Macedonian Philippi guarded the opening between the hill and marsh through which the Via Egnatia passed.
The ancient town was called Krenides (meaning 'Fountains') and was colonized by Thasos during the 6th century BC, was taken by local tribes, refounded in 361BC by Thasians led by the exiled Athenian Kallistratos, and conquered by Philip II of Macedon in 356 BC for its gold mines, and who renamed it for himself -hence 'Philippi'.
The city achieved its importance when the Via Egnatia was established as a military road. After the Battle of Philippi in 42BC the city was again refounded, this time by veterans of the battle by Octavian and was again renamed 'Colonia Julia Augusta Philippensis' in 27BC.
It was the easternmost town of Roman occupied Europe, with its port at Neopolis (New City). In 49AD St. Paul spent time at Philippi, where he first preached the gospel in Europe and where, with Silas, he was thrown into prison. He visited again six years later. It was from his prison in Rome in 64AD, or perhaps earlier, from Ephesus, that he wrote his Epistle to the Philippians, for whom he seemed to have a special liking. Christianity throve at Philippi, which had a large basilika by the 5th century AD. The cities was occupied by the Goths in 473. It was the seat of a Byzantine 'see' and remained so until 1619, when the see was transferred to Drama, though the city itself was deserted by around 950AD. The site has been excavated by the French school (1920-24 and since 1927).
The Forum remains are not much higher than the foundations. It was a paved rectangle of 99meters by 50meters, with porticos approached by steps on three sides. There were large fountains near a Tribune, monuments to citizens and emporers, two temples and a Library.
The Direkler church ('direkler' being the Turkish word for pillars or piers) is also known as Basilika B. It represents one of the failures that occurred during the transition from the true basilika to the cruciform domed church, when the 6th century architect covered the east end with a brick cupola, the east wall collapsing under the weight, even before the altar could be assembled, so that this sanctuary was never dedicated, and only the narthex could be later converted in the 10th century, to be used for worship.
The west end, which was still standing in 837 when the Bulgars invaded, leaving an inscription carved in it, also fell. The pillars made of old masonry, have interesting capitals with acanthus leaf decoration. Fragments of the fallen dome remained.
A covered market and most of a Palaestra were destroyed so that the basilika could be built there, with much of the material reused for the church. Below the southeast corner, though, an enormous Public Latrine survived almost completely intact, and is reached via descending stairs and a double portal. Of the 50 marble seats that were there, many survive and are still in place.
The Roman Baths, built in 250AD, were destroyed by fire not long afterward, and their mosaics destroyed by the Bulgarians in 1941-5. since 1960, Professor Pelekanides has carried out excavations of the Forum (below), unearthed remains of an octagonal church , of similar style and dimensions with that of San Vitale of Ravenna, with the difference that her the octagon is inscribed in a square.
It had an inner colonnade with 20 columns on seven sides, with a marble screen closing the bema on the eighth.
From the Via Egnatia, a monumental gate lead to it. On its north side was a Batistery near the Baths.
A Macedonian tomb beneath this church has yielded gold finds, and the massive stone at its entrance has remained where it was in ancient times. An even earlier octagonal structure was on the same site, and before that a 4th century basilika dedicated to St. Paul.
The building on the north side of the road is known as Basilika A, which was erected around 500AD on a constructed terrace, most likely destroyed by an earthquake during the same century, and used as a quarry afterwards.
A stairway leads up to the terrace, and half-way up is the Crypt said to have been the prison of St. Paul, to which a chapel and frescoes were later added, with scenes of his life.
The foundations of a Hellenistic temple on this terrace were conversted into a cistern.. and a huge paved Atrium extended to the church, with fountains and three porticos. The Baptistery is well preserved, with a mosaic floor and is separate from the church itself, which is has three entryways, and is an aisled basilika with east transepts and semi circular apse, comparable in size with Aghios Demetrios in Thessaloniki.
Inside, one can spot an Ambo and the Screen. An unusual feature in the east wall is that it had two doors. To the west, near the museum, a third basilika was found in 1963. The churches are open in summer Tues-Sun 8am-7pm;winter Tues-Sun 8am-3pm; 3 euros admission. If you continue in the same direction around the base of a hill , you will see a theater below you that is cut into its side. Though it dates from the times of the first town, the Roman remodeled it as an amphitheater. On the left of the stage are bas reliefs of Nemesis, Mars, and Victory dating from this period. The theater is now used for performances during the annual Phlippi-Thassos festival.
The Museum , is above the road and to the west of the entrances to the Forum and Basilika. Outside are Early Christian mosaics taken from a country house at Pigyes tis Voranis near Bournabasi as well as architectural fragments from Philippi. Finds from the French School's Neolithic site at Dikili Tach are in the vestibule, while the main ground floor room exhibits are from the Early Christian period at Philippi, including fine capitals and other architectural items, many with sculptural decoration.
There are also a mosaic, inscriptions and a case with coins from the octagonal church excavations. Finds froom Sitagroi are in the alcove at the far end. Upstairs are Roman finds from the site, Nike figures, and an Athena from a temple in the Forum. There are also finds from Roman tombs, including glass an pottery.
Getting up to the acropolis (311 meters) requires a steep climb (on a path from the museum), but the views from up there give a good overall perspective of the site.
The remains there are mostly medieval, include three massive towers built on the ruins of the Macedonian walls.
The hill also features abundant dragonflies and butterflies. On the way up are the ruins of a Sanctuary of Egyptian Deities (Isis, Serapis, Harpokrates).