Saturday, April 02, 2011

To Verea, Vergine and Thessalonika

Steps on which Paul is reported to have preached
After a good night’s sleep and an early breakfast, we departed Kalambaka for Verea (Berea), where Paul stayed for a few days after he was chased out of Thessaloniki by an angry mob (Acts 17).  Verea is a modern city.  A monument to Paul is in the city center and contains modern mosaics portraying Paul speaking to Jews of the City who, Acts records, were “more receptive than those in Thessaloniki.” The modern monument is built around w steps that tradition holds Paul stood upon.  As we stood there, we read the account from Acts 17 and thought about Paul being in that very place nearly 2000 years before. 

Listening to Acts 17 about Paul in Berea

Our original itinerary called for us to visit the ancient city of Pella after Verea, but Sophia suggested that we skip Pella which consists of Hellenstic ruins, not dissimilar to what we had seen in Corinth and would see in Ephesus, and, go instead to Vergina, which has a museum containing the tomb of Philip II of Macedonia, father of Alexander the Great.  Needless to say, when an experienced guide with 30 year’s experience makes a recommendation, it merits serious consideration.  We accepted Sophia’s recommendation and were not at all disappointed.
Great tomb mound in which the tomb of Phillip II of Macedonia was discovered

According to the on-line resource, Wikipedia, “Archaeologists were interested in the hills around Vergina as early as the 1850s, supposing that the site of Aigai was in the vicinity and knowing that the hills were burial mounds. Excavations began in 1861 under the French archaeologist Leon Heuzey, sponsored by the Emperor Napoleon III. Parts of a large building that was considered to be one of the palaces of Antigonus III Doson (263–221), partly destroyed by fire, were discovered at Palatitsa, which preserved the memory of a palace in its modern name. However, the excavations had to be abandoned because of the risk of malaria. The excavator suggested that this was the site of the ancient city Valla, a view that prevailed until 1976.[4]  In 1937, the University of Thessaloniki resumed the excavations. More ruins of the ancient palace were found, but the excavations were abandoned on the outbreak of war with Italy in 1940. After the war the excavations were resumed, and during the 1950s and 1960s the rest of the royal capital was uncovered. The Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronikos became convinced that a hill called the "Great Tumulus" (in Greek, Μεγάλη Τούμπα) concealed the tombs of the Macedonian kings. In 1977, Andronikos undertook a six-week dig at the Great Tumulus and found four buried chambers, which he identified as hitherto undisturbed tombs. Three more were found in 1980. Excavations continued through the 1980s and 1990s. Andronikos claimed that these were the burial sites of the kings of Macedon, including the tomb of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great[5]. Andronikos maintained that another (Tomb III) was of Alexander IV of Macedon, son of Alexander the Great and Roxana, a view challenged by other archaeologists”  (See Wikipedia “Vergina” at  The archeological remains of the tombs were stupendous and the artifacts found in the tombs dazzling including a gold wreath found atop the bone box of Philip II. 

From Virgina, it was about an hour and a half drive to Thessalonika, a very modern city on the water. The scenery was just beautiful with trees blossoming all over.  

Beautiful scenery along the way from Verea to Thessaloniki
 We drove through the city along the waterfront which was lined with cafes.   What stuck us all were the teaming amount of students in these cafes, smoking, drinking coffee and talking.  When Susan and I led a group in the steps of Paul in 2003, it was the week that the United States launched the war against Iraq.  There was a huge demonstration in Thessalonica, made up mostly of students.  Then they were splattering red paint all over walls and sidewalks symbolizing the blood that would be shed.  On almost every wall in 2003, there was graffiti that said “USA” but the “s” was a swastika!  Today, Thessalonica’s students are still demonstrating, but the demonstrations are primarily against their own government and the austerity measures taken by the government, which among other things, are making it more difficult to afford an education.

In the course of our drive, we saw the famous White Tower, which dates to the 16th century, as well as parts of the ancient walls and fortifications that once surrounded the city.  We also visited, and had time for prayer in the Church of St. Demetrius, a beautiful Byzantine Church that has undergone significant restoration, but which incorporates elements of the early construction with the contemporary.  Inside, was a shrine containing relics of St. Demetrius as well as gorgeous icons all contained in a large basilica style building.
From there, it was off to our hotel and much needed rest.   We’ve been on a fast pace.

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