Friday, April 11, 2008


I wanted to have my own photos of Pydna to accompany this posting but I've searched high and low and can't find them. I have an idea that perhaps they are all just slides, in which case I shall have to get prints made. At any rate, you have the photos from the previous post to refer to, as I am again writing about Pydna, the ancient fortress where Olympias holed up with the royal household and was beseiged by Kassandros back in 317 - 316 BC

Every time I travel, I keep journals, post blogs and make lots of notes. Back in 1992 I began a special journal "In the Shadow of the Lion", in which I wrote about all my research journies in quest of Alexander in Macedonia. Since I first began the diary, I have been to most of the northern sites, often more than once, and visited many of the museums including the royal tombs at Vergina. My journal goes up to July 2003 because I haven't been back up to northern Greece since then. However, I am thinking that next year it's time for another visit there.

To stress the importance of keeping journals and notes, when I started looking through my old journal I found several pages written about my visit to Pydna in September 1994. And because of these notes, I was able to get a much clearer pictures of the setting and was able to rewrite some of the setting details in the chapter I've been working on.

Here's what I wrote back then:
Ancient Pydna: pronounced "Peethna" (near Makrigialos)
The fortress remains are on a high promontory overlooking the Thermaikos Gulf. Behind it are fields and low hills. To the soutwest Mount Olympos is visible -- vague in the heat mist, probably usually very clear, dark blue, rising above the farmlands. (In winter the snow peaks would be distinct). There is nothing visible on the horizon of the sea though later, the Peninsula south of Thessaloniki would be vaguely visible.) **note: this first fortress I described turned out to be the Byzantine site.

Just down the road, south of the fortress, are temple remains. The town of Pydna was built around the harbour. The fortress was walled, buff coloured large blocks of stone (sandstone?) From the East, looking seaward, is a long view of the sandy beach. Water is clear to depths,, pale green near shore, rocks and hsoals black and teal colored farther out to sea. Lots of fishing boats. On the north side of the fortress site is another steep bluff, probably for a watch tower, or beacon post.

Here was Olympias' last view of life -- the sea, and most importantly, a view of Mount Olympos which she undoubtedly watched each day, looking for omens.

Later, at the hotel next to the site I spoke to some people who told me about Olympias ("Olympieada") being stoned to death here and her body buried nearby, but some people think her remains were removed to Vergina to the royal tombs.

I was introduced to two archaeologists (Manos and Nancy) who work on the stie. They said the real fortress was a bit farther north, part of the mud-brick wall and the ditch had been found -- the ditch ("foss") dug by Kassandros to cut off their food supplies, went from the sea all around the city walls. (Manos was the archaeologist who had discovered the ditch site) The city of Pydna was larger than Dion (a Macedonian sanctuary and site of a military garrison in Alexander's time, located some miles farther south closer to Mount Olympos.) The city was an important site since Neolithic times. Olympias may be buried here. The archaeologists have found grave stele of family members at Dion.

I was told that the royal household probably travelled by sea from Pella ( two or three days journey.) They said the town of ancient pydna was quite large and the fortress was big, not necessarily on a high promotory. All the building was made of mud bricks so little of it has remained and most is well below the present earth surface. Walls would follow the lay of the land. There are many important finds coming out of the toms although they aren't sure if Olympias' tomb is still nearby. Her tomb was not believed to be as grand as the other royal tombs as she was the enemy at the time and not Macedonian. The archaeologists said a stele had been found previously marking information regarding Olympias' grave site, but it has disappeared (The site was apparantly recorded in the histories).

What a stroke of good fortune today! (Pythia and Olympias, were your listening?) first the chance, arranged by the lady at the hotel, to speak to the two archaeologists, then an offer of a ride to the bus and en route the man drove us by the grave sites (new excavations) and also the tumulous and general area of the digs where the original fortress was located, which was much bigger than the 6th C. AD Byzantine fortress I had been exploring first.

In regards to Olympias -- I imagined her focusing on the mountain, perhaps facing it as she is stoned to death - her spirit rising to the mountaintop, residing on the summit with the gods of Olympos after whom she is named.

So, after reading through these notes, I was able to edit the small passage I previously posted here, to include clearer setting details, making it a little more accurate.

The palace became a hive of activity as preparations were made for the move to Pydna. By mid November, they made their way south. The troops and the war elephants went by land, accepting guest-friendship from their allies along the way, pretending all was well as they assured the citizens that soon a treaty would be signed with Kassandros, and the threat of civil war would be over.

The royal household travelled by trireme. The weather was still mild, the breezes gentle. Three days later, they neared the sandy shoreline of the coast and saw the imposing walled fortress of Pydna and the rough-hewn houses of the town clustered around the harbor. Beyond the fortress and a swath of ochre coloured fields, rose the mighty heights of the holy mountain, Olympos, the wild pine-clad range where wolves and lynxes roamed.

After we left the campsite where we'd spent several days at Platamonos:
This morning there were rainbows over Mount Olympos so I take that as a good omen. We're on the train heading back to Athens after an enjoyable five days of camping and exploring. Following a route, via the Vale of Tempe, similar to that which Philip's army would have taken on their way to Chaironeia. (**in fact, the rail line followed close to the great battle field of Chaironeia!)

The journey was a success in that I saw Pydna and spoke to the archaeologists and visited the wonderful castle at Platamonos, which was likely on a site visited by Philip and Alexander. (It was the site of the ancient city of Heracleion).

Rereading my journals is always a valuable experience and an easy research source as I usually take time to write down setting details and sometimes even draw sketches. As well, I think photographs are a valuable source of research as they will remind you of details you otherwise may have forgotten.

As for my progress on Shadow of the Lion I have completed another chapter segment.
The web of intrigue is getting more and more tangled, the tension increasing, my characters' world coming closer to collapse!

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