Our next stop was the site of the ancient city of Philippi, which caught me by surprise. The site is not nearly as developed as some of the other sites we visited. With the exception of a few places cordoned off for active excavation, we were allowed to roam freely across the site. What is remarkable about ancient Philippi is the number of very large Christian churches built around the fifth century.
Philippi has had its share of fame. It was built along the ancient Roman trade route called the Via Egnatia, which stretched from Rome to Constantinople (Istanbul). Remains of this route can still be found in the northern Greek region of Macedonia. About the year 50 AD, a new era was about to dawn on this city. Christianity had been spreading rapidly across the Middle East, down to Africa, and up through Asia Minor. One of Christianity’s foremost missionaries, the Apostle Paul, was in Troas (formerly Troy)– just across the water from Neapolis (present day Kavala). At night, Paul received a vision telling him to “step over into Macedonia and help us”.
Paul along with Luke and Silas got on a boat and made the trip, passing the island of Samothrace and then on to Neapolis. Taking the Via Egnatia, Paul and his companions travelled the 15 kilometers further to Philippi. It was Philippi that had the claim of being the first European city to hear the message of Christianity.
Philippi also entertained great names of history like Mark Antony, Octavian, Brutus and Cassius as they faced off in the marshlands west of Ancient Philippi in the “Battle of Philippi”. This city was known as being the gateway to Europe and it is not surprising that Philippi played a large role in changing the direction of the Roman Republic.
Philippi is also interesting from a Christian perspective. Here you can follow in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul as Christianity was first spread to Europe through Philippi.
Our guide introduced us specifically to the octagonal church of St. Paul with its magnificent mosaic floor, complete with the signature of the artist! We were also able to see where Paul had been imprisoned.
The difference between Thessaloniki and Philippi could hardly be more stark. One has grown into a massive living city; the other is an abandoned ruin.
We continued on to Kalambaka (Meteora) where we had dinner and stayed the night at Hotel Meteoritis . Along the way we caught glimpses of the Meteora Monasteries that we would visit the next day! That’s next in Part 4!
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