Travel Guides Crafted by Experienced Archaeologists & Historians

Central Macedonia
Art, History & Archaeology Sites & Museums

The modern-day Central Macedonia region occupies the central part of the historic and geographic region of Macedonia. Although an administrative region, Central Macedonia more or less corresponds to the ancient region of Lower Macedonia, or Macedonia proper. The Macedonian Kingdom was rule from two capitals, Aigai (present-day Vergina) and Pella, both of which have spectacular archaeological sites.  Pella is where Alexander the Great was born, and Aigai is where the ruins of his father’s royal palace is – and where he was proclaimed king following his father’s assassination. Mountains dominate the landscape to the north, while the southern coastline includes the port city of Thessaloniki – a city that was second only to Constantinople in the post-Roman Byzantine era. The regional units that make up Central Macedonia are: Chalkidiki, Imathia, Kilkis, Pella, Pieria, Serres and Thessaloniki. The administrative capital is Thessaloniki.

Archaeology & History Sites in Central Macedonia

Alexander the Great Monument

On Thessaloniki’s waterfront is one of the most striking monuments to Alexander the Great, created in 1973 by Evangelos Moustakas. At the centre of the monument is a bronze equestrian statue depicting Alexander riding his horse Bucephalus, which together with the plinth is 11 m high. Near the statue is a low wall with a low relief frieze of the 333 BC Battle of Issus, Alexander’s second battle against the Persians, but his first facing Darius. Eight erect spears with shields symbolise Alexander’s army. The city is named after Alexander’s sister, who was married to its founder, Cassander.

Ancient Vergina - Aigai

Vergina was established very recently, in 1922 following the Treaty of Lausanne. The town is better known as the site of the ancient capital of Macedon, Aigai. The many archaeological sites include the ruins of the palace, a theatre and various public buildings. But it is the Royal tombs and cemeteries that are best known, having produced some of the finest ancient artefacts, now on display in museums in the town. It was in Aigai Palace that Philip II was assassinated and his son Alexander proclaimed his successor. The ancient city was added to the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites in 1996.

Dion Archaeological Park

With an excellent view of Mount Olympus, the ancient town of Dion grew up around a sanctuary dedicated to Zeus – who is said to have lived on Olympus. For ancient Macedonians this was an important sacred place, and since the end of the 5th century BC it was a leading centre for the ‘Olympian Games of Dion’, to honour and worship Zeus and his daughters. An archaeological walk has been created allowing visitors to experience the significant elements of the site.

Nymphaeum of Mieza - School of Aristotle

Philip II of Macedon brought Aristotle to Mieza to teach his son, Alexander. For this purpose, Philip gave the philosopher the shrine of the Nymphs, or nymphaeum of Mieza. The school is an archetype of Macedonian schools that would eventually spread throughout Alexander’s empire. Cassander, Hephaestion and Ptolemy I Soter were also educated here. Archaeologists believe only a portion of the gymnasium has been excavated, and there are plans to re-excavate the site. The site is open to the public.

Pella Archaeological Site

The ancient city of Pella was founded by Archelaus I, as the capital of the Kingdom of Macedon. Both Philip II and his son Alexander the Great were born here. Until it was sacked by the Romans in 168 BC, Pella was the largest and richest city in Macedonia. Most of the  surviving features to see are to the west of the modern town of Pella. The Agora and surrounding area have been extensively excavated. Here visitors can clearly see the town plan, as well as temples and houses with spectacular mosaic floors,  most notably the House of Dionysus, and the House of the Abduction of Helen. Work is still on going at the ancient palace.

Platamon Castle

The castle was built between 1204 and 1222, although it is generally accepted to have been built on the ruins of an ancient Hellenistic city, by the Crusaders. Due to its strategic position, the castle has played an important role in the history of the region, passing from the Crusaders to the Byzantine aristocracy, from the Ottomans to the Venetians, and back to the Ottomans. During World War II it was occupied by New Zealanders, attempting to block the Nazis advancing into Greece. Besides the historical interest of the location, the hilltop has a spectacular 360-degree view of the Pieria region and Aegean Sea.

Roman Thessaloniki - Thessalonica

Following the fall of the Kingdom of Macedon in 168 BC, Thessalonica became a city in the Roman Republic. Given its position of the Via Egnatia, the city became an important commercial centre. Under the Romans the city developed considerably, and there are many remnants and substantial ruins from this period to visit including the port, acropolis and forum.  Emperor Galerius seems to have left the biggest mark, as this was his chosen seat. Galerius’ sites and monuments include the Rotunda (intended as his mausoleum),  his palace and the Arch of Galerius.

White Tower of Thessaloniki

One of the most popular attractions in the city, the White Tower is also the symbol of Thessaloniki. The tower was built by the Ottomans after they captured the city in 1430. The fortress was built on the site of earlier Byzantine fortifications. Over the centuries the tower has been a fortress, garrison and a  prison. During WWI it was used to store antiquities, then the meteorology laboratory of Aristotle University, and even the Sea Scout were based here for a time. Since 2008 the tower has been home to a permanent multimedia exhibition on the history of Thessaloniki, from its founding to the present.

Museums & Art Galleries in Central Macedonia

Archaeological Museum of Dion - Archaiotheke of Dion

The Archaeological Museum of Dion was established to display artefacts recovered from the nearby site of Dion – a large fortified city occupied from the 6th century BC to the 5th century AD. Artefacts from other sites in the region, including those at the foot of Mount Olympus, are also on display here. The range of objects exhibited is vast, from exquisite marble statues and mortuary monuments to more mundane artefacts of daily life. Next to the museum is the Archaiotheke of Dion, which was built to house the Dionysus Mosaic.

Archaeological Museum of Pella

The museum was built to house the vast collection of artefacts excavated from the ancient city of Pella, capital city of the Macedonian Kingdom. The exhibitions are are arranged thematically, and cover daily life in Pella, public life in Pella, the spectacular mosaics and other art objects, funerary customs in Pella and life at the palace. Highlights of the extraordinary collection of artefacts include gold wreaths, a gold mask and other jewellery, and the so-called Stag Hunt Mosaic showing Alexander the Great and his lifetime companion Hephaestion hunting a stag.

Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki

Permanent exhibitions include some of the finest antiquities and artefacts of ancient Greece, from prehistory to late antiquity. One of many highlights includes the largest collection of gold wreaths from Macedonian cemeteries. The artefacts in these collections come from private donations and gifts, as well as archaeological sites excavated in Macedonia since 1912, when the museum was founded. The museum is in the centre of Thessaloniki, close to many other museums and popular attractions. Visitors with a range of accessibility requirements are well catered for.

Museum of Byzantine Culture

A relatively new museum, opened in September of 1994, it was established for the research and display of Byzantine material culture in Macedonia. The museum’s impressive collection of sculptures, frescoes, mosaics, icons and inscriptions are arranged in a series of permanent exhibitions that cover early Christianity in the region, and the middle, later and post-Byzantine periods. Temporary exhibitions are also regularly curated that add to what is on permanent display in the museum.