Aigai, also known as Aegeae or Aegae, first capital city of the ancient kingdom of Macedonia. Partially occupied by the modern village of Vergina, Greece, the site of Aigai is located at the northern foothills of the Pieria Mountains, near Thessalonki. A large Macedonian cemetery and numerous tombs have been uncovered in this area. Among the most spectacular finds are a painted tomb and two unplundered royal tombs (about 350-325 bc) discovered in 1977 and 1978 by the Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronikos. Finds made since 1977 have confirmed Vergina as the site of the ancient Macedonian capital. They have also revolutionized conventional ideas about Macedonian art and architecture, which had much in common with contemporary Greek art and architecture.

The earliest excavations in the region

The earliest excavations in the region were undertaken in 1861 by the French archaeologist Leon Heuzey, who uncovered the ancient palace and a plundered subterranean vaulted tomb with a temple-like facade (4th century bc). In the ensuing decades until 1977 as many as 51 similar tombs were found, usually beneath a "tumulus" (mound). Several attempts were also made to excavate the so-called Great Tumulus in the center of Vergina. In 1977 the first two tombs covered by this huge mound were revealed: a small rectangular structure that had been robbed in antiquity, and a large barrel-vaulted tomb identified as that of King Philip II of Macedonia. In the small rectangular structure, three of the walls are decorated with frescoes, or wall paintings. The main north wall fresco depicts the Greek myth, the rape of Persephone, in which Pluto drives a chariot drawn by four white horses while clutching a terrified Persephone; the narrow east wall shows a seated female figure, possibly Persephone`s mother, the goddess Demeter; the south wall shows three female figures, most probably the three Fates. These works are unique surviving examples of large-scale ancient Greek painting, by an artist whose mastery of perspective and use of line, color, and expressive force rival that of the greatest painters of the Italian Renaissance.

The tomb of Philip II lies a short distance

The tomb of Philip II lies a short distance to the northwest of the painted tomb. It was unplundered and among the wealth of its grave goods, now in the Archeological Museum in Thessalonki, were silver and bronze vessels, weapons, armor, the remains of a wooden couch decorated with ivory and gold figural reliefs, and two solid gold boxes, each inside its own sarcophagus. The larger of the two boxes is decorated with the 16-pointed Macedonian star. It contained the burned bones of a man thought to be Philip and a heavy gold wreath of oak leaves and acorns. The second gold box contained a unique gold and purple fabric (4th century bc) covering the burned bones of a woman, as well as an exquisite gold diadem of coiling twigs, leaves, flowers, rosettes, palmettes, and hovering bees, and a gold wreath of myrtle leaves. An unusual feature of the tomb is the painted frieze at the top of the facade, which shows a hunt in a forest. Among the figures on horseback, two have been tentatively identified as Philip and his son, Alexander the Great.

In 1978 another unplundered barrel-vaulted

In 1978 another unplundered barrel-vaulted tomb (about 350-325 bc) was found to the northwest of Philip`s tomb. This third tomb is probably that of a Macedonian prince and among its grave goods were silver and bronze vessels, a silver funerary urn with a wreath of gold oak leaves and acorns, ivory and gold figural reliefs from a decomposed wooden couch, and the dead man`s armor. Excavations in the area have since revealed another unplundered royal tomb, other plundered tombs, the theater of Aigai, a small temple, and a large section of the city`s fortification wall, as well as private and public buildings.

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