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Pebble mosaic floor at the ruins of Pella, northern Greece.

Pella, ancient capital of King Archelaus of Macedonia at the end of the 5th century bc and birthplace of Alexander the Great. The city lay in northern Greece, about 24 miles (39 km) northwest of Thessaloníki. Originally known as Bounomos, the city developed rapidly under Philip II, but, after the defeat of the last Macedonian king by the Romans (168 bc), it became a small provincial town.

The site of Pella has long been known. Excavations there by the Greek Archaeological Service begun in 1957 revealed large, well-built houses with colonnaded courts and rooms with mosaic floors portraying such scenes as a lion hunt and Dionysus riding a panther. These mosaics are made with small natural pebbles of various colours, carefully matched and laid, and are masterpieces of their kind. They date from the late 4th century bc. Excavations revealed the town to be laid out on a rectangular grid plan with streets more than 30 feet (10 m) wide. Under the streets are terra-cotta pipes for distributing fresh water.

Set out on a magical journey through time to the glorious kingdom of ancient Macedonia, where Alexander the Great was born. Peer into the rich history of the Greek state capital, a bustling metropolis of the Classical period. A number of excavations of the site reveal the ancient Greek city’s majestic grandeur. 
Visit the monumental palatial complex that occupies the northernmost hill of the city, and covers an area of 60.000 m2. Wander around the city’s commercial and manufacturing centre, the so-called agora (ayorá), which was in fact the biggest agora of the ancient world. This huge building complex of 70.000m2 included shops, workshops, administration offices, and the repository of the city’s historical records. The main avenue of agora was actually connected with the city’s port, the ruins of which are still visible today.
The ancient agora is constructed according to the famous urban planning of Hippodamus (Hippodamian grid plan): well-defined city blocks, paved streets with sidewalks, and elaborate water supply and sewage systems. They all illustrate Pella’s modern infrastructure and sophisticated urban design. The two-storey private houses built in Doric and Ionic style brings to mind images of a prosperous, ancient, city. 
Stag Hunt Mosaic from the House of the Abduction of Helen.

Pella is situated in the southeast of Bottiaia, the alluvial plain enclosed by the Axios and the Haliacmon rivers and bounded by the Bermion mountain range in the west an Mount Paikon in the north. In Antiquity, the northern shore of the Thermaic Gulf, larger than today, was close to the city.

The site was already known to Hecataeus in the late sixth century BCE, and is also mentioned by Herodotus, who tells that in the summer of 480, the fleet of the Achaemenid king Xerxes beached at Pella.note Shortly before 400, king Archelaus of Macedonia made it the capital of his kingdom, replacing Aegae as the main royal residence. Pella was soon known as "the greatest of the cities in Macedonia",note and people like the tragedian Agathon and the painter Zeuxis were invited to come to and work in Pella. Euripides wrote his Bacchae here.

Archelaus invited the painter Zeuxis, the greatest painter of the time, to decorate his palace. He also later hosted the poet Timotheus of Miletus and the Athenian playwright Euripides who finished his days there writing and producing Archelaus. Euripides Bacchae was first staged here, about 408 BC. Pella was the birthplace and seats of Philip II and of Alexander the Great, his son.

It became the largest and richest city in Macedonia and flourished particularly under Cassander's rule. The reign of Antigonus most likely represented the height of the city's prosperity, as this is the period which has left us most archaeological remains. The famous poet Aratus died in Pella ca. 240 BC.

Pella is further mentioned by Polybius and Livy as the capital of Philip V and of Perseus during the Macedonian Wars fought against the Roman Republic.

The ancient Greek royal palace, where Alexander the Great was born and educated, was on a hill in the northern part of the city. During the reign of Cassander (r. 319-298), the city was redesigned and occupied an area of about 2.500.000 square meters and was defended by a fortification wall with a circuit of around 8000 meters. The "House of the Abduction of Helen", which measures no less than 2350 square meters, was built in these years.

The Greek city had institutions of its own, and had some liberty in its policy. Pella continued to flourish in the thirds century under Cassander's successors, the descendants of Antigonus II Gonatas (r. 283-239).

In 168 BC, it was sacked by the Romans, and its treasury transported to Rome, and Livy reported how the city looked in 167 BC to Lucius Aemilius Paulus Macedonicus, the Roman who defeated Perseus at the battle of Pydna:

…[Paulus] observed that it was not without good reason that it had been chosen as the royal residence. It is situated on the south-west slope of a hill and surrounded by a marsh too deep to be crossed on foot either in summer or winter. The citadel the "Phacus," which is close to the city, stands in the marsh itself, projecting like an island, and is built on a huge substructure which is strong enough to carry a wall and prevent any damage from the infiltration from the water of the lagoon. At a distance it appears to be continuous with the city wall, but it is really separated by a channel which flows between the two walls and is connected with the city by a bridge. Thus it cuts off all means of access from an external foe, and if the king shut anyone up there, there could be no possibility of escape except by the bridge, which could be very easily guarded.
Pella was declared capital of the 3rd administrative division of the Roman province of Macedonia, and was possibly the seat of the Roman governor. Activity continued to be vigorous until the early 1st century BC and, crossed by the Via Egnatia, Pella remained a significant point on the route between Dyrrachium and Thessalonika.

In about 90 BC the city was destroyed by an earthquake; shops and workshops dating from the catastrophe have been found with remains of their merchandise, though the city was eventually rebuilt over its ruins. Cicero stayed there in 58 BC, though by then the provincial seat had already transferred to Thessalonika.

Pella was promoted to a Roman Colony sometime between 45 and 30 BC and its currency was marked Colonia Iulia Augusta Pella. Augustus settled peasants there whose land he had usurped to give to his veterans (Dio Cassius LI, 4). But, unlike other Macedonian colonies such as Philippi, Dion, and Cassandreia, it never came under the jurisdiction of ius Italicum or Roman law. Four pairs of colonial magistrates (duumvirs quinquennales) are known for this period.

The decline of the city was rapid, in spite of being a Colonia: Dio Chrysostom (Or. 33.27) and Lucian both attest to the ruin of the ancient capital of Philip II and Alexander, though their accounts may be exaggerated. In fact, the Roman city was somewhat to the west of and distinct from the original capital, which explains some contradictions between coinage, epigraphs, and testimonial accounts. Despite its decline, archaeology has shown that the southern part of the city near the lagoon continued to be occupied until the 4th century AD.

In about 180 AD, Lucian of Samosata could describe it in passing as "now insignificant, with very few inhabitants".

In the Byzantine period, the Roman site was occupied by a fortified village.

In modern times it finds itself as the starting point of the Alexander The Great Marathon, in honour of the city's ancient heritage.

Alexander the Great as Pan
Having experienced its last decades of glory during the reigns of king Philip V (r. 221-179) and his son Perseus (r.179-168), Pella surrendered to the Roman general Aemilius Paulus, after his victory in the battle of Pydna in 168 BCE. Macedonia was divided into three republics, and Pella became capital of one of these. Later, when Macedonia was added to the Roman Empire, the Senate made Thessaloniki its capital, and even though the new Via Egnatia was designed to run through Pella, the city lost much of its splendor. An earthquake (or an invading Thracian tribe) in the first quarter of the first century BCE caused some destructions in the area of the agora, which were never repaired.

The settlement of veterans of the civil wars did nothing to prevent the demise of the city, which was, since the beginning of the reign of Augustus, known as Colonia Julia Augusta Pellarum. The city is shown on the Peutinger Map without any indication that it was very important.

Writing at the beginning of the second century, Dio of Prusa says that if you should pass through Pella, you would see no sign of a city at all, apart from the presence of a mass of shattered pottery on the site.

Nevertheless, the city continued to mint bronze coins well into the third century. It was briefly renamed Diocletianopolis, but the old name came back into vogue. The site was still more or less inhabited in the seventh century, and there's a Byzantine source that claims that the tomb of Herodotus was in Pella
Ionic pilaster capital from the palace, Archaeological Museum, Pella

The site was explored by 19th-century voyagers including Holand, Pouqueville, Beaujour, Cousinéry, Delacoulonche, Hahn, Glotz and Struck, based on the descriptions provided by Titus Livius,. The first excavation was begun by G. Oikonomos in 1914–15. The modern systematic exploration of the site began in 1953 and work has continued since then uncovering significant parts of the extensive city.

In February 2006, a farmer accidentally uncovered the largest tomb ever found in Greece. The names of the noble ancient Macedonian family are still on inscriptions and painted sculptures and walls have survived. The tomb dates to the 2nd or 3rd century BC. Overall, archaeologists have uncovered 1,000 tombs since the year 2000, but these only represent an estimated 5% of the site. In 2009 43 graves last year containing rich and elaborate grave goods were found and in 2010 37 tombs dating from 650 to 280 B.C were discovered containing rich ancient Macedonian artifacts ranging from ceramics to precious metals. One of the tombs was the final resting place of a warrior from the 6th century B.C. with a bronze helmet with a gold mouthplate, weapons and jewellery.

Many artefacts are displayed in the Archaeological Museum of Pella.

As indicated above, Pella is built on a Hippodamean plan, with long building block in a north-south direction. The agora covers two lines of five building blocks. With stoas encircling the square and shops on the sides, it formed a building complex of imposing scale.

Two types of house have been identified in the Macedonian capital: one with an interior peristyle and one with a pastas (a kind of portico). One of the wealthier houses with a peristyle is the famous House of Dionysus with is brilliant mosaic floors depicting Dionysus riding on a panther and a lion hunt. In the House of the Abduction of Helen, one can see, except for Theseus abducting Helen, a deer Hunt and an Amazonomachy.

The palace complex in the north has an area of 60,000 square meters. The central unit includes two open peristyle areas. Along the entire south side, the complex takes the form of a veranda (belvedere) of impressive size, from which the residents on high gazed upon the boundless plain and even the Thermaic Gulf. The central part of this complex was built at the end of the first half of the fourth century BCE, which suggests that Philip built it.

The earliest tombs have been found in the agora area. They were individual graves, cut into the soft limestone of the region, dating from the last quarter of the fifth to the third quarter of the fourth centuries. There are also cist graves and family vaulted rock-cut chamber tombs that survived the Roman conquest. The rich grave offerings like vases, jewellery, metal objects, and funerary furniture now adorn the display cases of the beautiful and modern museum on the site.

Hippodamian plan
The city proper was located south of and below the palace. Designed on a grid plan as envisaged by Hippodamus, it consists of parallel streets which intersect at right angles and form a grid of eight rows of rectangular blocks. The blocks are of a consistent width — each approximately 45 m — and of a length which varies from 111 m to 152 m, 125 metres being the most common. The streets are from 9 to 10 metres wide, except for the middle East–West arterial, which is up to 15 metres wide. This street is the primary access to the central public agora, which occupied a space of ten blocks. Two North-South streets are also a bit wider than the rest, and serve to connect the city to the port further South. This type of plan dates to the first half of the 4th century BC, and is very close to the ideal in design, though it distinguishes itself by large block size; Olynthus in Chalcidice for example had blocks of 86.3×35 metres. On the other hand, later Hellenistic urban foundations have blocks comparable to those of Pella: 112×58 m in Laodicea ad Mare, or 120×46 m in Aleppo.

Urban area
The city is built on the former island of Phacos, a promontory which dominated the sea to the south in the Hellenistic period. The city wall mentioned by Livy is only partly known. It consists of a rampart of crude bricks (about 50 cm square) raised on a stone foundation; some of which has been located North of the palace, and some in the South next to the lake. Inside the ramparts, three hills occupy the North.

In pride of place in the centre of the city is the Agora, built in the last quarter of the 4th century B.C and an architectural gem, unique in conception and size; it covered approx. 7 hectares or 10 city blocks. Pella is one of the first known cities to have had an extensive piped water supply to individual house and waste water disposal from most of the city.
Shops right along the eastern edge of the agora.

The agora was surrounded by the shaded colonnades of stoae, and streets of enclosed houses with frescoed walls round inner courtyards. The first trompe-l'oeil wall murals imitating perspective views ever seen were on walls at Pella. There were temples to Aphrodite, Demeter and Cybele. Pella's pebble-mosaic floors are famous: some reproduce Greek paintings; one shows a lion-griffin attacking a stag, a familiar motif also of Scythian art, another depicts Dionysus riding a leopard. These mosaics adorned the floors of rich houses, often named after their representations, particularly the Houses of Helen and Dionysus.

Houses of Helen and Dionysus
Virtual reality representation of the “House of Dionysos” in Pella created by the Foundation of the Hellenic World
The virtual reconstruction of the “House of Dionysos” in Pella represents the oldest phase of the building, at the beginning of the Hellenistic period. The house is surrounded by a simplified version of the urban landscape so as to give a general idea of the original surroundings.
The oldest phase of the house dates back to the late fourth century BC and has two large courtyards, one with Doric and one with Ionic colonnade. These courtyards are separated by a central wing with a monumental entrance. The south wing has a second floor. The interior of the section for men, called Andron, is represented as in a day of a symposium, with beds, vases and other objects, the design of which is based on discoveries from the same period, brought to light in Macedonia.
The house is restored according to scientific publications and, in some cases, with the use of architectural details preserved in the neighboring houses, found in excavations. The Doric peristyle, for example, has been recreated according to the peristyle that is better preserved in the “House of the abduction of Helen”. Following the example of another antechamber of the same house overlooking the court with the Ionic peristyle, the facades of each antechamber of the Andron with the mosaic floors are represented by pillars in series. Four of these pillars form a triple entry. On both sides of the entry there are two smaller pillars creating a type of side windows. This is a typical arrangement in Macedonia and it is inspired by similar provisions as in the palace of Pella and Vergina. 

The reconstruction of the roof only utilizes tiles and antefixes that match the first phase of construction before any repairs or additions. The murals are made with darker colors in the lower walls while the top is bright. The findings of the “House of mortars” are used as guideline. Digital images of high resolution provide evidence for the Androns, their entrances and their antechambers.
In the Andron “of the lion hunt”, a symposium scene is represented with beds and tables that are not exact replicates but represent similar objects found in Macedonian tombs (Potidaea, Vergina, Aghios Athanasios and Ganos). Fabric designs and mattresses on beds are inspired by similar designs of the ceramic art of Attica and specialized studies on beds in ancient Greece.
The symposium room is furnished with silver, bronze and clay vases, as well as with other objects used in these events (lamps, candelabras). The selection has been made amongst those artifacts presented in the Louvre museum (Derveni, Vergina).
Finally, in the Andron “Dionysus”, a bed of late Hellenistic type with turned legs and decoration of bronze fulcrum is reconstructed according to discoveries found in Pella that are also included in the Louvre museum exhibition.

Aerial photograph of the Palace complex, Archaeological Museum, Pella 

The palace is situated on a place of honour on the central hill. Partly excavated, it occupied a considerable area of perhaps 60,000 square metres. The plan is still not well known, but has been related to that of the city plan (see diagram). The Pella palace consisted of several — possibly seven — large architectural groupings juxtaposed in two rows, each including a series of rooms arranged around a central square courtyard, generally with porticos. Archaeologists have thus far identified a palaestra and baths. The south facade of the palace, towards the city, consisted of one large (at least 153 metres long) portico, constructed on a two metres high foundation. The relationship between the four principal complexes is defined by an interruption in the portico occupied by a triple propylaeum, 15 m high, which gave the palace an imposing monumental air when seen from the city below.

Dating of the palace has posed some problems: the large buildings could date the reign of Philip II, but other buildings appear to be earlier. The baths date from the reign of Cassander.

The size of the complex indicates that, unlike the palace at Vergina, this was not only a royal residence or a grandiose monument but also a place of government which was required to accommodate a significant portion of the administrative apparatus of the kingdom.

Mosaic floors 
You will certainly be impressed by the outstanding mosaic floors that used to decorate the city's grand mansions – the most famous are the ones depicting the Abduction of Helen, Rapture, the Amazonomachy (the battle of Amazons), and the Deer Hunt. 
Lion hunt mosaic

You can marvel at these decorated floors (considered the most important group of mosaics in Macedonia) at the New Archaeological Museum of Pella.

Macedonian tomb 
The new(found 2014) Macedonian tomb lays in its architecture. The tomb was robbed in the antiquity and dates back to the first half of the 3rd century BC. Its barrel-vaulted roof has been destroyed however, the roof of the side halls are in excellent condition. The entrance of the ante-chamber closed with a wooden 2.78 meter high and 1.30 meter wide door.
The new discovery along with 18 box-shaped and roof-tiled tombs of the east cemetery of Pella, the capital of the Macedonian kingdom, that were unearthed during the public works have been examined by Pella Ephorate from October 2014 until December 2015 

Museum of Pella
Ancient Greek treasures found in tombs, exhibited at archaelogical museum of Pella-Greece


Ch. J. Makaronas, Pella: Capital of Ancient Macedonia, pp59–65, in Scientific American, Special Issue, "Ancient Cities", c 1994.
Ph. Petsas, Pella. Alexander the Great's Capital, Thessaloniki, 1977.
D. Papakonstandinou-Diamandourou, Πέλλα, ιστορική επισκόπησις και μαρτυρίαι (Pella, istoriki episkopisis kai martyriai), Thessaloniki, 1971. (Greek)
(French) R. Ginouvès, et al., La Macédoine, CNRS Éditions, Paris, 1993, pp90–98.
(French) F. Papazoglou, Les villes de Macédoine romaine, BCH Suppl. 16, 1988, pp135–139.
G. Dagli Orti/DeA Picture Library
"Pella". Photo. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Web. 03 Dec. 2016

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