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Saturday, December 27, 2014


On the road to Amphipolis, there stands a massive stone lion. It's exactly like the lion monument left on the battle field of Chaironea in Greece when the Macedonians defeated the Greeks and Thebans, a monument to the dead soldiers. This one has always been considered a funeral monument for one of Alexander's chief generals. It was carried down from its original site by the Romans long after Alexander's time and is now thought to have crowned the massive tomb that has been uncovered in Amphipolis.
I've been to Amphipolis twice before on research trips. On my first trip, just as I was walking past the lion the sky grew dark and a bolt of forked lightening shot down over the hill that was once the city's acropolis. I took it to be an omen, and turned back.  On the second trip to Amphipolis, I was exploring where the site of the old fortress used to be on the acropolis hill and trying to figure out how two young boys might escape from there. As I trudged down the dirt road suddenly a snake slithered across the path in front of me. I didn't wait to see if it was a viper. I turned back and called it a day.

 Remains of walls, Byzantine period
The site of Amphipolis has been occupied for centuries. Before Alexander's time it was a strategic city and when the Persians passed that way, in the 5th century BCE, they sacrificed 9 girls and 9 boys to the river gods as they passed over the stone bridge heading west on their conquest of Macedonia and Greece.  By Alexander's time it was a stronghold and army fortress. The acropolis and town were located between the fork of two rivers and behind it to the north was a lake. The seaport was used for transporting slaves to the gold and silver mines on Mt Pangeon nearby.  Alexander's father, Philip II won the mines from the Greeks and financed  his campaigns with the spoils. Alexander did too when he took over his father's quest to drive the Persians out of Asia Minor.  

 View to the sea

Amphipolis is the setting in the last part of SHADOW OF THE LION: BLOOD ON THE MOON and is the setting for the last half of book two, THE FIELDS OF HADES. So I felt it was important to revisit it especially with the excitement of the tomb find. In fact, my novel was published exactly when the announcements were made about the tomb so this has created a great deal of excitement for me in Greece. I took this to be an excellent omen. And perhaps the other two were as well. They were certianly symbolic of events that happen in the novel!

There are more than ancient Macedonian and Greek remains in Amphipolis. After Alexander's time the Romans took over the fortress. Later it was under Byzantine rule. Now, aside from the ruins and the fantastic tomb, it is a small town on the north side of the acropolis hill several miles from the sea.
The first time I went there, I walked from the highway. The second time I took a local bus from the highway. This time, my stay was limited so I decided to hire a taxi. My hotel at Asprovalta arranged this for me. Lucky for me, I had a cab driver who knew the area thoroughly and was only to happy to show me everything he could.

We stopped at various places of interest, such as the lion and the old walls. He explained what he could and pointed out many grave-sites that are not marked.  The major grave find  had actually been 'discovered' some time before but not thoroughly excavated. Once the archaeologist started digging they were amazed and since then much speculation has gone on about whose tomb it is.  My first guess is that it could be a family tomb of the the Antipatrids' family, the largest clan in Macedon. Antipator was regent for both Alexander and Philip. And his son, Kassandros, was the despot who took over after Alexander's dynasty was destroyed.  I mentioned this to an archaeologist I met on Salamina and he agreed. But since then I am thinking it is more than likely the tomb of one of the top generals, as there were a couple who came from that area. And if the lion had been on top of the grave mound, then could it be his tomb?

You can't get close to the tomb digs. I was only able to observe it from across the valley. I was told they are digging down from the top to get to the inside of it and it is massive. You can see by the photos that it takes up almost half the hilldside which, in fact, is really a grave mount like the one at Vergina was where the Royal Tombs are located. 

We drove around a bit more trying to get as close as possible. The driver showed me various other sites along the way including parts of the old walls, likely Byzantine period, and the place where an ancient wooden bridge once spanned the river.

Amphipolis Museum

There is a new museum at Amphipolis that wasn't there on my last visits. But we didn't have time to stop and look inside. From the museum area you can look out over the valley toward the tomb.

The archaeologists promise that they will reveal soon who they believe occupied the grave.  I can't believe it would be Roxana or Iskander as Kassandros hated them. He hated Alexander's mother too and it is more likely she is buried in the royal tombs of Vergina. It definitely wouldn't be Alexander as he was interred in Alexandria, Egypt.  So if it isn't the Antipatrides family it is more than for a famous general. Which one though: Antigonos the One Eyed?  Lysimichos, who was King of Thrace, Nearchos, admiral of the fleet? Or is it, Laomedon, the one who they believed the lion was dedicated to?

Care to make any bets?


NEXT: Back to Athens and my book promo tour.

Thursday, December 04, 2014


 After my couple of days in Thessalonki I decided to spend some beach time in the north. It had been a toss-up between various locations but in the end I chose Asroprovala, a small beach town about two hours from Thessaloniki. I used to go camping there on my past trips when I was working on research for SHADOW.  This time I made the choice to go there rather than Thassos Island, which I love, or the Halkidiki penisula was because just as I was making plans for Greece, the tomb find at Amphipolis was made pubic. Asprovalta is close to Amphipolis and I decided that I'd take the chance on going to see this remarkable archaeological site. It all fit in with my wish to tour some of the novel's sites as well.

Athina Resort Hotel, Asprovalta

I booked myself into a nice hotel. I'd thought it was going to be right on the beach and it wasn't, but the beach wasn't far away, just a short walk. And the people at the hotel were very welcoming and helpful.
Appropriately, a road named Megalo Alexandrou (Great Alexander)
I rescued this little guy from the middle of the road.

The beach

A relaxing afternoon

The beach was about a 10 minute walk along a country road. It was a long stretch of sand and not very many people on it at that time of year. So I managed to have a couple of leisurely days just hanging out in the sun, swimming and enjoying a little rest.

The Hotel Gardens
In the evening I sat out in the big back yard of the hotel and wrote in my journal. There was a good restaurant at the hotel too though not many patrons enjoying the delicious food.



On my second day I asked the hotel clerk to hire a taxi for me so I could make the trip to Amphipolis. The first time I'd been I had walked up the road to from the main highway, and second time took the local bus up to where the old hill fort used to be. This time, as my time was limited and I didn't fancy the long hike, I decided on a taxi ride. And as it turned out, I was glad that I did because the cab driver was familiar with the territory and knew exactly what to show me.


Monday, December 01, 2014


I have visited Thessaloniki (in Greek Macedonia) several times beginning with 1979, my very first trip to Greece. I stopped there first specifically so I could go to the Archaeological Museum and see the amazing finds that were on display from the tombs at Vergina. I've visited there a few times since then, usually when I was on research trips for SHADOW OF THE LION.  My stops were brief and each time I'd try to take in a bit of the city.

Thessaloniki (Salonika) definitely has a different ambience than Athens. The city has a long history, founded in 315 BC by Kassandros (who happens to be the villain of my novel) after he coerced Alexander's half-sister Thessaloniki to marry him, thereby getting his foot in the door of the Macedonian royalty. The site was originally the ancient Greek settlement of Thermae. In 146 BC the Romans arrived and took over the city. Christiany had its beginnings in Thessalonki when the Apostle Paul visited. He founded a church there in 56 AD and wrote two Epistles to the Thessalians. The Emperor Galerius took control three centuries later. The first Christian Emperor was Theodosius (379-95) who ended paganism. When the Emperor Justinian ruled (527-65) Thessaloniki became the second most important city of Byzantium after Constantinopole.

The Ottoman Turks invaded Greece in 1430. They called the city "Selanik".  Thessalonki became one of their major cities. , The population of the city was composed of  Slavs, Albanians, Armenians and the largest Jewish community in Europe. Greek Orthodox Christians were a minority.

In 1917 a fire leveled most of the city destroying the old buildings including the entire Jewish quarter. Later the city was rebuilt in an Art Deco style under the supervision of French architect and archaeologist Ernst Hebrard.

When I  visit Thessaloniki I usually stay at a hotel on the main street, Egnatia, making it an easy walk to see all the sights. Just a few blocks from my hotel is the pleasant plateia of Aristoteles with it's palms and gardens and a statue of the famous philosopher a focal point. There are tavernas and shops on each side of the plateia. As I stopped at one for a refreshing drink, I saw a group of men at a table nearby who looked surprisingly just like I imaged the generals in SHADOW must have looked!


The plateia opens to the sea walk with it's beautiful neo-classical buildings and many restaurants and tavernas populated by groups of young people. Thessalonki is a university city and there seems to be a large portion of the population are young folk, likely students. As a result Thessalonki has a lively music and theatre scene.

The old and new sections of the the city are marked by the Exhibition grounds and the seaside walk dominated by the famous White Tower (Lefkos Pyrgos), part of the Fortress of Kalamaria that once formed the corner of the city's Byzantine and Ottoman defences. The walls were demolished in the late 19th century. Before that it was known as the Bloody Tower, an infamous place of imprisonment and execution. It is said that a Jewish prisoner was offered his freedom if he painted the tower white. Hence the name "White Tower".

The sea walk is one of my favorite parts of Thessaloniki. I love the long stroll and after stopping for a delicious lunch of calamaria in pesto sauce, among the company of a bevy of handsome young folk, I set off for a walk, heading toward the White Tower and another of my favorite sites in the city:  the statue of Alexander the Great astride his famous horse Bucephalus.  The statue faces East, toward his conquests. It is surrounded by a wall with a frieze depicting his battle with the Persians, a row of tall sarissas, the spears used by the phalanx troops, and a stand of shields each with the inscription of the tribe or batallion of the soldiers.  Near the statue is theVassilika Theatre where I noticed a large bill-board advertising a production of "Alexander: the Musical". 

Alexander the Great
Just around the corner is the Archaeological Museum and although the treasures from the tombs have been removed to their original site at Vergina, there are still many fascinating artifacts on display. At the museum cafe while I was enjoying a frappe, I spotted a young man who looked exactly like I imagine Alexander had looked. I tried to take a photo of him as he passed by but didn't get a good shots. That's only the third time in all my travels in Greece I have seen someone who resembled my historical hero.

I had intended to take a side trip to Pella, the Royal City where Alexander was born. However my time was limited so I decided instead to spend the next day exploring the parts of Thessaloniki that I had not seen before. Fortunately my hotel was not far from many of these historical buildings.
Just around the corner I found an Ottoman bazaar.

 Near the water front is an early 20th century house that once belonged to a Jewish family now a Jewish museum. During WW II all the Jews in Thessaloniki were rounded up and taken to internment camps. About 90,000 of them were killed. There was once a Jewish cemetary in Thessalonki but it was destroyed by the Nazis.

I wandered down Egnatia Street, past the Bey Hamam, Turkish Baths, and up through the park area of the Plateia Dieikastrion to the site of the old Roman Form.

Roman Ruins
Back on Egnatia St. I passed two old Byzantine churches. Many of these churches were converted to mosques during the Ottoman occupation and many others were damaged in the fire of 1917.   I finally reached the famous Arch of Galerius and a little farther up the road, north of the arch,  the Rotonda.

Roman inscriptions and friezes on the arch

Now I was in Thessalonki's Upper Town, the old Turkish area.  I passed through the gardens that surround a 15th century mosque.

This area is where the  Turkish consulate is located. Right behind the consulate is the home of Kamal Ataturk, the first president of the modern secular state of Turkey, born in 1881.

 Ataturk's House
There are still many Ottoman Turkish buildings (or remnants of ) in this area of town.   One distinct reminder of the old city are the remains of the old 14th century city ramparts constructed with brick and rubble on top of the old Roman foundations.

Old City Walls
You really need more than three days to see and experience all that Thessaloniki has to offer.  Next time I go it will be for a longer stay so I can take in all the things I missed on this trip, including some of the night life which is said to be exceptional.

Pleasure Boat in style of an ancient trieme.