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Soak Up History at the Ancient Philippi Ruins, Greece

History whispers around every corner at the ruins of Philippi.

A major Greek city in ancient times, Philippi is now one of the most interesting places in Greece.

To visit the Philippi archaeological site, we traveled by bus from the small port city of Kavala – population 70,000. (Kavala is built on a hill in eastern Macedonia and sports a still-standing Roman aqueduct.)

The Greek ruins of Philippi are fascinating to visit!

Haunting ruins of Philippi

The ancient city of Philippi in Greece was founded in 356 B.C. and named after King Philip of Macedonia, father of Alexander the Great.

Philip established himself here to take over the local gold mines.

He eventually became so rich that he earned over a whopping 1 billion dollars a year in today’s money.

Ancient ruins of Philippi, Greece

There’s evidence, though, that people lived in the city way before King Philip marched in.

Carbonized grape seeds from the oldest cultivated grapes dating back to 5,000 B.C. have been found here.

Proof, don’t you think, that man can’t live without wine?

Pottery at the archaeological site of Philippi

Later, when the city was a Roman colony, Julius Caesar’s assassins, Brutus and Cassius, fought Mark Anthony and Octavian at the great Battle of Philippi in 42 BC and were killed on the plains outside the city.

You history buffs out there will know that Octavian then went on to become Caesar Augustus (the first Roman emperor).

Archaeological site of Philippi

Ruins of Philippi, Greece

Half of the sprawling ancient city is still an active archaeological site.

Days before we visited, archaeologists had stumbled across a previously-undiscovered tomb of an important and revered person in nearby Amphipolis.

Two sphinxes, two caryatids and a giant carved lion statue were found in the first and second antechambers.

A beautiful mosaic tile floor of a man driving a chariot had also been unearthed.

Could it be the long lost tomb of Alexander the Great? He’s thought to be buried in Alexandria.

But perhaps not?

Experts say it’s unlikely the skeleton found in the mysterious tomb is Alexander’s.

It’s more likely to be the bones of his mother Olympias or his wife Roxane.

Ruins of Philippi

Still, the news – and all the speculation surrounding this great discovery – obviously made it more fun for our visit.

Would we be stepping over some future significant archaeological object or underground tomb?

Ancient ruins of Philippi

Walking around the well-preserved Philippi ruins, we saw the ampitheater, stone walls of shops at the market, and part of the ancient Roman road which ran from Rome to Asia Minor.

Somehow we unfortunately missed the public marble toilets and baths.

Here’s one of the fun Greek facts we were told though: “Slaves sat first on the marble toilets, which were cold, to warm them up for their masters.”

Philippi in the bible

The Christian apostle Paul left his mark in Philippi too.

After arriving in 49 A.D., he gave a sermon, sowing the seeds of Christianity in Europe.

A woman he baptized in the local river, Lydia, became the first European Christian.

Philippi in the Bible: colorful tile frescoes

But St. Paul ran into trouble after performing an exorcism of a young slave woman and was thrown in jail – and we saw the small cell where he was imprisoned.

Fortunately for him, though, an earthquake broke open the prison and he was set free by his Roman jailers after converting them to Christianity.

Prison of St Paul in Philippi

Philippi, Greece, today

Philippi continued to be occupied for hundreds of years but was eventually abandoned in the late 14th century.

The first modern-day excavations began in 1914 by French archaeologists.

For us, exploring the Philippi ruins didn’t have the same emotional impact as the beautifully preserved marble ruins of Ephesus in Turkey.

But they were still impressive to stroll about and see, because of the rich history associated with them.

Experience more of Greece!

Athens: Is Athens worth visiting? You bet! From the fabulous Acropolis Museum to the changing of the guards, check out these good reasons to go.

Mykonos: Mykonos is a slice of cool in the hot blue Aegean. See our Mykonos travel guide, including the best Mykonos beach hotels.

Santorini: Looking for a hotel that wows with discreet luxury? You’ll love Vedema Resort.

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The ruins of Philippi, Greece

Photo credits: 3 to 9 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase 

About the authors

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.

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Sunday 7th of December 2014

Interesting how a lot of details here echo things I've seen in various parts of Europe.

Irene S. Levine

Friday 5th of December 2014

Never heard about Philippi before but what a rich history!