Beyond the Ruins at the Archeological Site of Philippi, Greece

The UNESCO listed Archeological site of Philippi preserves and exhibits the remains of three diverse periods of Greek history that span 1600 years – Hellenistic, Roman and Christian.

the archeological site of Philippi

Last Updated on 06/24/22 by Rose Palmer

All parents hope that their children will be more successful than they are. But in Philip II of Macedonia’s case, his achievements are always overshadowed by one of Europe’s most notable historical figures, Alexander the Great. During my visit to Greece, it seemed that every discussion about the Macedonian king always started with ” Philip, the father of Alexander the Great, …..”

Maybe it was because I was not Greek that locals felt they had to always make this qualification. My world history classes certainly discussed the military achievements of Alexander, but how much had I learned about his father Philip? I certainly could not recall anything.

To modern day Greeks however, Philip is as important a historical figure as his world renowned son. It was Philip II of Macedon who is credited with unifying (read conquering) the Greek city states which laid the foundations for the country that is Greece today.

Throughout my Greece road trip, I encountered many historical sites where Phillip II had left his mark in one way or another. None are more historically significant than the UNESCO World Heritage listed Archeological Site of Philippi.

Building remains seem to be strewn half hazardly throughout the site
Building remains seem to be strewn half hazardly throughout the site

From my home base at the Philoxenia Hotel on the Sithonia peninsula in the Halkidiki region of Greece, it was an easy 2 hour drive through the Greek countryside to the ruins at Philippi. This area of Greece is the country’s breadbasket and I passed fields of cotton, groves of kiwi and olive trees and fields of wheat.

I used Google maps for my driving directions and reached the archaeological site and its ticket office without any problems.

Discovering the ancient city of Philippi

This excavated heritage site is huge, befitting a city that King Philip called home. Add to that the layers and centuries of Hellenistic, Roman and Christian occupation, and all that adds up to a lot of acreage to see and explore.

Map of the Archeological Site of Philippi
Map of the Archeological Site of Philippi

The city of Philippi was established in what was then a swampy marshland by settlers from the island of Thassos in 360 BCE and was originally called Krinides. Fearing an invasion by Thracians, the Thassians appealed to Philip for help. No fool he, and seeing a great financial opportunity in the local gold and silver mines, he promptly occupied the city, improved its fortifications, enlarged it and named it after himself.

One of the few elements still visible from Philip’s reign is the ancient theatre, which is the first structure that you come to after entering the gate. Originally built in the 4th century BCE, what stands today is a remodel by the Romans to better fit their spectacles, games and animal fights.

Today, the restored theater is still used for an annual summer festival that usually takes place in July and August.

Though the city was established by the Greeks and thrived for a few hundred years under the Hellenistic period, the majority of what we see now is from later Roman and then Christian settlements. The Romans conquered the area in the 2nd century BCE and started remodeling to their standards.

Some of the ancient carvings can still be seen in the stone remnants
Some of the ancient carvings can still be seen in the stone remnants

However, it took another 200 years to put Philippi back in the Roman history books. In 44 ACE the city of Philippi was the scene of one of the most important and pivotal moments in the Roman power saga.

After the assassination of Julius Caesar, his successors Mark Antony and Octavian battled Caesar’s assassins Brutus (as in “et tu, Brute”) and Cassius. Antony and Octavian won, thus firmly locking in the future of a Roman Empire and ensuring the demise of the Roman Republic.

The Romans continued to develop the city as an important commercial colony in their empire. No doubt, its gold mines, and the fact that Philippi was situated on the Via Egnatia, one of the great commercial Roman roads that connected the East and the West, had much to do with its continued economic growth.

Today, looking out over the jumble of ruins that make up this world heritage site, and the apparent chaotic display of excavated stones that were at one time important public buildings, it can be hard to picture a once thriving metropolis.

Still, in the midst of all the mess, the Roman Forum is hard to miss. With its huge open square surrounded by columns, a few of which are still standing, the beating heart of the Roman city can easily be imagined.

Looking out toward the Roman forum in Philippi
Looking out toward the Roman forum in Philippi

Early in the first millennium, the third phase of Philippi’s incarnation started when Paul the Apostle visited the city in about 49 ACE. It is said that the apostle Paul baptized the first Europeans here and founded the first European Christian church in Philippi.

In the subsequent centuries, as the Roman empire and influence declined, Christianity grew and thrived in Philippi. Indeed, some of the better preserved structures of this ancient Greek city are the many Byzantine churches that once flourished here.

Not far from the theater are the remains of Basilica A built in the late 5th century ACE. This once large, three aisled basilica was destroyed in an earthquake and was never rebuilt.

The city continued to develop under Christianity in the 4th, 5th and 6th century ACE. Basilica B, which was built near the old Roman forum, was supposed to be comparable in size and beauty to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

Another important basilica is the Octagonal church, a unique structure in Greece. The building is a square on the outside, but eight sided on the inside. The wonderful floor mosaics are from an earlier church dedicated to the apostle Paul built in the 4th century.

The city of Philippi continued to survive (if not thrive) during the remaining years of the Byzantine period, despite the challenges of earthquakes and Slavic invaders. Still, the Ottoman conquest in the 14th century marked the end of the ancient city and it was eventually completely abandoned.

Besides the excavated ruins, there is also an interesting archaeological museum which displays findings from all three periods of Philippi’s history and is well worth a quick visit.

The Archaeological Museum at Philippi
The Archaeological Museum at Philippi

Greece has a lot of world heritage sites, and I was fortunate to be able to visit many of them on my two week road trip. I am glad I had a chance to add the city of Philippi to the list.

Tips for visiting the Archeological site of Philippi

  • Getting to Philippi was easy enough to do on my own, but, if you would rather not drive, there are tour options available from Thessaloniki and the nearby town of Kavala.
  • There is also a café at the entrance with outdoor seating where I enjoyed a snack and a drink before heading back to the hotel. It was nice to take a short break after all the walking.
  • I visited in September, and it was not too hot. If you are visiting in the warmer months, be sure to carry water and wear sun protection. There is very little shade.
  • The only restrooms are located at the café at the entrance to the site or at the museum on the opposite end of the site, so it could be quite a walk if you need one.
  • The ground is quite uneven in many areas so you will want to pay attention to where you step.


Other related stories about Greece you may enjoy:

Find the best beaches and sights in Sithonia: Discovering the Best Beaches in Sithonia Greece, With a Grain of History on the Side

How to visit the  Mt. Athos UNESCO site: How to Visit Mt. Athos Greece, Even if You are Female

My Blue Bay Hotel experience: My Perfect Two Day Halkidiki Resort Experience in Greece


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