On the day he was crowned king of Macedonia, Alexander the Great stood atop the intricately patterned marble floors of the Palace of Aigai. This week, the historic palace finally opened to the public after a 16-year-long restoration, report Derek Gatopoulos and Costas Kantouris of the Associated Press (AP).
At 160,000 square feet, the Palace of Aigai was classical Greece’s largest structure. Built primarily by Alexander’s father, Phillip II, in the fourth century B.C.E., it was the home of the Argead dynasty, ancient Macedonia’s ruling family. It was destroyed by the Romans in 148 B.C.E. and endured a subsequent series of lootings. Renovating and excavating this sprawling monument was a serious undertaking, costing over 20 million euros ($22 million), according to the AP.
The Greek government was able to maintain the “general appearance” of the site amid careful alterations to the monument’s towering marble columns, delicate mosaics and textured flooring, according to CNN’s Xiaofei Xu and Chris Liakos. The palace once featured large column-lined courtyards, worship sites and expansive banquet halls, and its restoration presented a “three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle,” per the AP. Archaeologists solved it by combining stones from the structure’s ruins with replica parts to reproduce the original structures.
Archaeologist Angeliki Kottaridi started working on the renovation efforts as a university student. Overseeing the project’s progress over many years and contributing to its excavation and reconstruction, Kottardi became a leading figure in the project.
“What you discover is stones scattered in the dirt, and pieces of mosaics here and there,” Kottaridi told state television before an opening ceremony on Friday, per the AP. “Then you have to assemble things, and that’s the real joy of the researcher.”
The Palace of Aigai is located in northern Greece between what are now the towns of Palatitsia and Vergina. Its reopening builds on discoveries made in the late 1970s by Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronikos, who unearthed a cluster of royal Macedonian artifacts, including gold and silver ceremonial weapons and armor, and burials, one of which is thought to contain Phillip’s remains. The palace and its neighboring tombs are now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Deeming it “among the most important archaeological sites in Europe,” UNESCO writes that the Palace of Aigai “represents an exceptional testimony to a significant development in European civilization, at the transition from the classical city state to the imperial structure of the Hellenistic and Roman periods.”
As the site of the first capital of the ancient kingdom of Macedonia, the Palace of Aigai signifies the onset of Alexander’s rule, which would stretch from Asia to the Middle East, and provides a crucial window into Macedonian culture.
“The importance of such monuments transcends local boundaries, becoming property of all humanity,” said Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Greece’s prime minister, at the inauguration event, per CNN. “And we as the custodians of this precious cultural heritage, we must protect it, highlight it, promote it and at the same time expand the horizons revealed by each new facet.”