I would not have imagined before this trip that I would find myself wandering freely amongst ancient buildings, mosaics and the precious and beautiful finds found amongst them entirely unsupervised and left to my own devices. Heraklea Lyncaestis, near the city of Bitola, is a smaller archaeological site than Stobi but well worth the visit and a detour from Ohrid if you are travelling there.
We visited on a Saturday when there was only one man working, he gave us a presentation on the site's history and then left us to explore on our own. We had to pay extra to take photographs and the souvenir shop wasn't open, but to wander around with the entire ancient city to yourself was an unforseen treat.
The city was situated on the Via Ignatia and is said to have been founded in the 4th century B.C. by Philip II, father of Alexander the Great. Named after Hercules (yes, that one, but also the father of the ancient Macedonian royal dynasty) and the early Macedonian tribe Lyncests, the city being situated in their region, Heraklea is the best preserved Ancient Macedonian Empire site in the country.
Part of the site is situated on either side of an ancient road, some of the large stones of which remain, with a bath house and a courthouse situated on it. From then on, navigating the site became complicated as the signs, although there were signs, appeared to point everywhere at once and were contradictory. Viewing the site somewhat from above afterwards (on top
of the museum building) we assumed that we were meant to walk along the tops of the walls, but I don't even know if that is right. We picked our way carefully amongst the ruins and the beautiful uncovered mosaics with their astonishingly vibrant colours and if we did something wrong there was no one around to tell us off.
From the buildings, the path, such as there was one, led into an on-site museum which was also unsupervised and which housed some of the finds from the site, including a peacock mosaic, glassware, figurines and coinage. Exiting the museum, you are let out to the large and rather impressive theatre. The uncovered portions of the site are apparently only a
fraction of what is there, the rest remains buried under nearby fields.
While in Bitola, the Bitola Museum is very worthy of a visit and very near Heraklea. It, too, contains finds from Heraklea as well as other sites, dating from an enormous tooth that predates all us humans looking at it, all the way through prehistoric, Roman, Ancient Macedonian, medieval and 19th century history (this more focussed on the rich
history of the city). You could lose an hour or two amongst these displays. There is also a wing of the museum dedicated to Ataturk, who attended military high school in the very building which houses the museum. Nearby is Bitola's famous avenue which is very long and pictureque, being lined with old buildings that are being preserved. Much opportunity for shopping and dining.
If you own or manage Heraclea, register now for free tools to enhance your listing, attract new reviews, and respond to reviewers.