Vergina (in Greek Βεργίνα) is a small town in northern Greece, located in the prefecture of Imathia, Central Macedonia. The town became internationally famous in 1977, when the Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronikos unearthed what he claimed was the burial site of the kings of Macedon, including the tomb of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great. The finds established the site as the ancient Aigai.
The modern town of Vergina is about 13km south-east of the district centre of Veroia and about 80km south-west of Thessaloniki, the capital of Greek Macedonia. The town has a population of about two thousand people and stands on the foothills of Mount Pieria, at an elevation of 120m (360 ft) above sea level.
Vergina is situated close to the site of ancient Aigai (latinised as Aegae), once the royal capital of ancient Macedon, ruled by the Argead dynasty from about 650 BC onwards. (The ruins of another Aigai, one of the Aeolian dodecapolis, lie 35 km south of ancient Pergamon in ancient Aeolis, now in Turkey).
Archaeologists were interested in the hills around Vergina as early as the 1850s, knowing that the site of Aigai was in the vicinity and suspecting that the hills were burial mounds. Excavations began in 1861 under the French archaeologist Leon Heuzey, sponsored by the Emperor Napoleon III. Parts of the Macedonian royal palace of Antigonus III Doson (263–221), partly destroyed by fire, were discovered at Palatista, which preserved the memory of a royal site in its modern name. However, the excavations had to be abandoned because of the risk of malaria.
In 1937, the University of Thessaloniki resumed the excavations. More ruins of the ancient palace were found, but the excavations were abandoned on the outbreak of war with Italy in 1940. After the war the excavations were resumed, and during the 1950s and 1960s the rest of the royal capital was uncovered. The Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronikos became convinced that a hill called the "Great Tumulus" (in Greek, Μεγάλη Τούμπα) concealed the tombs of the Macedonian kings. In 1977, Andronikos undertook a six-week dig at the Great Tumulus and found four buried chambers, which he identified as hitherto undisturbed tombs. Three more were found in 1980. Excavations continued through the 1980s and 1990s. Andronikos claimed that these were the burial sites of the kings of Macedon, including the tomb of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great. Andronikos maintained that another was of Alexander IV of Macedon, son of Alexander the Great and Roxana, and this has now become the firm view of archaeologists and the Greek government.
The museum which was inaugurated in 1993 was built in a way to protect the tombs, exhibit the artifacts and show the tumulus as it was before the excavations. Inside the museum there are four tombs and one small temple, the heroon built as the temple of the great tomb of Philip II of Macedon. The two most important graves were not sacked and contained the main treasures of the museum. The tomb of Philip II, the father of Alexander was discovered in 1977 and was separated in two rooms. The main room included a marble sarcophagus, and in it was the larnax made of 24 carat gold and weighing 11 kilograms. Inside the golden larnax the bones of the dead were found and a golden wreath of 313 oak leaves and 68 acorns, weighing 717 grams. In the room were also found the golden and ivory panoply of the dead, the richly-carved burial bed on which he was laid and later burned and silver utensils for the funeral feast. In the antechamber, there was another sarcophagus with another smaller golden larnax containing the bones of a woman wrapped in a golden-purple cloth with a golden diadem decorated with flowers and enamel. There was one more partially destroyed by the fire burial bed and on it a golden wreath representing leaves and flowers of myrtle. Above the Doric order entrance of the tomb there is a wall painting measuring 5.60 metres which represents a hunting scene.
In 1978 another burial site was also discovered near the tomb of Philip, which belongs to Alexander IV of Macedon son of Alexander the Great. It was slightly smaller than the previous and was not sacked too. It was also arranged in two parts, but only the main room contained a cremated body this time. On a stone pedestal was found a silver hydria which contained the bones and on it a golden oak wreath. There were also utensils and weaponry. A narrow frieze with a chariot race decorated the walls of the tomb.
The other two tombs were found to have been sacked. The "tomb of Persephone" was discovered in 1977 and although it contained no valuable things found, on its walls was found a marvellous wall painting showing the abduction of Persephone by Pluto. The other tomb, discovered in 1980, is heavily damaged and may have contained valuable treasures while it had an impressive entrance with four Doric columns. It was built in the 4th century BC and the archaeologists believe that the tomb belonged to Antigonus II Gonatas.