Plan of the region
At the far west-north-western edge of the plain of Thessaloniki, on the northern foothills of the Pieria Mountains and east of the Haliakmon, there are two villages in close proximity, Vergina and Palatitsia. They define the boundaries of the area of the city of Aigai, capital of Macedonia until the early 4th century BC and royal burial ground.
Excavations -- first begun by the French archaeologist Leon Heuzey in 1861, and continued from 1938 to this day by the University of Thessaloniki and the Archaeological Service -- have brought to light rich finds: monumental palaces, a section of the ancient city and its fortifications, a theatre, a temple of Eukleia and the sanctuary dedicated to the Mother of the Gods, as well as a number of 'Macedonian tombs', outstanding among which are those of the Great Tumulus.
Also, north of the ancient city, parts of the prehistoric Cemetery of the Tumuli have been excavated, as well as burial sites dating up to the early Classical period.
Leon Heuzey, a French archaeologist who visited Macedonia in the mid-19th century, writes:
"It is indeed a wonderful place, this lesser-known side of the Pieria mountains, sloping to the open spaces of Imathia. Here, the vegetation of the nearly northern face of Olympus descends to the banks of the Aliakmon. Tall trees, mostly majestic elms, cluster in dense forests, often interspersed with fields of corn and sesame.
From league to league a village with red roofs is encountered, or some farm well-stocked with cattle, which resounds to the clamour of large flocks of geese. Then you lose yourself again in the depths of the forest, along shady paths churned every day by the hooves of buffalo and the wheels of carts.
The three villages of Koutles, Barbes and Palatitsia constitute the most remote group of the region. Between two ravines a peak rises, dividing the mountain into two parts and descending sheerly. Where the ravine broadens, the ancient inhabitants had built the citadel of a city, whose walls end at a gentler slope following the encir-cling bed of the torrents."
The French archaeologist continues: "Midway down the slope there projects a level space, the most prominent spot of the entire city, and best suited for the erection of some large edific-e. There, the fine archaeological remains, which had already attracted my notice in the year 1855, are piled in heaps. Magnificent elms crown this plateau, which the local people revere as an ancient grove, and which indicate to all from afar that this is a site hallowed by immemorial traditions of worship".