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Alexander III of Macedon, better known as Alexander the Great, single-handedly changed the nature of the ancient world in little more than a decade. His achievements were so great that he became the inspiration for later conquerors such as Hannibal the Carthaginian, the Romans Pompey and Caesar, and more recently, Napoleon.

Alexander was born in Pella, the ancient capital of Macedonia in July 356 BC. His parents were Philip II of Macedon and his wife Olympias. 

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Alexander was educated by the philosopher Aristotle, and he spent his childhood watching his father transforming Macedonia into a great military power, winning victory after victory on the battlefields throughout the Balkans. 

In 340, when Philip assembled a large Macedonian army and invaded Thrace, he left his 16 years old son with the power to rule Macedonia in his absence as regent, which shows that even at such young age Alexander was recognized as quite capable.  

But as the Macedonian army advanced deep into Thrace, the Thracian tribe of Maedi bordering north-eastern Macedonia rebelled and posed a danger to the country.  Alexander assembled an army, led it against the rebels, and with swift action defeated the Maedi, captured their stronghold, and renamed it after himself to Alexandropolis.  Two years later in 338 BC, Philip gave his son a commanding post among the senior generals as the Macedonian army invaded Greece.

 His father Philip was assassinated in 336 BC and Alexander inherited a powerful yet volatile kingdom. Once he ascended on the Macedonian throne, Alexander quickly disposed of all of his domestic enemies by ordering their execution. He quickly reasserted Macedonian power within Greece and then set out to conquer the massive Persian Empire.

Map of Alexander the Great's Empire
Against overwhelming odds, he led his army to victories across the Persian territories of Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt without suffering a single defeat. His greatest victory was at the Battle of Gaugamela, in what is now northern Iraq, in 331 BC. The young king of Macedonia, leader of the Greeks, overlord of Asia Minor and pharaoh of Egypt became 'great king' of Persia at the age of 25.

Over the next eight years, in his capacity as king, commander, politician, scholar and explorer, Alexander led his army a further 11,000 miles, founding over 70 cities and creating an empire that stretched across three continents and covered around two million square miles. The entire area from Greece in the west, north to the Danube, south into Egypt and as far to the east as the Indian Punjab, was linked together in a vast international network of trade and commerce. This was united by a common Greek language and culture, while the king himself adopted foreign customs in order to rule his millions of ethnically diverse subjects.

Alexander was acknowledged as a military genius who always led by example, although his belief in his own indestructibility meant he was often reckless with his own life and those of his soldiers. The fact that his army only refused to follow him once in 13 years of a reign during which there was constant fighting, indicates the loyalty he inspired.

Shortly before beginning of the planned Arabian campaign, he contracted a high fever after attending a private party at his friend's Medius of Larisa.  

As soon as he drank from the cup he “shrieked aloud as if smitten by a violent blow”. The fever became stronger with each following day to the point that he was unable to move and speak. 

 The Macedonians were allowed to file past their leader for the last time before he finally succumbed to the illness on June 7, 323 BC in the Macedonian month of Daesius. 

Alexander the Great, the Macedonian king and the great conqueror of Persian Empire, died at the age of 33 without designating a successor to the Macedonian Empire. 

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Villa Adriana at Tibur - now known as Tivoli, is so-called because it is named after Publius Aelius Traianus Hadrianus Augustus - the Emperor of Rome from 117 to 138. 

Built almost 2000 years ago, Hadrian's Villa  was created with the purpose of being Hadrian's retreat from Rome, and in its day was the greatest Roman example of an Alexandrian garden - a recreation of an ancient and sacred landscape. During the later years of his reign, Hadrian actually governed the empire from this villa.

Unfortunately, most of what was here is now largely lost, partly due to the ruins being plundered by the Cardinal d'Este who had much of the marble removed to build his own palace at Villa d'Este.

While the gardens haven't survived, there was enough evidence in what remained of the original layout to inspire the great renaissance gardens. 

The renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned the period roughly from the 14th to the 17th century.

It began in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spread to the rest of Europe.

Built around the same time as his famous wall which separated Roman England from the wild lands of Scotland, Villa Adriana was destined to be his Palace, his Court, and the military headquarters for Rome's vast empire.

The Emperor Hadrian travelled more widely than any other Emperor, and his gardens were directly inspired by ancient Greek and Egyptian architecture and mythology.

After Hadrians death, the villa was used by his various successors. However, during the decline of the Roman Empire the villa fell into disuse and was partially ruined. 

For centuries these ruins at Villa Adriana were ignored, and it wasn't until the beginning of the Renaissance - when people began to take an interest in classical Greek and Roman culture, architecture and literature - that they realised that something special was hidden here.

Gradually, the statues, columns and water features found at Villa Adriana became highly valued both as prized possessions, and examples of high art. 

Unfortunately, as soon as they became valuable enough, they were often removed/stolen/excavated or sold on the open market or more likely, behind closed doors.

As such, elements of Roman art and archaeology were included in the designs of the new renaissance gardens - the very latest fashion of the wealthy European aristocracy. 

So prized were these Roman antiquities that it wasn't uncommon for privately funded expeditions to be sent out to Italy from across Europe to secure what they could for their wealthy benefactors.

To the renaissance man, the most exciting part of this sprawling site was the gorgeous Canopus. 

The statues that line the huge, colonnaded pool are borrowed designs from the caryatids found in the Parthenon, Athens, and they culminate in a large banqueting hall complete with an impressive, domed opening.

The canopus was important to great renaissance artists and architects, and were visited by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michaelangelo. 

Why? Because they were looking for both inspiration and measurement. 

More specifically, they believed that the architecture here held the secrets to the 'magic' formula that would enable them to create perfect proportions in art and architecture.


Pompeii is one of the worlds most fascinating and historical UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It was founded around the 7th–6th century BC by the Osci or Oscans, a people of central Italy, on what was an important crossroad between Cumae, Nola and Stabiae.

Deserted streets of Pompeii
Situated about about 8 kilometres away from Mount Vesuvius, it covers a total area of 163 acres, and in its day was a major city in the Italian region of Campania. 

Pompeii is currently found some distance inland, but in ancient times it would have been very near to the coast.

Pompeii first came into existence as little more than a group of small farms, but by its heyday, approximately 2000 years ago, Pompeii had grown into a thriving market town.

Its wealthiest citizens owned beautiful, multi-story homes which were luxuriously decorated in the very latest fashions.

Every grand house in Pompeii was built with an atrium - a paved courtyard. Its roof drained rainwater into a central pool known as an impluvium, which overflowed into a buried cistern. This also provided the house with drinking water.

Roman impluvium with grate leading to buried cistern
However, not everyone in Pompeii lived in a large house. As the city grew, poorer families rented tiny flats in apartment blocks known as cenacula. 

Few of the apartment had kitchen and so families often had to resort to eating street food from the many food bars found along the road side. 

During this period the bustling streets would echoed to the sound of foreign voices as Greek merchant ships used the port as a popular and profitable trading post.

In 89 BC, the city of Pompeii was approached by the Roman army as a show of authority, but the residents of Pompeii refused to let them past the city walls and subsequently rebelled. 

Of course they were easily defeated and as a warning to others Rome made Pompeii a colony and then converted it into a settlement for retired soldiers.

Vesuvius erupting
The city was hit by a major earthquake in 62 AD. Many of the city's wealthiest people left and the town was still in a state of disrepair for years afterwards. 

Tremors were part of normal life for the years after the earthquake. 

However, life as the Pompeiians knew it was about to come to an end when Mount Vesuvius erupted on the morning of the 24th August 79 AD.

Pompeii was buried under twelve different layers of volcanic material to a maximum depth of 25 meters.

After these thick layers of ash covered the town, Pompeii was abandoned and eventually its name and location was forgotten. 

The first time any part of Pompeii was unearthed was in 1599, when the digging of an underground channel to divert the river Sarno ran into ancient walls covered with paintings and inscriptions.

The architect Domenico Fontana was called in and he unearthed a few more frescoes, but he covered them over again, and nothing more came of the discovery. 

A wall inscription had mentioned a decurio Pompeii  - 'the town councillor of Pompeii' - but the fact that it indicated the name of an ancient Roman city hitherto unknown was missed.

Luckily, it was rediscovered almost 150 years later in 1748 by the Spanish engineer, Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre. 
Plater casts of the fallen citizens of Pompeii

The now excavated town offers a snapshot of Roman life in the 1st century, frozen at the moment it was buried.

The objects that lay beneath the city have been well preserved for thousands of years because of the lack of air and moisture. 

These artefacts provide an extraordinarily detailed insight into the life of a city during the Roman period.

Uniquely, and perhaps rather grizzly, bodies of the Pompeii citizens were found during the excavations.

At the time plaster was used to fill in the voids between the ash layers that once held the human bodies. This now allows us to see the exact position the person was in when they died.

 Don't mistake these human shapes for simple plaster castes because they are not. Within the casings are the skeletal remains still exist!

Look carefully and you can see the evidence for yourself.

Pompeii attracts more than 2.5 million tourists a year and is Italy's second most visited attraction after the Colosseum in Rome.

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