Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece, with a population of 1,000,000 inhabitants, is one of the oldest cities in Europe. It was founded in 316 BC in the place of a prehistoric settlement dated back in 2300 BC by Kassandros, king of Macedonia, and took its name from his wife and sister of Alexander the Great. Since then, Thessaloniki has become the capital of Macedonia. In the Roman times, we could proudly say that the city had the largest harbor in the area, also it was located at the point where the great road from the North met the main east-west road. Many foreign merchants were temporarily staying at this wealthy center. Saint Paul visited the city, declared a new religion there and later he addressed his well-known Letters to the city’s Christians. In 300 AD, Galerius, the ruler of one of the two segments of the Eastern Roman Empire, chose Thessaloniki as his imperial seat.
During Byzantine times, Thessaloniki remained the center of civilization and arts, outrun only from Constantinople throughout the Byzantine Empire. Brothers Cyril and Methodius began from Thessaloniki their mission to repel the Balkan and Great Moravian populations and spread Christianity in these areas. In 904 AD, the Saracen pirates sieged and occupied the city.
Thessaloniki was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1430. It remained under the Turkish yoke for about five centuries (1430-1912). During the Ottoman occupation there were Greek schools in Thessaloniki that successfully fought to preserve the Hellenic language and literature. The Greek people of Macedonia revolted many times to free themselves from the Turks. A crucial turning point in this struggle was the Macedonian Struggle (1904-1908), during which the Greeks conducted a war against the Turks and the Bulgarians, guided by the Greek Consulate of Thessaloniki.
In 1912, Thessaloniki was free to continue its course in history. In 1917 a devastating fire destroyed most of the city center and a large part of its heritage. Buildings of rare architectural beauty were completely destroyed.
The period 1922-1924 brought the population exchanges that followed the catastrophic defeat of the Hellenic army in Asia Minor. The Greek population that expelled from Asia Minor settled in Greek Macedonia. Thessaloniki continued to maintain its significant role in the Greek state, with important political, economic and cultural activities. Today, after World War II, Thessaloniki has become a modern metropolis.
Civilization – Entertainment
Thessaloniki lists monuments from the whole spectrum of history, with a multitude of Roman, Early Christian and Byzantine ones. A well-known monument and symbol of Thessaloniki is the White Tower. Other important monuments are the Roman Market (Forum), the Arch of Galerius (Kamara) and his tomb (Rotunda – Saint George), the church of Saint Demetrius, the city Walls and numerous other Byzantine churches.
Roman Market (Forum): It was built in 2nd – 3rd century AD and its gallery was double with columns depicting relief figures (nowadays they are kept in the Louvre Museum). Today, exhibitions are held there. Highly notable are the square, the baths and the conservatory, which is used as a summer theater.
Galerian Complex: It consists of four monuments.
> Rotunda is a circular building with a diameter of around 24 meters. It is covered by a hemispherical dome and was built at the beginning of the 4th century AD. It was used as a mausoleum of Galerius. During Emperor Theodosius’ time, it turned into a Christian church. Today it is used as a place of worship but also as an exhibition place.
> The Arch of Galerius was built just before 305 AD and is also called Kamara. Next to the today saved arc there was another one, at the point where the triumphant procession from the palace met the most crowded road in Thessaloniki. The reliefs depict the victory of the Romans over the Persians.
> The Galerius Palace was also built at the beginning of the 4th century in the center of Roman Thessaloniki. Today a building complex with two floors and a square open courtyard is saved.
> Finally, the Octagon is located near the southwest edge of Galerius Palace. The large building is adorned with marble and mosaics, where probably the throne room was.
Fortification Walls: They were constructed by Theodosius the Great in the 4th century. They were repaired many times to withstand the barbarian raids. Today, parts of the walls are preserved above Egnatia and Sykies areas.
Byzantine Temples: The Byzantine temples of Thessaloniki are the most important monuments of the Byzantine era. The temple of Saint Demetrius was built in the 7th century on the ruins of an older temple. After a fire, it was destroyed, restored and reopened after the Second World War. There are also many other temples in the city. Saint Ekaterini, a 14th-century temple, is a cross-shaped quadrangle with a dome. Traces of frescoes are saved. Hagia Sophia was built in the 7th century on the site of an older five-aisled basilica. In the dome there is a mosaic decoration depicting the Divine Ascension. The Holy Apostles, dating back to the early 14th century, was a Monastery founded by Patriarch Nephon 1st. It is a five-dome temple with a narthex and reserved mosaics and frescoes are saved. Saint Nicholas Orphanos was built in the 14th century as a monastery and contains frescoes in good condition. Saint Panteleimon of the 14th century, formerly a monastery, was founded by the Metropolitan bishop of Thessaloniki, Isaac. It is a cruciform inscribed temple with a dome. A few frescoes are preserved. The Church of Acheiropoietos is a three-aisled basilica built in the middle of the 5th century. It features frescoes of the 13th century. The Monastery of Vlatadon was built in the 14th century by the Metropolitan bishop of Thessaloniki, Dorotheos Vlatis. From the original temple only the chancel and the main part of the church are preserved. The Temple of the Savior Christ was built around 1340 as a burial chapel. It is a square temple with a dome and some frescoes are reserved. The Church of Saint David, located in Ano Poli, dates back to the 5th century. It was formerly a part of the Latomos Monastery. It features frescoes and an important mosaic that represents Ezekiel’s vision. The Virgin Mary of the Chalkeans (built in 1028) is a cruciform inscribed temple with a dome. It owes its name to the copper shops that used to operate there during the Ottoman occupation. Frescoes are preserved, mainly on the west side. Prophet Elias Church was built in the 14th century by the monk Makarios Houmenos and was a part of a monastery. It contains frescoes, but not in a good condition.
Byzantine Baths: The only today saved Byzantine bath is located in Kule Cafe Square, in Ano Poli. It dates back to the 13th century and is made of a dome and arches.
During the Ottoman occupation several monuments were erected, of which mosques, baths and fortifications are preserved today.
Fortifications: At the port of Thessaloniki the White Tower dominates, which was built around 1450 by Venetians and it consists a part of the fortification of the city. The tower is circular, 37-meter high and it was named as the “Tower of Blood” because it was used as a garrison outpost and a prison (it served as a jail for the Janissaries). Today it operates as an exhibition place of the Christian art of the 11th – 18th century AD. Beyond the White Tower, there is another circular tower in the city, the Tower of Trigonio (Triangle) or Alysis Tower. Near that tower there is a complex of seven other towers, the Eptapyrgio or the Yedi Kule, dating back to the 4th century. The complex includes the Byzantine fortress and the old prisons, which were abolished in 1984 and relocated elsewhere in 1989.
Mosques: Two of the remaining Muslim mosques of the Ottoman domination are the Alatza Imaret, built in 1484 and the Hamza Bey Mosque, built in 1467 and rebuilt in 1620. Alatza Imaret Mosque imitates the Byzantine architecture regarding masonry and was named after the poorhouse (imaret in Turkish) which was located near the mosque and is used today by the Thessaloniki International Fair. Hamza Bey Mosque housed several shops and a cinema a few years ago. Another important monument of this period is the Yeni Mosque, built in 1902 by the Italian architect Vitaliano Poselli, and was used as a place of worship for the so-called ” Dönmeh” Jews who had been islamized. It has two floors and goes with the 20th-century eclectic architecture. After the expulsion of the Dönmeh (in 1924), the newly-built Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki was housed there until it was transferred to its new building on the Stratos Avenue. Today it is used as an exhibition place.
Baths: In 1444 the first Ottoman bath was built in Thessaloniki, named as Bey Hamam (Paradisos Loutra). The building was recently restored by the Archaeological Service and is open to visitors. Other existing baths of the Ottoman period are the Pasha Hamam and the Yahudi Hamam both built in the 16th century.
Other monuments of the period: The old railway station of the Eastern Railways is an important monument of this period. It is also worth mentioning the covered market of textiles (Bezesteni) dating from the end of the 15th century. It is one of the two currently preserved bezestenies in Greece (the other is in Serres city). Bezesteni now houses small fabric shops. Two Villas, Villa Allatini and Villa Bianca belong to the same period. Today, Villa Allatini houses the services of the Prefecture of Thessaloniki, while in 1909 it was the seat of Sultan Abdul Hamit II after the Young Turks Movement. Villa Bianca is restored and used as an exhibition place.
From the modern monuments of the co-capital, the most recognizable is the Tower of OTE, made by the architect Athanasiadis, located at the entrance of the Thessaloniki International Fair. It was built in 1969 to house the OTE Pavilion. Thessaloniki International Fair premises (Helexpo) is a complex of Pavillions that follow the modern trends in architecture. Another monument is the Aristotle Square, which was established after 1917 and has a view towards the sea. At Nea Paralia area, we encounter the statue of Alexander the Great, which was erected in 1970, in a prominent position.
Thessaloniki has three major art museums. The Museum of Modern Art houses one of the most important collections of the European avant-garde. Georgios Kostakis’ collection of artworks of the Russian avant-garde of 1920 is internationally known and was purchased by the Museum in 1997. The Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art is of more general interest and covers the most recent art, while the Municipal Art Gallery is also housed there. Thessaloniki Science Center and Technology Museum is the largest technology museum in Greece. Other museums of the city are the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of Byzantine Culture, which has been won the Museum Prize award of the Council of Europe in 2005, the Railway Museum, the War Museum, the Atatürk Museum and the Jewish Museum.
Thessaloniki is the home of some of Greece biggest sports clubs, such as Aris Thessaloniki, PAOK, Iraklis, Apollon Kalamarias and Agrotikos Asteras. In Thessaloniki, the first basketball game in Greece was held by athletes of the YMCA. It was an Olympic city during the Athens 2004 Summer Olympic Games.