Thessaloniki (520 km. north of Athens) is the second largest town of Greece and the most important centre of the area. Built near the sea (at the back of the Thermaïkos Gulf), it is a modern metropolis bearing the marks of its stormy history and its cosmopolitan character, which give it a special beauty and charm.
Take a tour in the centre of Thessaloniki and plan to visit its nearby destinations. Also, while being in Thessaloniki it is worth going up to Halkidiki.
The Centre of Thessaloniki
Aristotelous Square, the city’s most central square boasting monumental mansions. The Ebrar Committee designed it after the devastating fire of 1917. It is one of the biggest and most impressive squares in Greece offering a view of Thermaikos Gulf. Under clear skies, you can see the Olympus massif in the far distance from the Square.
Stroll down Nikis Avenue across the seafront, extending from the city’s Port (to the W) up to the Statue of Alexander the Great (in the E), lined with many cafés, bars and stores. It is one of the most popular promenade areas for locals and visitors alike.
The White Tower (Lefkós Pýrgos) is the city’s landmark.The 33.9 m. high fortified cylinder tower measuring 22.7 m. in diameter was built under Suleiman I the Magnificent in the 16th century. It was part of the city’s fortification and was later used by the Turks as a place of execution (it was called Kanli Kasteli which means “tower of blood”). It goes by its current name since the 19th century. Inside the Tower, there is an exhibition on Thessaloniki’s history, from its establishment until 1922.
Visit the Palace of Galerius, comprising the Octagon (the throne chamber) and admire its renowned mosaics, the Galerius arch, known as Kamára, built in 305 BC and the imposing Rotunda, the circular dome roofed building with impressive Early Christian mosaics (late 4th century).
Another site worth visiting is the Ancient Agóra (Market place), a trading placefrom the 3rd century BC until the 5th century AD. Discoveries include the city’s Agora, the Mint, the Odeion, a hall beleived to have been housing the city archives, a part of Valaneio with baths, a tavern and a whore-house, along with many smaller finds. There is an ancient temple and Early Christian tombs (4th -7th century) located under 3rd September Street.
Another place to visit is the Byzantine Bath, close to Koule Kafe Square, dating back to the late 13th century, a rare discovery site of Byzantine Baths. There are also mosques worth visiting such as the Ishak Pasha Mosque (1484), situated close to Kassandrou Street and the Hamza Bey Mosque(1467) having been destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt in 1620. The latter is situated at the junction of Egnatia and Venizelou Streets. Bezesténi is located in the Market centre (Venizelou & Solomou Streets) and used to be the trading place for luxurious textiles. It is a rectangular building with four entrances, built in the late 15th century. The city’s turkish baths include Bey Hamam (1444) on Egnatia Street, Pasha Hamam(1520), Bazaar Hamam and Yeni Hamam. Go for a walk in Kapani and Modiano markets and experience the city’s scents, perfumes and colours.
Don’t forget to visit the Harbour, the Customs houseand the warehouses(1910). The buildings have been modified to be used as venues forthe International Film Festival and to house the Cinema Museum and the Photography Museum.
Another very interesting place to see is the Royal Theatre, a 1940 building, nowadays the seat of the National Theatre of Northern Greece. This three-storey building boasts luxurious halls and in it there is one of the most high-tech stages in Europe. It is located on the White Tower Square. Also, the Young Men’s Christian Association of Thessaloniki (XANΘ), on the YMCA square, and the OTE (Hellenic Telecommunications Organisation) Tower (1969) are located in the premises of the Thessaloniki International Trade Fair.The view from the top of the tower is magnificent.
Make sure to visit Ladádika, the historic neighbourhood, close to Aristotelous Square, that was saved from the 1917 fire.The renovated buildings have in the recent years been converted into restaurants and night clubs.
The city’s central streets namely Mitropóleos, Tsimiski, Ermoú and Egnatia are lined with shops, awaiting customers. As you are visiting the city centre, notice theelite art nouveau buildings and mansions located there as well as the Holocaust Victims Monument dedicated to the memory of the Greek Jews of Thessaloniki who were exterminated by the Germans during the German Occupation.
The Old City (Ano Polis), in which many notable examples of Ottoman and traditional Macedonian architecture still stand, alongside humble dwellings put up by the refugees who reached Thessaloniki in droves, after the Greek defeat in Asia Minor, in 1922.
The traditional markets: the Modiano, which is housed in a rectangular building of 1922, with pedimented facade and glass roof, the Kapani or Vlalis market, Athonos Square and the ‘Louloudadika’ (literally flower market).
Monuments and buildings in the city
Mylos(literally mill). An old industrial complex, built in 1924, today have been remodelled to house cultural events and leisure activities, as well as the industrial buildings of the old FIX Brewery and the VILKA plant.
Lazarist monastery (1886) by the monastic order of the Brothers of Mercy, and now used for cultural events.
The Royal Theatre
Thessaloniki Concert Hall. A newly-built, magnificent yet austere, multipurpose venue for cultural and other events.
The YMCA Building, a building of 1924, with a mixture of Neocolonial and Byzantesque architectural elements.
During each year, Thessaloniki hosts significant cultural and commercial festivities, such as the Thessaloniki International Fair (every September), the International Thessaloniki Film Festival (every November) and the International Book Fair (every May).
The ancient forum (dated to the late 2nd or the early 3rd century AD) with squares, porticoes, additional buildings and odeum (293-395 AD), the palace complex of Galerius Maximianus (4th c. AD), the thermae, the hippodrome, the temples and other monuments and moveable finds (among them mosaics of exquisite art) brought to light in excavations and surveys. In the south square, is the famous Stoa of the Idols, which was two-storeyed and lavishly decorated.
The Triumphal Arch of Galerius (Kamara), built in AD 305 to commemorate his military successes in general in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire.
The Rotunda is an early 4th century building which later was converted into a Christian church.
Thessaloniki, with its host of Byzantine monuments (due to it’s significance during the Byzantine period), justifiably is considered an open-air museum of Byzantine art. Wandering through the city, it is worthwhile to see:
-The churches of Acheiropoietos (5th century) a three-aisled, timber-roofed basilica, the Holy Wisdom of God (Hagia Sophia) (7th century), the Panaghia (Virgin) Chalkeon (1028), Hosios David (12th century), St Panteleemon (late 13th or the early 14th century), is of four-columned cross-in-square type, Ayioi Apostoloi (1310-1314),Taxiarches (14th century), Panagouda a three-aisled basilica with significant icons, Agios Ioannis Prodromos (Nymphaion),Vlatadon monastery a 14th century foundation of which only the katholikon and two cisterns within the precinct survive, Ayios Demetrios a splendid basilica dedicated to the patron saint and protector of the city, etc.
-The byzantine walls of the city
-The archaeological site in 3 Septemvriou St., with remnants of a cemetery basilica, a martyrion and Early Christian graves.
-The byzantinebathhouse (late thirteenth century).
-The Heptapyrgion castle was raised in stages, from the early years of the Byzantine Age into the Ottoman period.
-The Mosques of the Hamza Bey Cami (15th century), the Aladja Imaret Cami (1484) and the Yeni Cami (1902).
-Hamams (turkish bathhouses): The Pazar Hamam (15th century), the Pasha Hamam (15th century), Bey Hamam (16th century), Yeni Hamam and the Yahudi Hamam.
-Bezesteni, a rectangular building with lead-covered domes and four entraces was built in the late fifteenth century and operated as a cloth market.
1) the church of Ayios Dimitrios, the city’s Patron Saint, built after 313 AD on the ruins of Roman baths and housing significant Byzantine monuments, even though it was destroyed several times. The Church, (Ayios Dimitrios’ place of martyrdom) is a five-aisled Basilica, with a Narthex and a Crypt under the Sanctuary and the transverse Aisle (a present day museum).
2) Acheiropoiitos church. It is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and was built in the 5th century. After the city was conquered by the Turks (1430), it was converted into a mosque. It is the only Basilica preserved in a very good condition in Greece. The church’s interior is decorated with 5th century mosaics and 13th century frescoes.
3) Ayios Minas church, datingback to the 5th century, having remained a Christian church even after the city’s conquest.
4) Ayia Sophia church, beingthe city’s Metropolitan Church, built in the 7th century. Part of the murals decorating its interior, its 11th century frescoes in the Narthex and the 8th-12th century mosaics on the Dome, still exist.
5) Panayia Chalkeon: This is a 1028 church with frescoes dating back to the 11th and 14th centuries.
6) Ayios Panteleimonas church, built during the late 13th – early 14th century by the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki, Iákovos.
7) The Ayioi Apóstoloi church,an imposing edifice built in 1310-1314, converted into a mosque in the period 1520-1530. The mosaics and frescoes date to the period of the Palaiologos line of emperors.
8 ) The Sotiras Chapel, dedicated to the Transfiguration of Christ, is decorated with frescoes dating to the 14th century.
9) Nea Panayia church, athree-aisled Basilica with spaces reserved for women and a gallery at the west side of thechurch.
10) Ayios Harálampos church, used to be a dependency of the Mount Athos Simonopetra Monastery, featuringnoteworthy 17th-19th century icons, being fine examples of the Mt. Athos religious icon painting technique.
11) Laodigitria church, built in the 14th century and renovated in 1802. Icons of the 18th and 19th centuries can be seen in this church.
12) Panayoúda,beinga post-Byzantine Church, dedicated to the Birth of the Virgin Mary, featuring a 16th century icon.
13) Ypapanti church, boastingnoteworthy small works of art and a history going back to 1531.
Visit Kalohóri (5kmW), at the mouth of the Gallikos River and the Kalohóri Lagoon and admire flocks of herons, pelicans, flamingoes and water buffaloes.
Towardsthe west (beyond the city’s outskirts) you will come across the preserved wetland habitat of the Delta formed by Axios-Loudias-Aliakmonas Rivers. This 320 sq. km area (including the regions of Nea Ayathoúpoli and Alykés Kitrous in Pieria Prefecture), is habitat to more than 270 bird species, many animal species –including the famous Axios wild horses, and more than 500 plant species. The “Management Agency of the Axios-Loudias-Aliakmonas Delta” offers a free guided tour in the area, which is protected by the Ramsar International Convention and included in the “Natura 2000″ network.
Your next stop is Panórama (15.5kmSE), one of the city’s largest suburbs, built on the green slopes of Mt. Hortiátis. It offers a panoramic view of Thermaikos Gulf.
Up next is Sindos (14kmW), Thessaloniki’s Industrial Zone. The small hills on the plain are ancient burial mounds. A neolithic settlement with a cemetery of the geometric and archaic periods was discovered on one of the hills. Excavations brought to surface an impressive Macedonian tomb in Ayios Athanassios.
Another interesting place to visit is Thérmi (15kmSE). The excavations in Karabournáki have brought to light significant archaeological finds, thus strengthening the view that ancient Thérmi, an important Mediterranean harbour, was located in this area. The Thérmi mineral springs are brackish and are recommended for a vast range of medical conditions. The Thérmi Festival, featuring various cultural events, is definitely worth attending!
A yet interesting choice is the Holocaust anniversary, in October, on Mt. Hortiátis.
Last but not least is Peraia (17kmS). This is a suburb by the sea with famous fish restaurants, whereas Nei Epivates, 18kmS, a Thermaikos seaside resort, is known for its picturesque houses and popular fish tavernas.