Thessaloniki (520km north of Athens) is the second largest city in Greece, the capital of Macedonia and the most important city in the Balkans. Built near the sea (at the back of the Thermaïkos Gulf), it is a modern metropolis bearing the marks of its stormy history and cosmopolitan character, which give it a special beauty and charm.
• The ancient forum with squares, porticoes, the palace complex of the Emperor Galerius Maximianus, 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 Stoa of the Idols, which was two-storeyed and lavishly decorated.
• The Triumphal Arch of Galerius, built in AD 305 to commemorate the emperor’s military successes 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 was the second most important city in wealth and size after Constantinople in the Byzantine Empire and is now considered an open-air museum of Byzantine art. Wandering through the city, it is worthwhile to see:
• The churches of Acheiropoietos; the Holy Wisdom of God (Hagia Sophia); the Panagia Chalkeon; Hosios David; St Pantelaimon; Agioi Apostoloi; Taxiarches; Panagouda; Agios Ioannis Prodromos; Vlatadon monastery; and Agios Demetrios, a splendid basilica dedicated to the patron saint and protector of the city.
• 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 Byzantine Bath House (late thirteenth century).
• The Heptapyrgion castle was raised in stages, from the early years of the Byzantine Empire into the Ottoman period, which began with the occupation of Thessaloniki in 1423.
• The White Tower, the hallmark of the city, started off life in the 12th century AD as a Byzantine fortress. It was later developed by the Ottomans, under whom the Tower became a notorious prison and slaughter house. When Thessaloniki was liberated in 1912, the Tower was painted white as a symbolic act of cleansing.
• The Old City (Ano Polis), in which many notable examples of traditional Macedonian architecture still stand, alongside humble dwellings put up by the refugees who reached Thessaloniki in droves, after they were expelled from Turkey in 1922.
• The historical quarter of the Ladadika. In recent years, a series of interventions to rehabilitate the Ladadika have taken place, with many cafes, restaurants, bars and cultural activities now flourishing.
• The Traditional Markets: the Modiano, which is housed in a rectangular building with pedimented facade and glass roof; the Kapani or Vlalis market; Athonos Square and the Flower Market.
• Vasilissis Olgas Avenue, lined with many Neoclassical buildings and examples of late 19th century eclectic architecture.
• The central Aristotelous Square, surrounded by monumental buildings and open to the waterfront for a width of one hundred meters.
Other monuments and buildings in the city
• Mylos. An old industrial complex, built in 1924, today it has been remodelled to house cultural events and leisure activities.
• Lazarist monastery (1886), established by the monastic order of the Brothers of Mercy, and now used for cultural events.
• Royal Theatre.
• Thessaloniki Concert Hall. A newly-built, multipurpose venue for cultural and other events.
• YMCA Building, a building of 1924, with a mixture of neo-classical and Byzantine architectural elements.
The Archaeological Museum; the Museum of Byzantine Culture; the Folk and Ethnographic Museum; the State Museum of Contemporary Art; the Teloglion Foundation of Art; the Thessaloniki Cinema Museum; the Thessaloniki Science Centre and Technology Museum.
Every year, Thessaloniki hosts significant cultural and commercial festivals, such as the Thessaloniki International Fair (every September), the International Thessaloniki Film Festival (every November) and the International Book Fair (every May).
Source: GNTO (Download Free Guide to Thessaloniki here).