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Int. Council of Monuments Slams Greece for “Poor Workmanship” on Aigai Palace

Palace of Philip Aigai Vergina Macedonia Greece
ICOMOS has called out the Greek Ministry of Culture over their handling of the Vergina / Aigai restoration project. Credit: Greek Reporter

The International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) has called out the Greek Ministry of Culture and the Honorary Antiquities Commissioner for what it calls “bad workmanship” and overuse of new materials on the Vergina (Aigai) restoration project. The site is home to the palace of Philip II of Macedon, Alexander the Great’s father, and the first capital of the Kingdom of Macedonia.

Greek section of ICOMOS calls out Ministry of Culture

The Greek faction of ICOMOS expressed its concerns and objections surrounding the end result of the sixteen-year-long Palace of Aigai/Vergina restoration project. The quality and manner of the project, as well as the date and uses attributed to the monument, were highlighted as being particularly objectionable.

Those objections range from an excessive use of new material to “bad workmanship.” They were stated in a press release titled “The Palace(?) of Philip II(?) in Aigai(?)” signed by President of the Greek ICOMOS Anastasios Tanoulas and General Secretary Anastasia Stasinopoulos.

The release is scathing about the conduct of the restoration, stating that the bad workmanship is expected because the assignment of work to engineers was done “without restoration parchments,” which contributed to the abuse of the monument.

Furthermore, ICOMOS accuses the Greek Ministry of Culture and Dr. Angelikis Kottaridis, the Honorary Antiquities Commissioner, of including “an impermissibly large proportion of new material, mainly travertine (instead of the ancient porolith) and cement with admixtures on the Palace of Aigai/Vergina.”

It was added that “in large part the walls have been restored with new material above the foundation, restoring the lower layers of the walls, as the overlying sections in the original construction were of rough bricks. Corresponding works were also done to columns.”

More objections were raised with regards to design elements. The press release also stated that “the rainwater stagnates on the floors of the men’s and the peristyle, where cement has been put in,” while the project is considered incomplete with unclear visitor paths and no access options for the disabled.

On top of this, the Greek representatives of ICOMOS have called out the ministry for what they say was falsification of historical and archaeological data, stating that “arbitrarily attributing to the monument uses and properties that do not withstand scientific theory” is not acceptable and has been done for reasons of “cultural exploitation.”

palace of Philip in Aigai Macedonia, Greece
The palace of Philip II it is considered the largest building of classical Greece, while the palace complex occupies nearly 15,000 square meters. Credit: Greek Reporter

The full press release

Around 1,500 words long, the statement highlights the following points:

– “Dating of the building in the period 350-336 BC and its association with Philip II, are not correct”. The previous excavators of the building, including Professors K. Romaios, G. Bakalakis, M. Andronikos, N. Moutsopoulos, and the Superintendent of Antiquities H. Makaronas had dated it to the first half of the third century. On the contrary, the dating of Aggeliki Kottarides is based on the selective citation of parallels and the omission of others, such as the morphological affinity of the monument’s capitals with those of the temple of Zeus in Nemea, which is placed after 330-320 BC.

“On the contrary, the “chronological exploitation” by Ms. Kottaridis of the similarities of elements of the monument with findings from Tomb II of Vergina “leads to confirmation of the dating of the “palace” after 317 BC, given that it is now widely accepted that Tomb II definitely dates after 317 BC and therefore it is not the tomb of Philip II. The Ministry of Culture seems to ignore the publication of a relevant study from 2007 which proves that Tomb II was built after 317 BC (S. Rotroff, Review of Drougou, “The pottery of M. Toumba,” American Journal of Archeology 111.4 (2007), pp. 809-810).”

“At the same time, “the possible attribution of the design of the building of Vergina to the architect Pytheos, who worked on the mausoleum of Halicarnassus, is also unfortunate, since Pytheos was born in the first quarter of the 4th BC or even before 400 BC, during the 5th BC century, and when the building of Vergina was built he would have been over a century old, if he had lived.” Therefore, the editors judge the identification of the site as “Eoli” with the place where Alexander the Great was proclaimed king and where his great campaign in Asia began.

– “The interpretation of the building in question as a palace is not supported by its ruins,” which are documented as “numerous spacious menses (banquet halls), with their vestibules and service areas…developed around a peristyle courtyard, and there are no areas with another function,” while a second floor “where the administration areas would be located, is not documented by the findings.” Functions are attributed to the buildings “which nevertheless [characterize] democratic city-states and not Macedonia which was a kingdom, where the king had absolute power and the subjects did not participate in the commons…It could not, moreover, be the administrative seat of Philip II, since the capital of the kingdom was Pella.”

– “The building was neither particularly luxurious nor unique in size. It is described as “a construction of inferior materials, mainly of poor quality ashlars and crude bricks.” At the same time, it is not the “largest monument in Greece,” as the palace of Pella, the building of Lefkadia and the ‘Thersilion of Megalopolis’ are larger.”

– “The so-called palace of Vergina (Aigai), which according to the Ministry of Culture is superior to the Parthenon, propagandizes on myths, baseless interpretations and manipulation of the data, the implementation of a supposedly grandiose restoration project of national importance. However, it does not succeed in concealing the reality of this expensive and unfinished work and all the fundamental problems of Vergina’s narrative,” the announcement concludes.

Statements in Response

The Greek Ministry of Culture has yet to respond to these criticisms, but Dr. Kottaridis has published a letter of reply to ICOMOS in response to its Vergina restoration project criticisms.

The Honorary Antiquities Commissioner says in her letter: “Since yesterday, a press release of the Hellenic Department of the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) has been circulating in the media and on social media, which criticizes the Ministry of Culture, naming its officials, me personally and the engineering supervisors – and the specialist scientists in general—who have been involved in the implementation of the conservation-restoration project of the Palace of the Goats (monument registered in the UNESCO world cultural heritage list).

“The libel in question attempts to deconstruct the systematic work to highlight the cultural heritage of Macedonia which was enthusiastically received by the Greek and international public opinion, as shown by the publications of the international press, but also by the large number of visitors to the Polycentric Museum of Goats. It is worth noting that on Sunday, March 3rd, 5,500 visitors came, a number that shows the unique dynamics that is now developing at all levels.

“In the publication, political criticism, with obvious intentions, is mixed with scientific pseudo-arguments which, unfortunately, eloquently state the deep ignorance of its editors regarding the procedures of the co-financed projects (in this case ESPA/EPANEK) but also regarding the archaeological findings and the data of multi-year systematic scientific research of the Goats and the specific monument.”

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