The town of Thessaloniki has a unique character thanks to its history, the mosaic of people, the culture, the architecture and the way of life. It has got a different air, this of the Balkans-European, modern and mysterious, with a relaxed atmosphere. The special characteristic of the town is its complex composition of three different nationalities: the Greek, the Turkish, the Jewish, which was actually the one to hold all the trade world in a handful! It is the second biggest town in Greece, populated with 1,1 million dwellers. All over the world, there are, indeed, few cities, which, actually register such a long period of continuous life as urban centres. There have been hints of inhabitability ever since the pre-historical ages.
The town holds more than 23 centuries of life, a field of fertile unification of different civilizations, a central Balkan port and a cross-road between the Mediterranean Sea and North-East Europe. The town was founded in 315 BC during the Hellenistic years. Its founder was Kassandros, the king of Macedonia, who united 26 interspersed settlements in one single town to honour his wife Thessaloniki, the sister of Alexander the Great. It became the second biggest city of the East Roman Empire, after Istanbul, and it remained the second more important city of the Ottoman Empire until its release and its incorporation to Greece in 1912.
A blend of both East and West civilization, a merger of modern and ancient characteristics! It is also called the bride of Thermaikos Gulf, the town of Saint Demetrios, the co-capital, the town of the frapé coffee (iced instant one!). “Born” away, to the well-monitored Gulf of Thermaikos, it is spread from the sea to the surrounding hills, which are the foot of Chortiatis (that is the ivy of the Ancients).
It embraces the White Tower, which is the town’s symbol and it overlooks the sea-front; today, it works as a museum. It was built in 1500 AC and it made the south-eastern tower of the town’s fortification.
The town disposes of big museums (the Archaeological, that of the Byzantine Culture, State Museum of Contemporary Art, the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art, the Jewish Museum) and numerous gallery halls. In Thessaloniki, great theatrical organizations act, like the State Theatre of Northern Greece. Its churches date back to the 13th until the 14th century and they have got pictures and inlays of priceless value. One of the most important that of Saint Demetrios the patron saint of the town, Aghia Sofia and the Metropolitan Church of Aghios Gregorios Palamas. The Temple of Saint Demetrios was built in the middle of the 5th century (413), on the same place the Saint died a martyr. In this area the “stadium” was found, a place in which duels occurred. The whole ground complex of the ancient bath, where the Saint was imprisoned, was kept and changed into a crypt of the temple, a place of worship for whole centuries, even today. Aghia Sofia is the historical temple, the big church of the old dwellers of Thessaloniki. It is worth visiting to admire the magnificent inlays of the 9th century and the wall-paintings of the 11th century.
In one of the most central streets of Thessaloniki, right before the sea boulevard in Mitropoleos street, we will face another important church, which is worth noticing: the Metropolitan Church of Aghios Gregorios Palamas. The element, that differentiates the church in a beautiful way is that, beyond the easily tracked important Byzantine influences, there are various posterior neo-classical elements. The completion of the new construction in 1914 was made based on the designs of the famous architect, Ernest Chiller.
One of its characteristic monuments is the Triumphal Arch of Galerius, known, also, as Kamara, built in 305 AC. It is placed on the upper side of Egnatia street and it is one of the most known meeting points for the inhabitants and the visitors of the town. When you visit the town, do not go by the Byzantine Monuments of the Worldwide Cultural Legacy of UNESCO.
Thessaloniki is the youth centre of Greece. In the last years, the town hosted big cultural events of international importance (Cultural Capital of Europe 1997, Biennale of New Creators 1986 and 2011, Womex 2012). In 2014 it became the European Capital of the youth. The most noted fair of the country is organized in Thessaloniki. The IFT (International Fair of Thessaloniki) is an important, yearly fair for the entire Balcanic world, not to mention the biggest in Greece. Every year the town becomes the host-town of the International Film and Documentary Fair (two separate ones) and of the International Book Fair. Its sunsets are so nice to see, in autumn walking on the sea-front has become a favourite habit of the local people. The most crowded streets are Tsimiski street with endless shopping, the noisiest and the most frequented street of Nikis boulevard, where cafés, restaurants and bars “anchor”, Aghias Sofias and Mitropoleos streets. Thessaloniki has a good reason to be proud of: its square, Aristotelous. It is its biggest square and one of the biggest and most impressing in Greece. Its present form was shaped after the big incendy in 1917 by the French architect Ernesto Embrard. Here, one can find some of the towns most important and nicest buildings, like Olympion where the cinema Festival of Thessaloniki is held and its twin building the Electra Palace Hotel. It is worth mentioning that all 12 buildings surrounding the square have been registered as scheduled.
A tour to the old town will take you to other times with castles, Byzantine churches, small old taverns and houses of the last century. Famous for the rhythms of its daily life and its familiar profile, the town disposes of a vast variety of coffee-shops, restaurants, taverns, “ouzo” haunts. Its night life is equally marvellous with a majority of very busy cafés, bars and clubs with warm people. Make a stop to taste the classical sesame roll of Thessaloniki (stuffed with anything you can think of) and the gorgeous cream-filled pastries. Thessaloniki’s taste landscape is characterised mainly by the small-bite and ouzo taverns, the gourmet restaurants and the Kebab houses (Athonos square, Modiano market, Bit Bazaar, Navarino square, the distinguished picturesque, Ladadika, Upper Town (Ano Poli), Kalamaria etc.) with the artistry bite and restaurant buildings waiting just for you! Take a rest before you visit it, because, as often said, it is a town “that never sleeps”.
Attention-Translation: Olga Syntrivanis