“Exploring Macedonia” is our first new itinerary in Greece since 2018. On this occasion, to give an impression of the experience, we are providing a kind of travel diary on our blog, following precedents from Greece, Ireland and Turkey. Rather than describing every day in detail (you can check our itineraries on www.petersommer.com for that), every day we will pick one image we took that day, accompanied by some explanations and thoughts.
How is this possible? Day 11 already? Where has all the time gone? Today was the last day of touring on “Exploring Macedonia”.
It was another spectacular day, devoted entirely to the enchanting and vibrant city of Thessaloniki. We started by visiting the city’s two most famous museums: the superb Museum of Byzantine Culture (we have written about it before) and the Archaeological Museum, a fitting visit for the last active day on “Exploring Macedonia”, as it contains finds and treasures from many of the sites and areas we saw on our tour.
After lunch, we visited the triad of monuments from the brief era when Thessaloniki was the de facto capital of the Eastern Roman Empire: the Palace of Galerius, the Arch of Galerius and the Rotonda, initially planned as the Mausoleum of Galerius. You can probably guess who chose the city as his capital at this point. It was Galerius, co-opted as Caesar by Diocletian, and it lasted only from about AD 305 to 311.
The day concluded with a final dinner – much praised by our guests, as were all the meals we served!
Our picture shows a detail of one of the most remarkable things we saw in the Archaeological Museum. The central galleries are devoted more or less entirely to “the Gold of Macedon”, the treasures found in high-status cemeteries around the region. The earlier finds are reminiscent of the Archontiko material at Pella, which I described here in 2020. From the “Gold of Macedon” exhibit itself, we have posted a wreath from Pydna here many years ago and a game-board from Derveni.
Shown here, and also from Derveni, is a detail of the so-called Derveni Krater, one of the most precious metal vessels from all of ancient Greece. It may well deserve its very own blog post in the future, but here I’ll describe it in a few words: it is a bronze vessel, 90 cm (36 in) tall and weighing 40 kilos (88lb); its purpose is the mixing of wine and water at a symposium (the ritualized drinking party that was central to male social life); it probably dates to about 350 BC and was perhaps made in Athens or at least by an Athenian-trained craftsman. Its owner was a man called Astion, son of Anaxagoras, from Larisa in Thessaly (as an inscription on the top tells us). Presumably, the grave it was found in was his.
The krater is incredibly ornate, with extraordinarily finely traced decoration depicting the marriage of Dionysos (God of wine and various kinds of ecstasy) and Ariadne (she is linked to many of our tours), accompanied by Dionysos’s entourage, satyrs, and maenads, in wildly exuberant celebration. The detail of these dancing figures, their flowing and slipping garments, their expressions of ecstasy, their dynamism and their eroticism, is astonishing to behold. Fully three-dimensional figures, also of bronze, are sitting on the vessel’s shoulder (not shown here), apparently nursing their hangovers or recovering from whatever else they debauched in!
The Derveni Krater is a must-see object for anyone interested in ancient art or craftsmanship. There is nearly nothing else like it preserved from antiquity, and it was probably a rare kind of object at its time. Its atmosphere of partying would certainly have been very appropriate at a symposium. We also feel in a celebratory mood at the end of this new trip that was delayed in its inauguration, but our celebrations this evening remained somewhat tamer.
Tomorrow, it is time to say farewell – for now.