Thessaloniki is the largest city in Macedonia and the second largest in Greece, not to mention one of the oldest in Europe, extending over 12 km along the shore of the Thermaic Gulf. Thessaloniki is one of the Greek cities with the richest histories, and following the end of the First Balkan War has been considered the most influential city in Macedonia. In 1997, it was named the cultural capital of Europe. It is a dazzling and lively city with a century-long history.
In spite of earthquakes, disasters, raids and compulsory migrations, Thessaloniki has remained undisturbed by the centuries, an enduring city that has never faded away, or experienced abandonment, destruction or subsequent revivals. Thessaloniki has some of the most remarkable monuments from the ancient and Byzantine eras, with countless Byzantine temples. The city’s past is kept alive in its aboveground monuments, Roman columns, Paleochristian and Byzantine churches, Ottoman mosques and covered markets, synagogues and Jewish markets and magnificent mansions where the local leaders and foreign aristocrats lived. In Thessaloniki you will encounter some of the most important monuments and attractions in Greece.
Thessaloniki has a Mediterranean climate that borders on a semi-arid climate. The city enjoys many days of sunshine throughout the year.
Thessaloniki comes second to Istanbul in the number and value of Byzantine monuments. It is the richest among the cities of the East in Byzantine Churches, which indeed have valuable epigrams and diverse and multifarious decorations. The Byzantine churches in Thessaloniki are the most important monuments from the Byzantine era. Some of the most remarkable are: the Rotunda (Agios Georgios, 4th century AD), Panagia Acheiropoiitos (5th century AD), Agios Dimitrios (5th-7th century AD), Monastery of Laotomou (Osios David 5th century AD, Agia Sophia (690-730), Panagia Chalkeown (1028 – 1044), Agia Ekaterini (1265), Agioi Apostoloi (1312 – 5), Profitis Ilias (14th century), Agios. Panteleimon (14th century) Agios Nikolaos Orphanos (14th century), Monastery of Vlattadon (Tsaous Monastery 14th century AD), Metamorfossi Sotiros (14th century) and others.
The White Tower (15th century), the Arch of Galerius (4th century AD) with its magnificent frescoes depicting Galerius’ victory over the Persians (297 AD), the University Campus, Kaftantzoglio Stadium, the biggest in the Balkans, the Archaeological Museum, which contains finds from the Neolithic era to the Christian years, the OTE Tower, located on the premises of the International Trade Fair (the most recent, 1971) etc.
Thessaloniki White Tower is the most characteristic monument in Thessaloniki and the city’s absolute trademark. The White Tower, located on the old beach, was constructed in the middle of the 5th century A.D. replacing an old Byzantine tower that was already in ruins. It was erected near the end of the fortification walls, next to the sea. Even though it is the city’s most beloved monument, its history throughout the centuries is rather dark. We know little of the circumstances under which it was constructed. But according to one version, it was built by the Venetians (1423-1430), while the other estimates that it was built in 1536.
In 1890, in an attempt to modernize it, the tower was whitewashed by a convict in exchange for his freedom and thus it earned the title “White Tower”.
The building technique and the cutting-edge design allowing for the use of weapons makes it fairly obvious that the architects, if not the construction workers as well, must have been Venetian. For a long time it was used as a prison for convicts facing the death penalty.
Today it hosts an exhibition of Christian artefacts, including objects that date back to the period between 300 A.D. and 1430, mostly from Thessalonica. The exhibition is evenly distributed among the different floors.
AGIOS DIMITRIOS CHURCH
Agios Dimitrios in Thessaloniki is one of the most magnificent monuments of the Greek East. It is representative of the five-aisled basilica with a transept style. Although so many centuries have passed since its construction and despite the damage it has suffered from fires, earthquakes and restorations, it has preserved its authentic style and spirit of grandeur that characterize the architecture of the time, as well as its magnificent and timeless artistic value and style, as we can judge by the parts that have remained intact.
The crypt hosts an exhibition of the sculptures that decorated the church in the different phases of its history
AGIA SOPHIA CHURCH
Agia Sophia Byzantine church in Thessaloniki is dedicated to the Wisdom of God and not to the saint (Sophia = wisdom). It was built in the 7th century over a predecessor church, in basilica style.
Agia Sofia is a scale model of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. Its style marks a transitional period from a basilica with a dome to a cruciform church with a dome. In other words, it is based on cross-in-square-form architecture. The church contains a good number of mosaics and frescoes from the early Byzantine period, as well as a magnificent sanctuary.
ARCH OF GALERIUS (CAMARA)
The Arch of Galerius in Thessaloniki, also known as Camara, is, together with the White Tower, the most characteristic monument in Thessaloniki. It is located in Egnatia, in the centre of the city.
The arch was erected during the Roman “Tetrarchy” period (beginning of the 4th century AD) and is the western structure of a gateway that was made of arches and arcs. It was built in honour of the Roman Emperor Galerius to mark his triumphant return to Thessaloniki (around 306 AD) after defeating the Persians.
THE ROTONDA (ROTUNDA)
The Rotunda of Agios Georgios or (in English) the Rotunda of St. George is one of the oldest and most imposing monuments in Thessaloniki.
It was part of a large complex that included the palace, an octagonal building and the Hippodrome, built by Caesar Galerius in the first Tetrarchy (around 300 AD), when he established Thessaloniki as his base.
The cylindrical structure was built in the 4th century AD on the orders of Galerius, who was thought to have intended it to be his mausoleum. It never served for this purpose, since Galerius died and was buried far away from Thessaloniki.
The temple was then converted into a Christian church and was possibly used as a Martyria, a place where the relics of the saints are worshipped. This theory is supported by both the circular form of the building and the images of saints depicted on the mosaics throughout the dome.
CASTLES - EPTAPYRGIO
The castles and the walls of Thessaloniki were created in ancient times, as it was necessary to fortify the city. It is believed that they date back to the founding of the city. The castles took their final form during the time of Theodosius the Great (379-395).
Aristotelous Square in Thessaloniki is the only part of the city where the urban plan of French architect Ernst Hébrard was implemented.
Aristotelous square was built in 1917, after the fire that destroyed the city and the establishment of the “Thessaloniki New Plan International Commission”, chaired by Hébrard. The Commission undertook the reconstruction of Thessaloniki, an ambitious plan, which unfortunately fell short because of major ownership interests. Aristotelous Square is a typical combination of Byzantine style and Western architecture.
The two landmark buildings in the square, “Olympion” and “Electra” were built in the 50s and 60s respectively, just as Aristotelous was undergoing works to achieve its final form in 1960. Today, Aristotelous Square is lined with different kinds of shops, banks, jewellery shops and several café bars and hotels.
The Modiano Market in the centre of Thessaloniki is a social gathering place. It was named after Eli Modiano, the architect that built it in 1908. The architect’s family actually financed the project. Today, this building complex houses the city’s meat market.
The space is big and packed daily with people during market hours. It consists of spaced shops, organized into longitudinal and intersecting runways. The shops are actually located according to their category (butcher's shops, fish shops, general trade and spice shops) but there are also taverns and other miscellaneous spots that contribute to the unique atmosphere. The market also has a perimetre loft.
UMBRELLAS ON THE BEACH
The "Umbrellas" sculpture on Thessaloniki’s new sea front is a 13-metre high artistic creation, located near the hotel Macedonia Palace. The work was created by Georgios Zoggolopoulos (1903-2004).
It is a poetic creation, which expresses the endless vitality of its creator. It is a pole of attraction for both residents and visitors and a popular photo opportunity spot. Depending on the season and the weather, it imbues a different image on the space and environment.
The "Umbrellas” sculpture was enthusiastically greeted by the residents of Venice, where it was presented at the 46th Biennale, to celebrate the institution’s 100-year anniversary.
THESSALONIKH INTERNATIONAL FAIR (TIF)
The Thessaloniki International Fair, with the historical continuity and the role it has played for the past eight decades, is undeniably the country’s national exhibition pillar. Its policy targets mainly the support and promotion of Greek products and entrepreneurship, and as such, the development of the national economy, both on national and international levels.
Its vital role in the economic, social and cultural growth of the city and the wider region is well recognized.