Thessaloniki is the second biggest city of Hellas after Athens. It’s an important economic and industrial, cultural and historic centre in the country. Its extremely strategic location on the Thermaic Gulf has always been in favour to the city since its foundation by Cassander in 316 or 315 BC. Kassandros was the King of Macedonia who united the town of Therma with 26 other nearby settlements, thus establishing the city. As to the name, he named the town after his wife Thessalonike.
T H E S S A L O N I K I
She was a half-sister of Alexander the Great and her mother was from Thessaly. Her father – Philip II of Macedon, was expanding his territory in Thessaly at that time. When he came back home after a victory over Pherae and her Phocian allies with the help of the Thessalians, he announced that his daughter would bear the name of Thessaloniki in the name of the victory in Thessaly. The name itself is derived from Thessaly and Nike (victory) or “Thessalian Victory”.
On the other hand, there also exists one legend related to name of the city. It tells about a mermaid who crossed the Aegean Sea for hundreds of years and who is supposed to be namely Thessaloniki. The legend goes briefly like this. Alexander the Great was in a quest for the Fountain of Immortality. He retrieved some “immortal water” and washed his sister’s hair with it. After his death, his sister’s grief increased enormously and she jumped into the sea in order to end up her life as well. But instead of getting drowned, she became a mermaid that passed judgment on sailors in the seven seas and in the course of hundreds of centuries. She always asked them the same question: “Is Alexander the king alive?” and if she got the correct reply (i.e. “He lives and reigns and conquers the world.”), their ships were allowed to go on and their crew sailed safely in calm seas.
Apostle Paul visited Thessaloniki in 52 AD and established a church there. His two Epistles to the natives were addressed to the church at this place. On the other hand, one of the most important military saints of the Orthodox Church, i.e. Saint Demetrius of Thessaloniki (Hagios Demetrios or Hagios Dimitrios) is the city’s patron.
Thessalonica which is the other name of the city obtained its freedom in 42 BC. Roman emperor Galerius made Thessaloniki the eastern imperial capital. After the official division of the empire, the town became the second city of the Byzantine Empire, being both a flourishing spiritual and economic centre.
Nowadays Thessaloniki offers a journey through history to its visitors and almost every trip starts from Ano Poli (or the Upper Town) which remained untouched by the fire that broke out in the city in 1917. This area keeps a great portion of the heritage of the city because various epochs “go hand in hand” there. Traditional Greek and typical Ottoman architectural styles, old squares and narrow stone-paved streets attract the eyes of curious tourists. Moreover, visitors are lucky enough to indulge in the beautiful vies to the Mount Olympus on a clear day.
And here are the five attractions for me which could be of great interest to yu while visiting Ano Poli. Let’s get started with Heptapygrion (The Seven Towers in English and its Ottoman name – Yedi Kule) is the Byzantine fortress of Thessaloniki which played the role of a prison for more than one century, more precisely from the 1800s to 1988. Today it houses a small museum and enchants visitors with breathtaking views to the Aegean Sea. When we speak about the Acropolis Athens comes to our mind. As a matter of fact, also Thessaloniki has its own Acropolis which is situated at the highest point of the city and has two Portaras (or Gates) which lead to its inner parts. Tower of Trigonio (the Triangle Tower) is next to it. It served as a fortress and for strengthening the walls. Apart from this, the top of the tower offers magic views to the whole city and the bay area.
Now it’s high time we went down to the modern parts of Thessaloniki which are dotted by renovated and rebuilt modern buildings after the city fire of 1917 among which visitors stumble upon the prominent symbols of the city. There is no doubt that the landmark of the Thessalonica is the White Tower which was built in the 15th century. It had various functions – it was a harbour fortification, then garrison and finally a prison. Its fame as a prison is the reason why it was also called the Tower of Blood (Kanli Kule) or the Red Tower. Probably in 1891 it was white-washed and since then it’s been bearing the name the White Tower. Nowadays it houses a museum.
Another symbol of Thessaloniki is the Alexander the Great Statue which is situated near the White Tower on waterfront and along Nea Paralia (the New Waterfront Promenade). It’s the tallest statue (6.15 metres high) in Greece and it was built by Evangelos Moustakas in 1974.
The next a must in Thessaloniki is the Aristotelous Square. It was designed by Ernest Hébrard (a French architect) in 1918 but it was finished completely in 1950s. When tourists pass by the square, an inevitable stop is at the Monument to Aristotelous. The tradition is to rub the Hellenistic philosopher’s thumb of the foot. It’s recognizable because it’s already much “worn out”. Rubbing it makes people wiser.
Reaching the upper side of the square one stumbles upon the Roman Forum from the ancient Roman era. The Arch of Galerius and the Rotunda from the 4th century are not farther away and are not to be omitted.
Last but not least, every visitor should visit the Church of St. Demetrios. It was first built in the 5th century AD to commemorate St. Dimitrios. The Church dedicated to the city’s patron is the largest one in Greece. Unfortunately, it was destroyed in the fire of 1917 and later it was restored and reconstructed. An interesting fact is that there’re Ancient Roman remains including a bathhouse beneath the Church “Hagios Demetrios”.