Heraclea Lyncestis: Ancient Rome in Macedonia

Heraclea Lyncestis Amphitheatre

Standing atop a two- thousand year old amphitheatre, the once populous city burst to life before me: A woman collecting water from the well, vendors trying to sell their wares at the market, little kids playing around the city fountain.
Then the ringing of sword against shield. A misstep and the crowds erupt into a frenzy as their favourite gladiator falls into a heap.
The vision vanishes and I find myself overlooking the ancient ruins of Heraclea Lyncestis...

Heraclea Lyncestis
Pathway to the site
I first visited Heraclea Lyncestis in 2012, on my first sojourn to Bitola. Excited to see the well- preserved early Christian mosaics, I was sorely disappointed when on arrival; I was told that only a portion of a single mosaic was open. All the rest covered in stone or gravel as protection against the elements of the upcoming winter months. Oh well, I thought, maybe next time. The rest of the site was still a sight to behold.

Heraclea Lyncestis
My first visit in 2012
This time, I was prepared: I would see all the mosaics under a summer morning sun. I arrived an hour after the grounds opened, and already, there were tour buses lining the parking lot. Everyone had the same idea, and the area containing the mosaics was swamped. So I started my tour at the top of the amphitheatre which now hosts concerts in the summer months.

Heraclea Lyncestis
Stone steps leading up to the amphitheatre
Next, it was onto the museum which is held in the building that once served as a marketplace, and whose facade was recently reconstructed.
Heraclea Lyncestis
Reconstructed museum facade and amphitheatre

As excavation at the site is an ongoing process, I was shocked to find that most of the display cases in the museum were empty. In 2012, the shelves and cabinets were neatly lined with an array of artefacts- all labelled and numbered. Now, the few pieces that were left, offered little or no title.
Heraclea Lyncestis Museum

Heraclea Lyncestis Museum
2nd Century Tragedy Mask

Heraclea Lyncestis Museum
Athena Partenos 2nd to 3rd Cenruty

Still, it was interesting to see the tools and and pottery that people once used. Suddenly, hoards of people filed through the museum doors- which could only mean one thing: The mosaics were free!
Heraclea Lyncestis Museum
Heraclea Lyncestis Museum
Heraclea Lyncestis Museum

I followed a mostly undefined path to get to the mosaics. To view them, you actually have to walk along narrow stone walls sometimes joined together with sheets of corrugated metal. At its highest, the walls were probably a metre high, but, as you may already know, I’m allergic to heights, and my path was a slow and wobbly one.
Heraclea Lyncestis
Narrow stone walls
And then I saw it...

Layers and layers of gravel.  

NOT AGAIN!!!! Surely winter is too far away to already have the artworks covered?! Sigh...

But all was not lost, there were two whole mosaics open- and that’s more than I had previously seen.

Heraclea Lyncestis Mosaic

Heraclea Lyncestis Mosaic

Red and blue, black and white, swirls and waves, lions and peacocks- all still decorating the floor of the great basilica.
Heraclea Lyncestis Mosaic
The Bull and Lion
Heraclea Lyncestis Mosaic

Trees bursting with ripe fruit and a leopard having lunch- the mosaics were alive and vibrant.

Heraclea Lyncestis Mosaic
Leopard having lunch
Heraclea Lyncestis Mosaic Detail
Mosaic Detail
I was satisfied. But I would definitely like to see the other 9 mosaics someday. Maybe third time's a charm?

It is widely known that Heraclea Lyncestis was home to a population of about 30 000 people, and the excavated ruins represent only about 15% of the entire city.
Founded by Philip 2nd of Macedon, it was later part of the Roman Empire, and as with all great empires, one finds a rich tapestry of history. You can read about here.

I surveyed the rest of the area, and visited the city fountain, communal well, small basilica and courthouse- all in relatively good shape.

City Fountain at Heraclea Lyncestis
The City Fountain
Communal Well at Heraclea Lyncestis
The Communal Well
Small Basilica at Heraclea Lyncestis
The Small Basilica

Floor Detail of Small Basilica at Heraclea Lyncestis
Tiled floor of the Small Basilica
Courthouse at Heraclea Lyncestis
Statue in the Courthouse
The details are magnificent even after all these years and I look forward to the findings yet to be unearthed.

On my way out, I bumped into a staff member and he informed me that all eleven mosaics were open for viewing last year. As a way of preservation, they do not open all of them each year- which is quite understandable.
I would say I would call before visiting the next time, but for less than $2 USD, I would rather wander around the site absorbing all the history...
*If you're visiting Bitola or just passing through, Heraclea Lyncestis is definitely worth a visit.
*These are current prices and they may or may not change, so double- check before visiting.

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