Salonica, bears a great history, shards of which pop out every other corner during a long stroll.
Thessaloniki is one of the largest cities in Greece and is the capital city of Macedonia. It was first established in 316 B.C. by Kassandros and is named after his wife of the same name, who was the slightly less famous sister of Alexander the Great.
It is here that Paul, the Apostle, first delivered the biblical messages of Christ around the year 50 A.D, and that Demetrius, a Roman officer died in martyrdom, making him the holy patron saint of the city. Thessaloniki became the second most important city in the Byzantine Empire, next to Constantinople.
The White Tower is Thessaloniki’s most well-recognized landmark. Standing near the waterfront, it is no longer white; its name dates back to the early 20th century when it was whitewashed to wash out its bloody past. A massive massacre had taken place in the tower in 1826, during the domination of Ottoman Sultan Mahmud. Nowadays a small museum and a caf? are housed inside its grounds.
The Roman remains of Galerius Rotunda, Galerius Palace and the Arch of Galerius sit by the two sides of Egnatia Avenue. Little is left from the Roman Emperor’s palace, but the Rotunda, which was initially constructed to be his mausoleum, is quite well-preserved. The large circle structure was never used as a tomb after all; however, it served as the city’s first Christian church, as well as a mosque during Ottoman era. Today the square beside the Rotunda becomes lively in the evenings, as it is a meeting spot for Thessalonian youth.
The nearby Arch of Galerius was erected at the beginning of 3rd century to celebrate the emperor’s triumph over the Persians. Not far from Galerius’ structures, you will come across the ruins of the Roman Forum, where you can admire some of the interesting floor mosaics.
Thessaloniki’s Archaeological Museum is a must-see for any visitor. If you are on a strict schedule, go straight for the “Gold of Macedon” exhibit. Fascinating jewellery and other artefacts retrieved from royal tombs, from the period between 6th and 2nd century BC, are on display here. The rest of the museum houses collections which cover prehistoric times to Hellenistic period.
Ano Poli (Upper Town) and Acropolis
Acropolis, also known as Eptapyrgio, or Yedi Koule, refers to the upper part of the city which includes a Venetian castle with seven towers. Currently serving as a cultural center, the castle used to house the city’s prison from the 18th century until 1988. The municipal area between the Acropolis and Aggiou Dimitriou Street, Ano Poli, features scenic narrow backstreets, charming houses of the early 20th century and lovely backyards.
Three ancient churches, which are included in Unesco’s World Heritage List, are located here. Church of Nikolaos Orfanos dates back to the 4th century, boasting some fascinating frescos. The relics of Saint Dimitrios are hidden in an underground crypt of a church of the 5th century, which took after his name. Church of Osios David was used for the secret baptism of Galerius’ daughter. Dating back to the 5th century, the church still features well-preserved mosaics and some posterior frescos.
Within the area of the Turkish Consulate one will find the house of Kemal Ataturk. Born in Thessaloniki, the Turkish progressive leader lived his early childhood in the city before he left for Istanbul. The house he was born in has now been transformed into Kemal Ataturk’s Museum, bearing the original furnishing of his family.
The Modern City of Thessaloniki
Today, Thessaloniki is a modern and well traveled city, popular with most tourists to Greece. It has big avenues, parks, monumental squares, lines of trees and ostentatious store windows. The housing is a mixture of both old style neoclassical dwellings and modern apartment blocks. There are a huge range of up-market taverns, old style restaurants serving traditional and Greek national dishes, cinema halls and theaters, with a diverse range of shopping options that please all tourists. There are lots of small, family run, pastry shops, cafes and taverns that offer traditional Macedonian food and drinks at very reasonable prices. There are also a huge number of outdoor ice cream carts, offering reasonably expensive ice creams and drinks to any passers by.
After visiting the inner city you can take a very quiet stroll through the charming streets of the upper city, known as Ano-Poli. This is a family area where children play in the streets with no fear of being hit by a car or anything like that. Cars cannot access this area and it is a great place to enjoy a quiet cup of coffee or a long walk. The fragrance of wild flowers and herbs fills the dusk air. This really is one of the most beautiful areas in Thessaloniki.
It is worth visiting the two concert Halls, the National Theater, National Orchestra, the Society for Macedonian Studies, the Foundation for the Emos Peninsula Studies and the unique Foundation for Patristic Studies, the University Institutes, the International Trade Fair of Thessaloniki grounds and the Macedonian Press Agency.
The forest, a massive park and the sites of Hortiatis, Panorama and Oreokastro are worth a visit. There are a variety of fishing villages and small towns that are definitely worth visiting, as well as the very popular beaches, called: Aretsou, Perea, Nei Epivates, Agia Triada, Nea Mihaniona, Epanomi. Asprovalta by the Thermaikos gulf offers a special atmosphere and one of the most breathtaking and unforgettable sunsets in the world. The quiet Taverns will ensure that you are well fed and full of booze, to make your stay just that little bit more memorable.
Thessaloniki was founded by Cassander, king of Macedonia, on top of prehistoric settlements in the year 316 B.C.
Apart from the obvious Turkish residents, who lived here for the best part of 500 years, there were also Slavs, Albabians and the largest European Jewish community of the period that took residence here. During the second world war, all but a small fraction of these people (not only the Jews), were deported by the Nazis to concentration camps.
Located on the shores of the Thermaikos Gulf, Thessaloniki is split into two areas, the modern city, and the old town areas. Obviously, the old town area is where you will find all of the historical monuments and tourist sites. It is mostly Byzantine churches and old style royal dwellings that you will see, because that is what Thessaloniki is famous for.
You can catch a glimpse of Old Salonica in the walled Kastra quarter of the city, on the hills past the modern grid of streets. In the more modern areas of the city you will see new architecture and grand housing designs that will impress you, whether you are looking for that kind of thing or not.
The Thessalonian metro system is under construction and estimated to open in 2016. However, a comprehensive bus network serves the city quite efficiently. Additionally, several points of interest are within walking distance from one another.