Ancient Capitals of Macedonia

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Ancient Capitals of Macedonia

First stop in the ancient Pella

Pella is an ancient city in Macedonia.


The city was founded in 399 BC by King Archelaus (413–399 BC) as the capital of his kingdom replacing the older palace-city of Aigai (Vergina). Then it became the capital of Philip’s II and of Alexander’s the Great kingdom. In 168 BC, it was conquered by the Romans who plundered the city of its treasures and transferred them to Rome. Later, the city was destroyed by an earthquake and eventually it was rebuilt over its ruins. Lucian in 180 AD gave the following description referring to the city: “it is now insignificant, with very few inhabitants”.

The name Pella was mentioned for the first time by the historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus (VII, 123) in his description of the Persian expedition along the shores of the Thermaic Gulf.  The costal site is confirmed by Thucydides (II, 10, 3-4) as he described conditions in Central Macedonia during the Peloponnesian War. According to Xenophon, in the beginning of the 4th century BC, it was the largest Macedonian city. During the reign of Archelaos (413-399 BC) – with whom the transfer of his kingdom’s capital from Aegae to Pella is primarily associated – Macedonia was reorganized administratively and military. Contributing to its cultural development were the significant public figures such who came to the royal court from the Southern Greece such as the painter Zeuxis, the musician Timotheos of Miletus and the tragic poet Euripides who spent the last years of his life in Pella, writing a tragedy about Archelaos. Euripides also wrote “Bacchaethere. Pella was the birthplace of Philip II and his son, Alexander the Great. The hilltop palace of Philip, where the philosopher Aristotle undertook the education of young Alexander, is being excavated.

In antiquity, Pella was a port connected to the Thermaic Gulf by a navigable inlet. The deposits of silt by the Gallikos, Axios, Loudias and Aliakmon rivers gradually closed the opening to the Thermaic Gulf, so that by the 4th century BC it was necessary to sail up to Pella on the Loudias River. The growth of the city during the reign of Antigonus is confirmed by the most archaeological remains.

Pella is further mentioned by Polybius and Livy as the capital of Philip V and of Perseus during the Macedonian Wars (against the Roman Republic). Livy gives us useful information about the geomorphology of the region and the city at that time. Pella was captured by Lucius Aemilius Paulus Macedonicus – the Roman General (167BC) who defeated Perseus at the battle of Pydna.

The Romans declared Pella the capital of the third district of the Roman province of Macedonia and it was possibly the county seat of the Roman governor. Because of the Via Egnatia that crossed the region, Pella remained a significant point on the route between Dyrrachium  and Thessaloniki. Cicero stayed there in 58 BC, but by then the provincial seat had already transferred to Thessaloniki.


Second stop Vergina (ancient «Aigai‘).

Vergina (Greek: Βεργίνα) is a village in ImathiaCentral Macedonia, 12 km from Veria and 75 km from Thessaloniki. The excavation by Professor Manolis Andronikos under the Great Tumulus of Vergina in 1977 brought to light the most important archaeological discovery of the 20th century in Greece: the ancient city of Aigai (Greek: Αιγαί). Professor Andronikos claimed that it was the burial site of the kings of Macedon including the tomb of Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great. It is protected by UNESCO as world cultural heritage.

Today Vergina has a population of approximately two thousand people. It lies on the foothills of Mount Pieria, at an altitude of 120 m (360 ft) above sea level.

Modern Vergina was founded in 1922 near the two small agricultural villages of Koutles (Greek: Κούτλες) and Barbes (Greek: Mπάρμπες). In the past the Turkish Bey of Palatitsa ruled these villages and the 25 Greek families who served him. After the Treaty of Lausanne and the eviction of the Bey landlords, the land was distributed to many of the existing inhabitants as well as 121 other Greek families from Bulgaria and Asia Minor after population exchange agreements between Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey had been made. The city was named after the legendary queen of ancient Beroea (Veria), a suggestion made by the Metropolitan Bishop of Veria, at that time.


Third stop Dion

Dion or Dio (Ancient Greek: Δίον, Greek: Δίο, Latin: Dium) is a village in the municipality Dion in the Pieria regional unit in Greece. It is located at the foot of Mount Olympus, 15 km south-west of Katerini and 85 km from Thessaloniki. It is best known for its archaeological site and archaeological museum. The old city was dedicated to Zeus.


The ancient Dion is an important archaeological site of Macedonian culture.

Dion was named after Zeus (Dias, “of Zeus”), the father of the gods who dwelt on Mount Olympus . According to Hesiod‘s Catalogue of Women, Thyia, the daughter of Deucalion, and Zeus had two sons, Magnes and Makednos (name of Macedonians), The ruins of the ancient city lie within the modern city boundaries.

The oldest written reference to Dion is by the historian Thucydides, who reports that it was the first city reached by Brasidas – a Spartan general – while crossing Thessaly to go to Macedonia on his way to the kingdom of his ally Perdiccas II during his expedition against the Athenian colonies of Thrace in 424 BC. According to Diodorus Siculus, at the end of the 5th century BC, king Archelaus I, instituted a nine-day festival which including athletic games and dramatic competitions in honor of Zeus and the Muses. Dion became the official religious center of Macedonians and its sanctuary was famous throughout the Greek world.

Dion had been called Malathria until 1961.


The site of ancient Dion was first identified by the English traveler William Martin Leake on 2nd December 1806, in the ruins adjoining the village of Malathria. He published his discovery in the third volume of his Travels in Northern Greece in 1835. Léon Heuzey visited the site during his famous Macedonian archaeological mission in 1855 and again in 1861. Later, the epigraphist G. Oikonomos published the first series of inscriptions. However, systematic archaeological exploration had not begun until 1928. G. Sotiriadis carried out a series of surveys, uncovering a Macedonian tomb dated of 4th century BC and an early Christian basilica. Professor G. Bakalakis took up again the excavations in the area of the theatre and the wall in 1960. Professor D. Pandermalis of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki has conducted archaeological research in the city since 1973.

Dion is a large temple dedicated to Zeus as well as a series of temples dedicated to Demeter and Isis (Alexander’s the Great favorite Egyptian goddess). Other monuments are: Villa of Dionysos, Great thermae, Ancient and RomanTheatres, the cemeteries and the city of Dion. It was also the place where Alexander the Great assembled his armies before beginning his Asian expedition.

In 2006, a statue of Hera was found built into the walls of the city. The statue, which is 2200 years old, had been used by the early Christians of Dion as filling for the city’s defensive wall.