20 Jan,2020 By Jagabond
Thessaloniki hides off the tourist map in Greece. It’s vastly overshadowed by the chaotic ancient city of Athens and the island beauty of destinations like Santorini and Rhodes. When budget airlines started flying there, however, that opened Thessaloniki up to curious travelers like myself. I ended up naming it as one of my European hidden gems.
Greece is one of those countries where you can take a walk around any town or city and keep bumping into history, and Thessaloniki is a prime example of that.
The Macedonia region honors Alexander the Great with this statue by the seaside. Pella, a town only a short drive from Thessaloniki, is his official birthplace. With his undefeated record in battles, he’s like the Michael Jordan of military commanders. Another interesting note, the city of Thessaloniki is named after his half-sister. This is one of the more epic statues you’ll come across in Europe.
The Greek sculptor George Zongolopoulos built this in 1997, the year Thessaloniki was European Capital of Culture. In just over twenty years time, these metal umbrellas have become an integral part of the city’s seafront. They also promote social campaigns, for example when the umbrellas are illuminated in pink for breast cancer awareness month. This is no doubt a popular place for pictures.
This is the symbol of Thessaloniki, though not due to its old age. In fact, it was only built in its current form in the 15th century. The White Tower stands majestically at the waterfront, and inside is a museum documenting the different periods of the city. The tower has served many purposes over the years, including an infamous prison during Ottoman times and a communication center in World War I.
The most important church in Thessaloniki honors St. Demetrios, a Christian martyr who died as all martyrs do, persecuted for their faith. He is the patron saint of the city, and also of agriculture, peasants and shepherds. If you’re used to churches in Italy and Spain, this will immediately look unique to you from the outside.
There are mosaics everywhere, from different periods ranging from the 4th century to the Dark Ages. The one below depicts St. George, another famous Greek martyr.
My afternoon walk coincided with a Greek wedding. I enjoyed watching the common cup tradition, where the bride and groom both drink from a decanter of wine as a symbol of sharing all that life will bring. I didn’t understand any of the words, but love and good vibes like that seem to have a universal language.
The Emperor Galerius ordered this arch built in celebration of a military victory in 298 A.D. A closer examination of the arch panels reveals several specific wartime scenes, mostly centered around Galerius. One of the things I love about Greece is the combining of modern with ancient times, as evidenced by peering through the arch and seeing the mundane apartment building.
Is this the oldest Christian church in the world? Some historians argue that, but there’s no proof either way. Galerius also had this built, and it sits only a hundred meters from his arch. The minaret you see is from its time as a mosque, when the Ottomans ruled these parts.
You can either walk or taxi to the old town in Thessaloniki, which is quite a bit uphill. Built in the 4th century, the castle acted as a city fortification for centuries, and similar to the White Tower, housed a prison known for harsh treatment.
The payoff for making the journey up the hill is the great views of Thessaloniki and the Aegean Sea.
From what information I can gather online, this was built for one of the Thessaloniki international fairs they are known for. Let’s be honest, that’s one ugly elephant. The fact that it appears seemingly out of nowhere in an industrial area makes it weirder. It makes me think of an article I read about abandoned amusement parks…creepy.
I’m definitely a fan of street artists all over Europe, and this is one of my favorites. It couples frightening imagery with political commentary, possibly reflecting issues facing Greece at the time.
All the things I just showed you add up to a long walk through Thessaloniki. By the end of it, you’ll be like the dog in the picture.
The European budget airlines Ryanair and EasyJet fly to Thessaloniki, so check their websites for flight information. Relative to other cities in Europe, the Thessaloniki airport is a short drive away from the main city centre.
I always like to provide opinions other than my own, so here are my favorite blogs talking about Thessaloniki.