After our twelve-hour captivity in the bus we finally arrived at our destination – Thessaloniki. Although we were exhausted, the fresh sea air got us into the mood to start exploring a new city. We had only two hours of free time so we knew we had to get a cup of coffee to-go and turn our running shoes on.
Thessaloniki, or how the Greeks call it – Salonica, is the second largest city in Greece, after Athens. It is located in the north part of the country and has a harbor on the Aegean sea. The history of the city goes back to the 4th century BC.
The White Tower
As the symbol of the city, The White Tower is a great starting point for exploring Thessaloniki. The mixture of history, high-tech gadgets and a stunning view make the museum very interesting and for a price of only 3 euros it’s a really good bargain.
The Tower was built by the Ottomans in the 15th century on top of an older Byzantine structure. It was used as a garrison for the Turkish army, but after some time it became a prison for death-sentenced convicts, where prisoners were tortured and executed. It was then called The Blood Tower or The Red Tower. The violence culminated with the rebellion of Ottoman soldiers in the beginning of 19th century. In 1826. all captured Janissaries (sultan’s infantry) were decapitated in the Blood Tower. After the liberation of Greece in 1912. the tower was repainted and got the new name that is still in use.
Inside the tower is the Museum of History and Art of Thessaloniki. The high-tech equipment (all the projections and flat screen monitors) blends well with the interior of the 600 year old structure. With the audio guide (which is free of charge) the exhibition is informative and presents a great introduction into the history of Thessaloniki. Although history lessons are fun, the most amusing part of the White Tower is the view from the top balcony.
The Aristotelous Square is the heart of Thessaloniki. Situated on the waterfront it’s the main plaza of the city. Always full of people with crowded restaurants and cafes this is the place where everything happens. The Aristotelous street that connects two largest Thessaloniki’s squares cuts through Tsimitski and Egnatia boulevards, the shopping zones of the city.
The Church of Panagia Chalkeon
Because of its position (significantly below the street level of the city) and its gardens it is really easy to miss this tiny church of Panagia Chalkeon that lies on the Dikastirion Square. It may not be as amazing as other huge temples, but it has a certain magic around it. Constructed in the 11th century with red bricks it is also called The Red Church. Located beneath a busy square of a never sleeping city it provides an quiet oasis. The courtyard is especially impressive. It’s full of flowers of various colors and species. After a twelve hour trip we felt relief, standing here in the shadow of a palm tree, inhaling sea air and enjoying the summer breeze.
The Arch of Galerius
As a celebration for the victory over the Persians, this famous landmark has been built. It was constructed by Galerius in the 3rd century. He was the deputy emperor of the Roman Empire. I think that is the coolest job ever. Wouldn’t you want to be a deputy for the emperor, even for a day? Anyway, the Arch of Galerius in Thessaloniki is just a fragment of the original, which was much bigger. The carvings on its sides picture battle scenes from the war.
A little to the north from the Arch of Galerius is the Rotunda. Built also by Galerius, it is thought that this was meant to be his final resting place. During its 1700 year history it has been used as a church and as a mosque, during the Ottoman rule. The minaret was added to the church when it was transformed into a mosque in the 15th century. Just as the Church of Panagia Chalkeon, the Rotunda also has magical gardens.
Despite having only a couple of hours in the city, we managed to see a lot of magnificent places and experience some of Thessaloniki’s magic. There is still a lot of other sights we hope to visit next time!