The second largest city of Greece, Thessaloniki is the jewel
of the north. Famous for its lively streets, vibrant night
life and cultural signature, it is the perfect cosmopolitan
destination for any visitor.
Thessaloniki was founded by Kassandros in 316 BCE on the place
where ancient Therme once stood and because of its location over
the centuries it became an important commercial, political, and
cultural center of the Balkan peninsula. Over the centuries its
streets have supported pockets of affluent minorities, and its
port acted as the sea gate of central europe to the Aegean and
the markets of the near-east. Salonika, as it is otherwise known,
was the second most important city of the Byzantine empire.
Its diverse history has sprinkled Thessaloniki with ruins of
ancient Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, Balkan, and European
origin. For eons it has been the home of affluent minorities of
Turkish, Serbian, and Jewish origin; all of which have left their
mark on the rich cultural identity of the city. The city has also
been scarred by numerous of catastrophic events such as the earthquakes
in 620 that leveled the city, and in 1978 which damaged most of
the Byzantine monuments, and the severe fire of 1917 which destroyed
9000 homes, and left 90000 inhabitants homeless. Six years later
Thessaloniki became host to a great number of the one million
Greeks who left Asia Minor as part of the population exchange
agreed at the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.
Its strategic location made Thessaloniki a magnet not only for
commercial and cultural activity, but also for countless invasions
and occupations. Romans, Normans, Slavs, Bulgarians, Franks, Turks,
Venetians, and Germans, have all left their mark in the city
through their stay for various lengths of time. Between the 6th
and 7th century Slavic invasions devastated the surrounding area
and forced the rural population to find refuge behind the city
walls, while in the 10th and 11th centuries Bulgaria established
its power in the area with repeated invasions before Byzantine
rule is established again. Eventually, the Venetians ruled the
city until 1430 when the Turks invaded. In the15th century jews
fleeing prosecution from many European cities find a home in Salonika,
and in 1912 it became part of modern Greece. During WWII, nearly
50000 Jewish inhabitants of Thessaloniki were sent to Auschwitz,
and of these, about 37500 were immediately gassed.
Today, Thessaloniki's population is almost exclusively made up
of Greek inhabitants. Its grounds are a patch work of different
commercial, and cultural influences. The city
is divided in two by the International Trade Grounds and the Aristotle
University. From there, all the way to the waterfront one finds
the boulevards, shopping areas, and night clubs of the cosmopolitan
Thessaloniki. The west part of the city
is dominated by the industrial area and it is densely populated,
while the east end includes Touba and Kalamaria areas which were
rebuilt after the fire of 1917 and still retain much of its original
character. The upper town (Ano Poli) developed around
the castle (Genti-Koule) and the Acropolis offer narrow street
taverns and beautiful panoramic views of the entire city.
What to Do and See in Thessaloniki
- March: Documentary Festival
- August: The Wine Festival
- September: International Trade Fare
- September: Greek Song Festival
- November: Thessaloniki
Greek Film Festival
Places of Interest
- Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki
One of the best museums of Greece. It houses art from Archaic,
Classical, and Hellenistic eras, as well as artifacts from
Ancient Macedonia including gold ornamental art and ancient
Greek weapons. (Platia Hanth)
- Museum of Byzantine Culture
Illustrates Byzantine history and culture through
Byzantine icons, art, and every day artifacts.
(2 Stratou Street)
- The White Tower
A beautifully built round fort at the eastern waterfront. It
was built in the 15th century as part of a sea fortification
and it has become the most recognized landmark of Thessaloniki.
During Ottoman occupation it became a symbol of terror because
of the gruesome executions of prisoners that took place there.
After the city's liberation the tower was whitewashed as if
to purify it from the blood that so often covered it, thus
the name "White Tower". The tower is white no longer, and
it houses the "Museum of History and Art of Thessaloniki".
- The Roman Forum and Theater
- The Arch of Galerius
Built in 305 CE to commemorate the victory of Galerius over
the Persians in 297 CE.
- The Attaturk House
The birthplace of the Turkish leader Kemal Attaturk now houses
various artifacts from his life.
- The Rotunda
Circular building of the 3d c. CE which was originally built
as a mausoleum for Galerius. In Byzantine times it was converted
into a Christian church by Constantine, and after the ottoman
invasion it was converted to a mosque.
Thessaloniki is the second most important exhibition place of
Byzantine monuments after Istanbul.
- The Ahiropiitos (or the Church of Panagia
Early Christian basilica built in the 5th c. CE. It houses some
important mosaics and frescoes from the Byzantine era. It was
the official mosque of the city during Ottoman occupation.
- Ossios David or the Latomos Monastery
Located at the top of a steep climb in
Kastro. A small basilica built in the 5th c. CE, houses a nice
mosaic of Christ on a rainbow.
- Agios Dimitrios
This five aisled basilica was destroyed in the great fire of
1917 and consequently rebuilt in 1948. It is built on the site
where the Roman baths once stood and it is Greece's largest church.
Agios Dimitrios is the patron saint of Thessaloniki and this
church houses some spectacular mosaics, and the Crypt. The
Crypt on the east end of the church
is the place in the Roman baths where Saint Dimitrios was tortured
and killed by Roman soldiers.
- Agia Sofia
A splendid example of Byzantine architecture bares the name
of the famed church of Istanbul. It houses an important fresco
on its dome.
- Panagia ton Halkeon
Built in 1028 in the shape of the cross.
- Agia Ekaterini
Built in the 13th c. CE
- Agioi Apostoli
Built in the 14th c. CE
- Agios Nikolaos Orfanos
14th c. CE with frescoes
- Profitis Ilias
A domed basilica built in the 14th c CE
Places of Interest Near Thessaloniki
Archaeological site about a 20 minute drive from Thessaloniki.
The tomb of Philip II of Macedon, the father of Alexander the
Great, was unearthed in Vergina by the famed Greek Archaeologist
Andronikos. The site also houses a museum which houses the artifacts
found during the excavations.
The beautiful three-prone peninsula to the south-east of Thessaloniki
is a popular tourist destination.
- The Kassandra peninsula is about
1.5 hours away from Thessaloniki and its beaches are a favorite destination
of package tourism. Its overdeveloping tourist infrastructure has encroached
on the natural beauty of its landscapes.
- The Sythonian peninsula is about two hours away from
Thessaloniki and it is home to green pine forests and some beautiful
beaches like Paradisos, Nikiti, and Lagomandra.
- Mt. Athos (Agio Oros)
The eastern peninsula of Chalikidiki is in effect an autonomous religious
community where a host of Christian Orthodox monasteries are perched
high upon its spectacular cliffs. Monks find in Mt. Athos a spiritual
place and a remnant of the Byzantine empire, complete with the monk's
adherence to the Julian calendar. Only male visitors are allowed on
Mt. Athos, and each can stay for four nights at the monasteries as
- Mt. Olympus
The highest mountain of Greece was the residence of the Olympian
gods in ancient times, and a favorite destination for mountain
climbers today. It is 3000 m high with eight sharp peeks ready
to challenge even the most experienced climbers. Mt. Olympus
is an national park about 1.5 hours from Thessaloniki. Litohoro
village is the favorite destination of climbers who aspire
to climb Mt. Olympos
Useful Telephone Numbers
- EOT (Greek National Tourist Organization) (8,
Platia Aristotelous): 2310 222 935, 2310 271 888
- EOT (Greek National Tourist Organization)
at the Thessaloniki Airport: 2310 471 170
- Tourist Police: 2310 554 871
- Railway Station: 2310 517 517
- Permits for Mt. Athos (must be picked up in person - only
men are allowed to visit) 2310 861 611