Vacations in Greece mean for most tourists the beach, the sea, the sun, relaxing on the shores of the Aegean or Mediterranean Sea, the crowds walking through the ruins of Athens.
For those who prefer an authentic and unique experience, however, you can visit Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in Hellas.
It is the city where all the culture of the country condenses, where you can feel the Turkish and Mediterranean influence the most, where you can party till morning and encounter the most unexpected vestiges of the past.
Thessaloniki was founded in 315 BC, taking its name from Alexander the Great's sister, Thessaloniki.
The city flourished during the Roman Empire, as demonstrated by the buildings and structures which can still be admired today: the Rotunda, the palace and arch of Galerius, the Agora, which is present in every Roman city. In 1200 Thessaloniki passed to the Byzantines, becoming the second most important city in the empire, after Constantinople.
This period left its memory in the form of churches of the Byzantine architectural style, which is still used today for religious buildings. The Ottomans preserved and maintained the commercial activity of the city, especially given its status as a port center. The Greeks have always lived in these places, so it is they who enjoy the best of each period of Thessaloniki's history.
The sights of Thessaloniki, of which there are several that are a must-see
- Kastra, a picturesque area with a citadel located on an elevated site that offers an excellent view of the city and the bay of Thermaikos (Thermaikos).
- Churches and Byzantine buildings. One of the most tranquil places of Thessaloniki is the monastery of Vladaton. Inside it there is a small church where you can see an exhibition of ancient icons and objects of worship. Two other Byzantine churches, Osios David and Nikolaos Orfanos, are a model of Byzantine architecture. One of the most revered churches in Thessaloniki is the Church of Saint Demetrius, where the relics of this martyr are kept. Tourists should not miss the Cathedral of St. Sophia, which is reminiscent of the famous cathedral in Constantinople.
History of the airport
Macedonia International Airport (Macedonía) is located 15 kilometers from Thessaloniki. The international three-letter code is SKG. Until 1993, this airport was called Mikra. The current name comes from the historical area in northern Greece. It was built in the 30s of the 20th century, and during World War II, when Greece was occupied by German troops, it was used as a military airfield. From 1948 they began to use it for civilian purposes, with the terminal building itself only appearing in 1952. Thessaloniki airport transfer is very easy to get with low price from entry.
Around the 3rd century A.D. the construction of this grandiose municipal complex, which occupied an area of 2 hectares, was finished. According to historical archives, the southern part had a two-level structure (Upper and Lower Agora). There were various public institutions, stores, public baths, craft shops and also the Odeon.
Being in the center of Thessaloniki, in the "neighborhood" of St. Demetrius Temple, as well as Aristotle Square, the Roman Forum has never been neglected by travelers. It is also a favorite place of rest, a place of romantic dates and locals. Vivid witnesses to this are the cafes lined up along the perimeter.
After many centuries and an earthquake (620) when the city suffered great destruction, the Roman Forum lost its former glory and was abandoned by all. Subsequently, spontaneous constructions of local inhabitants sprang up on the site and were destroyed by a disastrous fire in 1917.
The municipality spent approximately 3 years drawing up a new plan for the city with the help of French architect Edgar Ebram. The area of the Roman Forum, without knowing that it was there, was given over to the construction of the building of Justice, and so the square was called "Justice Square", as some of the natives remember it.
In 1966, when the first preparatory works for laying the foundation were carried out, the first archaeological discoveries were made. For some reason, no one wanted to change the outlined plans. But after the direct intervention of the Institute of Archaeology, headed by Mr. F. Petsas, and as a result of long negotiations, the plans were changed. After substantial evidence, the archaeological service of Thessaloniki signed a decree authorizing the excavations on the territory of the Ancient Agora.
In 1969, the area was officially renamed "Roman Forum". Some valuable archaeological finds were placed in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. On the territory of the Forum was also built a museum. "The jewel" of this valuable archaeological and historical find, is rightly considered the Odeon. Its marble seating, arches and columns fascinate and enthrall. The unique beauty of this place is incomparable.
The Rotonda (also known as St. George's Church) is a massive circular building that was the first Roman mausoleum, a Christian basilica, a mosque, and today is a museum. Its interior is decorated with early Christian mosaics and outside is the only surviving minaret in the city.
The building was built by order of the Roman emperor Galerius in A.D. 305. It was probably intended to be his mausoleum, but was never used as one.
The Rotunda of Galerius at Thessalonica was converted into a Christian church at the end of the 4th century or mid-5th century. During this period many of the city's grand churches at Thessaloniki were built, and so it is logical that it was during this period that the Rotunda was converted into a basilica. Nevertheless, the classical style and early Christian themes of the mosaics have led other scholars to conclude that the Rotunda was converted into a church, probably under the patronage of Emperor Theodosius I (379 AD).
When the Turks came to power in Thessaloniki, the church in the rotunda was converted into a mosque in 1581. It was now called the "Mosque of Sheikh Suleiman Hortaji Efendi". The grave of the sheikh himself is now in the eastern part of the museum. Most likely, the church got its name "St. George" from the small church located nearby. The church vessels and icons were moved there after the big church was turned into a mosque.
In 1912, after the expulsion of the Ottoman Empire from Thessaloniki, the mosque was returned to the Hellenic Orthodox Church. In 1978 a major earthquake shook Thessaloniki.
After a long and difficult reconstruction in 1988, the building of the Rotunda was included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In 1995 a museum was opened in the building. Today, thanks to an agreement with the Ministry of Culture of Hellas, Orthodox services are held in the Rotunda once a month.
The rotunda, which has thick walls, was built entirely of brick. To convert it into a church, the Christians of Thessaloniki rebuilt the southeast niche into an arch and added an altar and a narthex. The Turks added only a minaret to the architectural ensemble. The interior was decorated with brilliant Byzantine mosaics, of which only a few fragments have survived to this day.