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Formerly the co-capital of the Byzantine Empire, Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece. It is located in Northern Greece and is surrounded by low hills and facing the Thermaikos Gulf. It has a busy port that is complimented by a beautiful waterfront promenade.
This city has beautiful parks, many museums and even though it that has maintained a continuous history of 3,000 years, it has become a very modern city known for its nightlife, it’s shopping, its food and deserts as well as its ancient monuments. It is also home to many a Greek poet, writer, musician and philosopher.
With the combination of ancient ruins and the modern buildings this cosmopolitan city is said to be more attractive than the actual capital of Greece. Sometimes referred to as the Jewel of the North, Thessaloniki does not have many high rise buildings which is great for the city’s visitors and residents as there are sea vies from all over town. Thessaloniki has a lively café culture and many of the cafes and restaurants are found in the two main squares that sit on the waterfront.
Thessaloniki is famous for its White Tower, if you have seen photographs of Thessaloniki this is the tower you will have seen. It was built as part of the city’s walls and now stands alone on the waterfront. It has become the city’s most famous landmark.
This great city is provides it visitors with all the necessary facilities, copious accommodation options, sea views, beautiful old buildings, landmarks, Byzantine churches and much much more.
Thessaloniki was built in the area where ancient Therme stood. It was founded by King Kassandros in 315 BC. He named the city after his wife, who was a relation of Alexander the Great. By the 2nd century BC the city had become a protected city with walls built around it.
Like most of Greece Thessaloniki has been home to many a different civilization, because of its strategic position and its port that provides access to the Aegean and the Eastern Markets. There are cultural influences from the Turkish, the Jewish, the Serbians but also from the Ottoman, Byzantine and Roman Empire.
The Romans took over in 168 BC when the Kingdom of Macedon fell. The Romans took advantage of the position of the city and used it to connect the trading routes between Turkey and Albania as well as facilitating trade with Asia. They built a harbour (the famous “Burrowed Harbour”) that accommodated all the trade, up until the 18th century.
In 379, during the Byzantine Era, Thessaloniki became second only to Constantinople. During the Byzantine Era the city was subjected to a lot of violence. This included the invasion of by the Slavs and the Barbarians, which led to the slaughter of slaves and citizens. The city was only restored during the gradual recovery of the Byzantine power during the 10th, 11th and 12th Century. Due to its past, a strong Jewish community re-established itself in the 12th Century.
Thessaloniki moved into the hands of the Latin Empire in 1204 after flourishing financially as well as culturally under the Byzantine rule.
The city then changed hands between the Latin Empire, the Greeks, the Bulgarians and then back to the Byzantine Empire all between 1204 and 1246. The swapping of hands did not effect the growth of the city instead the city obtained a great intellectual and artistic reputation.
Thessaloniki was not left alone for long and it eventually was ruled by the Zealot Social Movement, who introduced progressive social ideas during their short rule.
The Byzantine Empire finally let go of the city in 1423 when they sold it to the Venetians, who lost the city after 7 years to the Ottoman Empire after a siege of 3 days. During the Empire’s rule the Muslims in the City eventually outnumbered the Greeks in the City. The Jewish community also grew significantly during their rule. Thessaloniki again was used because of its strategic position and became one of the most important cities within the Empire.
During the early 1900s a lot of Bulgarians moved into Thessaloniki and it became a hub for their political and cultural activity. The Ottoman Empire eventually gave into the Greek army in 1912 during the first Balkan War. In 1913 after the 2nd Balkan War Thessaloniki was named an integral city of Greece after the signing of the Treaty of Bucharest.
In 1917 Thessaloniki was set ablaze in what is now known as the “Great Thessaloniki Fire”. This single fire set alight thousands of homes, leaving in total 72,000 people homeless. Many Greeks then returned to the city for refuge from Asia Minor.
Thessaloniki also suffered largely from the bombings during the Second World War. However, the city recovered and was rebuilt quickly, leading it to eventually become the wonderful city that it is today.
You can see evidence of all the people that came through this area in the Modern city that stands today.
The White Tower
As we have already described above the White Tower is the city’s most famous landmark, so you will appreciate that this is something you have got to see. You can see it by walking along the waterfront but we would suggest that you go up to their rooftop café. From up there you can sip on a coffee or cocktail whilst enjoying a panoramic view of the city. You can also wonder into the Museum within the Tower housing artefacts from 300 AD to 1500 AB.
The Arch of Galerius & The Rotanda
The Arch is located in the Historical part of Thessaloniki. It was built in 305 AD to celebrate the defeat of the Persians. Unfortunately only a part of the monument still stands. It used to be an eight pillared gateway and now only two archways remain.
The Rotanda is located just a 100 metres or so from the Arch. This is a circular Church that was built approx 306 AD. It was originally built as a mausoleum for the Emperor Galerius but was then used as a Church and was embellished with lovely mosaics.
The Roman Forum
Originally a Greek Marketplace (Agora) which became a Roman Forum, this archaeological site is located close to the Diaksterion Square. It has an incredibly well preserved theatre which is still used for the occasional summer production.
Take the time to go up and visit the “Ano Poli” (upper town) or Old Town. It is a vantage point for magnificent views and as it was not destroyed by the famous fire in 1917 it is the Heritage listed area of Thessaloniki. It has cobble stone streets, old squares, lovely little tavernas, old Greek and Ottoman Houses and is surrounded by the city’s remaining walls. You can also access the Seich Sou Forest National Park from there. Wander up to the top of this city’s Acropolis and enjoy some time in Old Thessaloniki with endless views of the Gulf and if you are lucky views of Mount Olympus.
This city has numerous wonderful churches, both big and small and that were constructed during many different Eras. Many of the Churches are found in the ‘Ano Poli”. Some of the most important Churches around are the following:
“Agia Sofia” which is a copy of the “Agia Sophia” in Istanbul, it was built in the 8th Century AD.
The Church of Apostoli is rich in Byzantine decorations and dates back to the 14th century.
“Agios Nikolaos Orfanos” was also built in the 14th century and has beautiful frescoes.
Archaelogical Museum: Rumoured to be one of the best museums in Europe, this museum houses a huge collection of artefacts and incredible treasures. You will even get to see the Tomb of Alexander the Great’s Father. The collection includes exquisite mosaics, the only fully intact papyrus in Greece form the 3rd Century and various other great items.
Museum of Byzantine Culture: This museum has a permanent collection of items that give a visitor of the museum a good look at what the culture and art was like during the Byzantine Era. They also hold temporary exhibitions.
Museum of Contemporary Art: a very newly established Museum (est. in 1997), this Museum has a permanent exhibition of the George Costakis collection which consists mainly of Russian Avant-Grade Art Works. The Museum also houses Temporary exhibitions and provides educational programs.
Municipal Art Gallery of Thessaloniki: the exhibition is housed in a beautiful Edectic Style House and it includes 1,000 or so Art Works and they also regularly have other exhibitions. The Museum is located in a wonderful part of Thessaloniki with old buildings which is worth walking around.
THINGS TO DO
Mount Athos: We are afraid only men can visit this Sanctuary. It is approx. 130 km from Thessaloniki but if you would like to take a step back in time and stay in one of the most scenic places in Europe this is the place to visit. The Monastaries resemble castles in their enormity and structure. They have libraries, gorgeous frescoes and mosaics, amazing seashore and incredible gardens.
Mount Olympus: 77 km from Thessaloniki Mount Olympus, the tallest in Greece standing at close to 3000 metres, towers up into the sky. If you are up for a long walk and a viewing of very rich tree and plant life, you should visit Mount Olympus and at least have a glimpse of it. If you are feeling adventurous you can climb the whole way up, keep in mind it takes approx. two days.
Vergina: this small cluster of archaeological sites, includes a palace, a theatre and hundreds of burial mounds. The area in which they lie connects to the life of Phillip (Alexander the Great’s father). He built the palace and the theatre and was assassinated there.
There are no beaches that are in walking distance from Thessaloniki’s city centre. You will need to hire a car or jump on bus heading in the right direction. The coastline that runs along Thessaloniki and neighbouring areas is stunning and provides a number of options for people who want to have a swim.
Agia Triada- 26 km from Thessaloniki, this is a wonderful beach that has been awarded a Blue Flag. It is long and can get quite crowded in the summer.
Angelochori Beach- 30 km from Thessaloniki, here you can enjoy a nice swim or get active by doing some water sports such as Kite surfing.
Aretsou Beach- located very close to Thessaloniki this stretch of sand has cafes, restaurants etc.
Nei Epivates Beach- approx 24 km from Thessaloniki, this is a beach resort with 200 metres of sand to lie on.
There are number of other beaches you may want to visit but most are a bit further out from the city’s centre.
Being the second largest city in Greece the shopping here is how it is in most cities. There are a number of Shopping Malls, boutique shops, street shops, souvenir shops etc. There are places you can find pretty much anything. The city isn’t very large but there are great markets and local shops.
If you are looking for a few souvenirs and some nibbles start in the local food market and then for whatever else you are looking for we would suggest you start your search on Agia Sophia Street, Mitropoleos Street or in Aristotelous Square. You should also check out Tsimiski Street and the Proxenou and Koromilia Shopping Areas.
This city is known for its nightlife! Your nights out here will remain unforgettable. The options of where to go, what to listen to and what type of bar/club are numerous. As you are aware the clubs open around 11 and stay open until the early hours of the morning. You can find traditional Greek music in Bars or you could even visit the Bouzoukia, you can find house, rock, soul, jazz, and pretty much anything else. The liveliest areas for going out are Ladadika, Mylos, Nea Krini and Aretsou, you will find everything from clubs and bars to ouzeris and restaurants.
If you are in the mood for gambling there is also a casino you can visit which is about an hour’s drive form the centre out toward the airport.
WHERE TO WINE AND DINE
The options of where to eat in Thessaloniki are also numerous. You can choose to eat down by the waterfront, in town or up by the castle walls in “Ano Poli”. It all depends what you are looking for. The area of town that accommodates more for the younger crowd is around Aristotelous square, the square has various cafes and restaurants. If you are looking for ouzeris and meze you should wander down to Ionos Dragoumi.
The food in Thessaloniki in general is of good value and of a good quality. You should try the Bougatsa’s with cheese, potatoes etc and their large souvlakia. The cuisine in this city is largely influenced by the East due to the occupation of the Ottoman Empire.
Thessaloniki is famous for a number of sweets and pastries so don’t miss the chance to try them. You have to try their traditional sweet Bougatsa (cream pie), Trigona panoramas (pastry filled with chocolate or vanilla cream) and Tsoureki (sweet bread).
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