastal city of Ion (Eion) in confluence of Strumica in the Aegean, which was originally the homeland of the warrior Heoden from Thrace, who subjugated the Eritreans from Evia the first founders of this settlement. When the Athenians came, Ion is first conquered, followed by the guard Ennea Odoi (nine roads) that the colonizers destroyed on on that place they built Amphipolis. I was particularly attracted to the history of this Hedon tribe, but I would not spread it further, at least not here.
Strumica was and remained floating and gave the possibility to the Amphipolis, although it was far from the sea to be a port (the sea hit deeper into the land then).
In the area of modern Amphipolis you can see the remains of the ancient fortification walls, various Byzantine medieval towers, and the oldest preserved wooden Roman bridge. The river itself is very beautiful and great for the Greek concepts. From Amphipolis we headed for the ancient city of Philippi, one more pearl of the area, which I presume most of you already visited.
The tickets for the museum in Amphipolis and Philippi are 3 euros in winter and 6 euros during summer period.
Philippi is a town near Kavala, which has a tradition of existence since the Neolithic period, but as an administrative unit it is mentioned after the organization of the colony from Thassos in the middle of the IV century BC. The original name was Krinides and is considered to be the most important archaeological site in the area of Eastern Macedonia and the most important city during Roman rule. The name changes to Philippi from the moment they ask Philip II (father of Alexander the Great) for protection, from Thracian, who gave them protection, because he understood exceptional position, the natural resource of the area and the economic significance of that city. And indeed, everyone in the company really felt nice there, the city has special energy and peace dominate the whole environment.
The city was twice Roman colony, 42 year BC and immediately after 31 years BC. after the Battle of Actium (in the area of today’s Preveza, where is the tunnel for Lefkada now) and near the ancient city of Nikopolis (have you visited?). Two exceptional historical figures are considered to be the founders of this city, the first Phillip II and second Octavian August (one of the participants in the Battle of the Actium).
Apostle Paul was preaching in the city about 50 years BC. where he founded the first Christian church in Europe and like that made this city a cradle of European Christianity. The city, it is said, was so open that Pavle freely preached in the huge theater that is still used today.
The theater itself, whose acoustics was tested by our little friends, could host up to 10,000 people, while the city itself and its surroundings numbered 6,000 inhabitants. This tells us that the theater had an administrative, political purpose, something like a parliament today.
At the entrance there is a model which shows how the theater developed from the ancient theater to the Roman arena with animals and gladiators.
In complex there are so many different buildings, early Christian basilicas, a huge antique market, the second largest in Rome, administrative buildings, antique temples, even one antique-Macedonian tumb, very unusual as a phenomenon (the tombs were outside the city walls ). The city had its continuity in the Byzantine era also. There are so many things there, so we spent about two and a half hour walking around and listening our guide.
Do not miss out if you are in this area!
Philip’s theater is also used today, and Philip festival is especially popular with a rich program of performances, ballets, antique comedies and tragedies (it is a must and for those who do not speak greek language) and numerous concerts. Link -> http://philippifestival.gr/
This huge amount of knowledge ended up with hunger in Kavala where we had time only for dinner. Most of us were already there, so even though we were disappointed by the short time we had free, we could easily get over it with a great kitchen and good wine from the vineyards from the slopes of the Pangeo Mountain. Those who are lovers of this divine drink, can visit the big producer of Biblia Chora http://www.bibliachora.gr/, who really produces an exceptional, but a bit more expensive wine. The restaurant we ate is called “Sousouro” and you can find it if you get lost from the port through the slopes from the aqueduct down to the sea. In general, avoid everything on the seaside promenades, it is almost always a tourist trap.
Charm to this lovely restaurant, except food, also gave the interior, which is located in the former Turkish hamam.
Since we have already agreed to go to Kavala soon, about this city I will write in another occasion, because it is a chapter for itself, where the Ancient and Roman meets, together with the Byzantine and Ottoman period.
Links to the site of the Casta Tomb near Amphipolis:
Development of the Excavation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zh5FD1pdHpE
A graphic display of the landscape around the ancient city of Amphipolis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYv0fva6k3Q