The Royal Tombs
in darkness

Vergina experience

At the beginning you have to choose a place on the map: Metsovo, Tempi Valley or Vergina. It cannot be too close, the journey must wean you from everyday life, prepare you for what is new and unexpected.

After all, the path itself may turn out to be more important than its goal. In Greece, it is not that difficult, wherever I would go, the mountains stretch for miles of endless ridges, often without even names. You can see better and farther, fewer people and cars, and space more dense than on the plains.
And Vergina is somewhere on the border of my world, accessible from Litochoro in one day. Sixty-odd kilometers one way. But the weather was promising, the day is still long, and after the trip to Metsov I still don’t have enough bike. I drove there for five hours. The plains around Katerini, hills with vineyards, kiwi plantations and olives that are just ripening, and the low mountains of Pieria. Five hours in the blinding midday sun. I didn’t really know what to expect on the spot, i.e. I saw photos, read some descriptions, asked my friends, but it didn’t all fit together. Tombs of Macedonian Kings – what could it mean?
When I entered the large square in front of the mound, there was nobody there. A long corridor leads to the interior. At first in the light of day, then more and more darkly. When the service man gave me brief instructions on how to get around there, I thought – the lights are about to come on. They didn’t! The interior of the mound is completely dark! Ie. there are some little lights but after my five hours of Aegean sun I was almost blind. I moved cautiously, arms outstretched, afraid I would step on something. But the interior of this “museum” is mostly filled with empty space. Exhibits and showcases with artifacts emerge from the darkness. These are lit, but rather sparsely, they influence mainly with penumbra, rather with the outline of the shape and the atmosphere of mystery. As if darkness and emptiness were more important than the accuracy of the details. In other places of this type, the entire walls are usually filled with finds, as if the author of the exhibition wanted to share as much as possible. Here, from the set of silver vessels to the shield of Philip II, we cross a whole sea of empty space. In total darkness. As if the author of the Vergina exhibition wanted to tell us that we know almost nothing about this distant epoch, our knowledge is only small islands emerging from the darkness. Sometimes they are gorgeous, but still islands. And even as little as we understand, we can still appreciate beauty. We also have a rich resource of imagination – in a few cases it has preserved only a few small fragments of various objects, now located in three-dimensional space, and we have to put them together. Nobody paints or sticks on anything here. Reality is not physically recreated, it is born in our head. An exhibition without a viewer is incomplete, like any real art.
When I entered the large square in front of the mound, there was nobody there. A long corridor leads to the interior. At first in the light of day, then more and more darkly. When the service man gave me brief instructions on how to get around there, I thought – the lights are about to come on. They didn’t! The interior of the mound is completely dark! Ie. there are some little lights but after my five hours of Aegean sun I was almost blind. I moved cautiously, arms outstretched, afraid I would step on something. But the interior of this “museum” is mostly filled with empty space. Exhibits and showcases with artifacts emerge from the darkness. These are lit, but rather sparsely, they influence mainly with penumbra, rather with the outline of the shape and the atmosphere of mystery. As if darkness and emptiness were more important than the accuracy of the details. In other places of this type, the entire walls are usually filled with finds, as if the author of the exhibition wanted to share as much as possible. Here, from the set of silver vessels to the shield of Philip II, we cross a whole sea of empty space. In total darkness. As if the author of the Vergina exhibition wanted to tell us that we know almost nothing about this distant epoch, our knowledge is only small islands emerging from the darkness. Sometimes they are gorgeous, but still islands. And even as little as we understand, we can still appreciate beauty. We also have a rich resource of imagination – in a few cases it has preserved only a few small fragments of various objects, now located in three-dimensional space, and we have to put them together. Nobody paints or sticks on anything here. Reality is not physically recreated, it is born in our head. An exhibition without a viewer is incomplete, like any real art.
 
Small bowls with various details are also very impressive: bronze nails, fish bones, charred seeds, scraps of ornaments. Collected in little heaps of objects of the same kind, mixed up wherever they were found, not much different from a pile of ash. They also say to us: only so much is left of the former glory, it is not easy to distinguish something from nothing.
And then there are the tombs themselves. Or rather, their colorful facades, because you don’t enter inside. However, you can get close, just like once going down. Today, up the wooden stairs. This is important because in complete darkness, the sound of creaking steps informs us that we are getting closer to what is most important (the marble floors in the entire museum are noiseless).
Going to the surface again makes an electrifying impression – from the world of darkness to the light of day. And maybe because of that it says something extremely important about Greek culture … Remains the memory of the most amazing museum I have ever seen.

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