On Monday (10-2), I visited Pella, the birthplace of Alexander and the capital of ancient Macedon.
Taking a bus from Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city and my home base for the first few days, I arrived at Pella in the early afternoon. While I had visited Pella before during my semester at College Year in Athens (CYA), I thought that returning to the site now would be the perfect way to begin my journey. And so it proved.
There were two things that made this second visit to Pella special. First, I was able to explore the site for as long as I wanted (something that, understandably, had not been possible when I came with CYA); and second–and more incredibly–I had the site virtually to myself for much of the afternoon.
While I came to Pella hoping to see the city as it was in the time of Alexander, I soon discovered (or, rather, rediscovered) that I was mainly seeing the city as it was in the time of Cassander, the Alexander-loathing Successor who gained control of Macedon after the conqueror’s death. Whatever disappointment I felt at this discovery, however, was more than outweighed by the grandeur, albeit greatly faded, of the site itself.
To my mind, Pella’s three standout features were the following:
-The House of Dionysus: Probably the most beautiful part of the site today, the House of Dionysus contains a graceful colonnade and several stunning mosaics, including one depicting Dionysus on a panther (now in the archaeological museum) and another depicting two men, possibly Alexander and his general Craterus, hunting a lion (also in the archaeological museum, but unfortunately not on display at the moment).
-The Agora: The Pella agora, or market-place, is truly impressive, ranking among the largest in the Greek world. At the center of the agora was a giant, open square, while along each of the four sides were businesses as well as government and religious buildings.
-The Old North Wall: Though objectively nothing to write home about, this tiny piece of wall found a special place in my heart as soon as I learned that it used to be part of the city’s northern fortifications during Alexander’s day (!).
When I had finished exploring the archaeological site, I made my way up to the new archaeological museum, the highlight of which, for me, was was the Giannitsa Alexander, a famous statue found in the nearby town of the same name.
My visit to Pella ended on a high note. Learning that I had about an hour until the final bus departed for Thessaloniki, I took off from the museum to make one final stop: the ancient palace. While I knew that the palace, unlike the rest of the ancient city, was closed due to ongoing archaeological work, I thought it might still be worth peering over the gate to see what, if anything, was visible. From a purely material perspective, the result was disappointing: all of the palace ruins, I found, were covered by protective sheds. Yet, from a human perspective, I couldn’t help but be moved: here, right before my eyes, I realized, must be the hill on which Alexander had been born.
And so, having taken in that stirring view, I hurried back to the bus stop, reaching it, in a stroke of Alexandrian good fortune, with time to spare.