Macedonia: Heraclea Lyncestis

What?
Ruins of an ancient Greco-Roman city founded by Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great.

Why visit?
Unlike most other ancient cities, Heraclea Lyncestis (Heraclea for friends) comes with celebrity endorsement. How many other cities can claim they were founded by Philip II of Macedon, whose son Alexander (Alex for friends) went on to conquer half the known world?

But the real draw at Heraclea are the mosaics. Nor Philip, nor Alexander had anything to do with them, but they are among the best you will find in the Mediterranean, full of life, animals, complicated geometric patterns, and colour.
Where?
Just a short walk south of the Macedonian town of Bitola. Map.


MACEDONIANS ARE KEEN to play up any links with Alexander the Great and his dad, if only to justify the name of their country (which, as you probably know, is still disputed by the Greeks who think it was stolen from them.)

So it's no surprise that the founding of Heraclea Lyncestis (there are a few other Heracleas around- Lyncestis is a reference to the name of the region, Lyncestia, before Philip came, saw and conquered it) by Philip II gets pride of place in most descriptions of the place. (Alexander himself founded some 20 cities- all named after himself. It must have been a family tradition.)

However, screw Philip. He, nor his son Alexander, do not leave anything worth mentioning at Heraclea.

After the ancient Macedonians founded the city, it became Greek and then Roman. And when the Roman empire became Christian and split itself in two, Heraclea became a Byzantine, Christian city.
The small basilica- the roof is gone, the floor is still there. 
Having converted to Christianity, the Heracleans wanted to demonstrate their loyalty to the new faith and quickly built a few churches to replace whatever pagan temples they had. And although the religion had changed, the art had not ,so the first basilicas in Heraclea came with Roman mosaic floors that are simply stunning.

It's hard to believe people walked all over this art, but they did (and because the security and set-up at Heraclea is kinda lackadaisical, it's easy enough to accidentally end up strolling on these mosaics- try not to, if you can...)

These technicoloured mosaics, dating back to the 4th-6th century,  are pretty wild: hallucinogenic geometric patterns as well as a variety of flora and fauna that would have made a Roman hunter salivate.  





The majority of these floor mosaics are part of the Great Basilica and the Episcopal Palace (the bishop had an expensive taste in floor decoration...) 
The Great Basilica's floor with the Amphitheatre in the background. 

Apart from the churches and the mosaics, there are a few other minor attractions. 

There's a Roman amphitheatre, which, like most of Heraclea, was only dug up in the late 20th century. It's got a nice setting, but probably only ranks no higher than #17 in my list of Roman Amphitheatres (Minor Sights has seen a few...)
Greek inscriptions (ring-side advertising?) on the benches of the theatre. 
There is also a small museum with an even smaller collection of artifacts. Next to it is an interesting fountain, which used to provide the town with fresh water. Give them all a quick look, and then go back to the mosaics for another lookover, as you're unlikely to see anything like them anytime soon! Oh, and don't miss the trash cans...


Heraclea's Ancient Roman trash cans are based on a 2000 year old design...
Strolling Širok Sokak
Having satiated your need for ancient art, head over to Bitola proper where you can satiate your thirst for a drink (alcoholic or otherwise). The main drag, Širok Sokak, is a delight to wander and full of cafes. 

Getting there:
Heraclea is walking distance from the center of Bitola. And a pleasant walk it is too- mostly through a shaded city park.  Or take a taxi for the equivalent of €1.50

Useful links:
Heraclea Lyncestis on Exploring Macedonia.

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