Alexandria's founded by Alexander

Alexandria's founded by Alexander the Great (by year BC): 334 Alexandria in Troia (Turkey) - 333 Alexandria at Issus/Alexandrette (Iskenderun, Turkey) - 332 Alexandria of Caria/by the Latmos (Alinda, Turkey) - 331 Alexandria Mygdoniae - 331 Alexandria (Egypt) - 330 Alexandria in Areia (Herat, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria of the Prophthasia/in Dragiana/Phrada (Farah, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Arachosia (Kandahar, Afghanistan) - 330 Alexandria in Caucasus (Begram, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria of the Paropanisades (Ghazni, Afghanistan) - 329 Alexandria Eschate or Ultima (Khodjend, Tajikistan) - 329 Alexandria on the Oxus (Ai-Khanoum OR Termez, Afghanistan) - 328 Alexandria in Margiana (Merv, Turkmenistan) - 326 Alexandria Nicaea (on the Hydaspes, India) - 326 Alexandria Bucephala (on the Hydaspes, India) - 325 Alexandria Sogdia - 325 Alexandria Oreitide - 325 Alexandria in Opiene / Alexandria on the Indus (confluence of Indus & Acesines, India) - 325 Alexandria Rambacia (Bela, Pakistan) - 325 Alexandria Xylinepolis (Patala, India) - 325 Alexandria in Carminia (Gulashkird, Iran) - 324 Alexandria-on-the-Tigris/Antiochia-in-Susiana/Charax (Spasinou Charax on the Tigris, Iraq) - ?Alexandria of Carmahle? (Kahnu)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Alexander's schooling at Mieza. Visit of the surrounding area

Mieza today is generally called Náousa after the city made famous for its wine and driving through this area, one can easily see why. Náousa lies at the edge of a high plateau offering an impressive overall view of the wineries and orchards spread over the fertile valley between the villages of Lefkada and Kopanos. It is such a pleasant landscape, especially in spring when the fields are generally overgrown with dark red poppies.

My favorite approach is from Pella and Giannitsa, heading south towards Veroia. Close to Lefkadia and Kopanos, there are several old Macedonian tombs, some of which show a particularly good state of preservation. My absolute favorites are the Tomb of the Judgment and the Tomb of the Palmettos. Unfortunately in 2011 because of the economic crisis in Greece, several sites were closed to the public as victims of the system. Back in 2006 however, I was lucky enough to visit them – a true privilege for then the doors were opened for me alone. What an experience!

I drove down a dirt road between the cornfields, crossing the railroad tracks till I saw a pink building on my right with no sign or inscription whatsoever. Yet this was the shelter protecting the Tomb of the Judgment. A local guide produced a big set of keys to open the heavy metal sliding doors and I had to wait a moment for the lights to be turned on. The space was kept at a constant temperature and the cool air gave me the chills. Slowly my eyes got used to the dim light as I stepped down the stairs that ran over the entire width of the building. At first, I thought I was standing in front of a well-preserved temple, slowly realizing this was a true tomb. Its façade is 8.6 meter wide and of equal height, heavily supported by beams to keep it upright. It looks as if there are two floors but that is only an optical illusion. The entrance door is flanked by two times two half Dorian columns, with in between them a fresco of a person. The figure to the left is the deceased himself on his way to Hades and next to him the god Hermes escorting his soul; to the right the seated Aiakos and the standing Rhadamanthys, both judges from Hades – hence the name of the tomb. I had never seen painted figures from so close-by and the profusion of color and delicacy of the brush strokes is absolutely wonderful. The deceased is represented wearing the military uniform of a Macedonian nobleman but without helmet or shield which would indicate that he didn’t die in battle. He is dressed in a short red chiton with sleeves; his bright blue coat with red trimmings is draped around his shoulders and his feet are fitted in sandals of yellow leather. In his hand, he carries the winged emblem by which he is identified. This is a true pleasure for the eye.

My guide also has the keys to the other tomb, the Tomb of the Palmettos further down the road between the vines and cornfields. When the heavy door is unlocked and the lights are on, I’m utterly speechless by what I am discovering! Amazing colors! Huge palmettos! I had no idea that the colors could still be that fresh or that intense after more than two thousand years! Enough to give anyone goose bumps. It is said to be the best-preserved tomb, and I gladly believe it. This façade is only 5.25 meter wide and 6.25 meter high, small compared to the previous tomb, but the striking elements are the palmettes on top of the pediment, one in the middle and one on each corner, folded around it to fit the construction. Each palmetto is at least one meter high and shows a heart of bright red and dark pink among the nearly purple-blue of the leaves which are in strong contrast with the ocher-white and soft pink edges. Wow! What a breathtaking image! The pediment also deserves attention for although the picture of the couple looking at each other over a banquet is not too clear, analysts have discovered that a wide range of colors have been used: dark red, purple, ochre for the shadows, green, grey, blue, pink and combinations of diluted grey and black. No real treasures have been found inside as the tomb has been looted over the centuries, but that doesn’t make it less attractive. 

Back on the main road, I stopped at the Tomb of Kinch, not because it is particularly spectacular, far from it as it has been terribly neglected after its discovery by the Danish architect Kinch at the end of the 19th century. Luckily for us, he made an excellent drawing of the mural that he found on the back wall and until today it is being used as an example of a Macedonian cavalryman attacking a Persian with his spear. The only reason to enter this now empty tomb is to get a feeling of what once was – sadly.

I drive on further south till I hit the sign directing me to Náousa. My destination will be Mieza, located in the foothills at the end of the fertile valley floor. This is the place where, upon the recommendations of King Philip II, Aristotle was installed with his pupils – the most important of them being Alexander, of course. I marvel at the lush growth of all kinds, lavishly enhanced by widespread fields of dark red poppies.

The location of Mieza is simply idyllic alongside the fast running rivulet amidst a profusion of green. A description of this school has survived in manuscripts of Plutarch and Pliny, and one of the striking elements is the stoa. It has been dated from after 350 BC with its Ionic columns arranged in the shape of the Greek letter PI. Roof tiles and terracotta antefixes have been recovered and are exhibited at the Museum of Veroia, enough to give us some idea of the finishing touch. More problematic, in my eyes, are the natural caves in the walls of the cliffs, which allegedly would have served as lodging for the pupils. Looking at the rough and damp state of these caves, I simply cannot picture Alexander or any of his friends using this space as bedrooms – not the least Aristotle! Even the most austere Spartan would have declined such an accommodation. I would rather label these caves as storerooms or stables, but that is my personal opinion, of course. It is not difficult however to imagine Aristotle strolling along the riverbanks in the coolness of the trees, with his flock of pupils in his wake. What exactly he taught these Macedonian youngsters has not been recorded, but the lessons must have included ethics and politics, geography and rhetoric, philosophy, medicine, treatises about fallacy, animals, friendship, memory, nature, etc. In any case, the best possible baggage for any high level of education at that time and certainly meeting the needs of a king-to-be.

Like everywhere else in Hellas, history and legend are interwoven. Here in Mieza, the story is no different. According to local legends, the mystical king of the area, Veretes, had two daughters and one son. His daughters gave their names to the two most important cities in Emathia, Veroia, and Mieza, and his son, Olganos, had a river named after him since he was transformed into a river god. A beautiful bust of Olganos is welcoming the visitor at the Museum of Veroia, a particularly fine work of art. Maybe his spirit is still keeping a watchful eye over the place…

It is generally admitted that in addition to Mieza, there were villages and farms in this area, maybe looking something like today’s settlements. Driving over these narrow local roads, you cannot miss the many remains of villas, tombs, and even a Hellenistic theater. The scenery is very evocative and inspiring in its quietness and timelessness. A walk among the remains of Mieza’s school is in fact very soothing.

From here on the road turns and switches upwards to the plateau where Náousa has been built. It is a pleasant town with a broad park overlooking the valley I just left flanked by many hotels and restaurants. At the far end, the foaming waters of the Arapitsa tumble down to a depth hidden among trees and shrubs. The sidewalk on the park side of the main street is entirely occupied by inviting seats, including some lazy chairs and couches with cushions where gas heaters break the chill of the day. It is the place to be and the place to be seen. Young people but also parents with children and elderly people apparently have found this cozy corner where they sip their favorite drink, not necessarily the Náousa wine, which by the way is excellent! Useless to say that I spend some time here to recover from all the impressions and to enjoy a stroll through the park with the unforgettable view. Something to cherish.

From here I push on just a little further southward to the city of Veroia to visit the local museum, which is being advertized as being one of the most important archeological museums in Macedonia. After taking my first photograph of the bust of Olganos dating from the 2nd century AD, I am told that no pictures are allowed. Too bad, because it always helps me to remember.

From a cemetery near Veroia they were able to reconstruct a single-chambered rock-cut family tomb from Hellenistic times. Beside a few cinerary urns from the 4th century BC, there are the usual gifts that accompanied the deceased illustrating the evolution of pottery and art from the end of the 5th to the 2nd century BC. Next I see a range of grave steles but also several inscriptions like the one relating the rules at the Gymnasium of Veroia stating the obligations of the youths that practiced there (first half 2nd century BC). I also stop at an inscription which is a letter written by King Demetrius II referring to the Sanctuary of Heracles Kynagidas in February 248 BC – amazing how they managed to pinpoint the date! Another inscription turns out to be a letter sent by Antigonos Doson in 223 BC. And then, of course, there are terracotta tiles and simas from the roof of the Stoa at Mieza. One needs some imagination to put things together, but that is a worthwhile challenge. Further, some jewelry from female burials finds from the Tomb of the Judgment and from the Tomb of Lyson and Kallikles which is not open to the public at any time – such a pity! Since the museum is set up in chronological order, I end up in the Roman period with several grave reliefs, burial offerings and some terracotta figurines dating from the 2nd-3rd century AD.

Back outside, I take the time to walk around the museum where several funerary vases, sarcophagi, and steles typical for the 2nd century AD have found refuge. Next to the entrance door the oversized head of Medusa is staring at me. It was either part of Veroia’s city walls or a major civic building, dated to the 2nd century BC.

And all this is part of the land that has seen Alexander growing up …

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