Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Salonica
Salonica is the principal cultural center in northern Greece, with a major University (founded 1925), the National Theater of Northern Greece (founded 1961), which is also an opera house, and the Salonica National Orchestra (KOTh); it is the see of a Greek Orthodox metropolitan (archbishop); and it has an important Archeological Museum, numerous Byzantine churches, some notable Roman remains and a number of buildings of the Turkish period.
The old town of Salonica, rising from the shores of the gulf on the slopes of a western outlier of the Khortiátis range, roughly in the form of a large square, is bounded on the landward side by a massive battlemented Byzantine wall, reinforced by towers, above which is a citadel dating in its present form from the Venetian period. The rest of the walls, on the southeast side and along the seafront, were demolished in the 19th century except for the White Tower at the southeast corner and the Vardar Fort at the southwest corner. On both sides of the walled town there were formerly large cemetery areas - on the northwest for Christians and Muslims, on the southeast for the Jews who made up a large proportion of the population; the site of the Jewish cemetery is now occupied by the Trade Fair grounds and the University campus.
The lower (southern) part of the old town is relatively flat and is traversed by wide boulevard-like streets. This area was rebuilt on a spacious scale after a devastating fire in 1917, leaving such ancient monuments as survived or were restored to form small cultural oases among the modern buildings.
Above this the older part of the town reaches up the hill to the ancient walls - a maze of irregular streets out of which rise the domes of old churches. The minarets of the Turkish period were destroyed after the World War I with the exception of a few remnants.
In recent times the city has expanded far beyond its old limits. The growth began with the development of a large residential area in the southeastern suburb of Kalamaria, while industry established itself mainly on the northwest side of the town.
The city's life centers on the seafront promenade which extends east to the White Tower, the elongated Aristotle Square (Platía Aristotelous) half way along and Aristotle Street (Odós Aristotelous), with its attractive gardens, which runs northeast from there to the market quarter and its numerous tavernas. At right angles to Aristotle Street are Mitropolis Street and Tzimiskis Street, with Salonica's most fashionable shops.
Numerous prehistoric mounds and remains of settlements in the vicinity of Salonica show that this area was settled by man in the Iron Age (ca. 1000 B.C.). It is generally agreed, however, that the town first enters the historical record in 315 B.C., when King Kassandros of Macedon combined a number of existing small communities in a new town on the site of the earlier settlement of Thermai (which has given its name to the Thermaic Gulf), situated at the village of Sedes, 12 km/7.5 mi southeast of the present city. Kassandra named his new foundation Thessalonikeia after his wife Thessalonike, a half-sister of Alexander the Great.
Salonica (officially Thessaloníki), Greece's second largest city and capital of Greek Macedonia, lies at the head of the Thermaic Gulf (Gulf of Salonica), the most northwesterly gulf in the Aegean, near the mouth of the important river Axiós (Vardar) and on the foothills of the Khortiátis range (1,200m/3,900ft). The city's harbor is threatened by the steadily advancing delta of the Axiós.
During the winter months north winds blowing down the Vardar valley can bring very low temperatures. In summer the weather is not infrequently oppressively hot, since the area of water in the Gulf of Salonica is too small to exert a moderating influence.
Salonica's economic importance depends on its role as a busy seaport (the largest in Greece after Piraeus) and a developing industrial center. Its industries - predominantly on the western outskirts of the town - include a steelworks, an oil refinery, factories producing artificial fertilisers, cement, animal feeds, sugar, vegetable oils and other foodstuffs, engineering and shipbuilding. Old-established local industries are the processing of tobacco (from the tobacco-growing areas in eastern Macedonia), leather goods and textiles.
With excellent communications - shipping services, trunk roads, main-line rail services, an international airport - Salonica has developed an active trade both within Greece and with other countries.
The Salonica Trade Fair, held annually in autumn, is an event of international importance.
Under the Romans Salonica (Thessalonica) became capital of the province of Macedonia Prima (148 B.C.), and thanks to its situation on the sea and on the Via Egnatia, the great highway which ran from Dyrrhachium (Italian Durazzo, Albanian Durrës) on the Adriatic to Constantinople, developed into the leading city in the southern Balkans.
In 58 B.C. Cicero spent some time in Thessalonica during his exile from Rome. The Apostle Paul visited the town twice (in A.D. 50 and 56) and founded one of the first Christian communities on European soil (cf. his Epistles to the Thessalonians).
In 253 and 269 the town repelled attacks by the Goths.
At the beginning of the fourth century it became the residence of the Emperor Galerius, a ruthless persecutor of the Christians. St Demetrius, a Roman officer of Greek origin, was martyred for his faith in 306, and the church of St Demetrius was built over his grave.
Although Theodosius the Great (379-395) made Christianity the state religion, he nevertheless ordered 7,000 citizens of Thessalonica to be killed in 391 in reprisal for the murder of one of his generals. When the Roman Empire was divided into two in 395 Thessalonica became part of the Eastern (Byzantine) Empire.
Under the Byzantine Emperors Salonica remained the most important city in the Empire after Constantinople and the leading commercial city in southeastern Europe. This was Salonica's heyday, during which many fine churches were built.
In the sixth and seventh century suffered siege and occupation by Slavs, Avars and Bulgars (578-732).
St Cyril (826/827-869) and St Methodius (before 820-885), the Apostles of the Slavs, came from Salonica, which was then bilingual in Greek and Southern Slavonic. For the writing of Church Slavonic they created the Glagolitic alphabet, which was later developed into Cyrillic.
The town was sacked by Saracen pirates in 904 and by Norman raiders in 1185.
At the beginning of the 13th century, after the capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders in 1204, Marquis Boniface de Montferrat established a Frankish kingdom and bishopric in Salonica, but in 1223 it was captured by the Despot of Epirus. In the 14th century the town was threatened by Catalans, Serbs and Turks, and the fortifications on the seaward side were strengthened. From 1342 Salonica was controlled by the Zealots in a kind of people's republic, until Byzantine authority was restored in 1349. Thereafter the town was held by various petty Byzantine rulers, and from 1423 to 1430 by Venice.
In 1430 the town was captured by Sultan Murad II, and it remained Turkish for almost 500 years, until 1912, under the name of Selanik. The Turks expelled many of the Greek inhabitants and turned most of the churches into mosques. It was finally liberated in 1912.
The population of the town was considerably increased by an influx of some 20,000 Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 (Sephardim) and smaller numbers from Germany and Hungary (Ashkenazim). Specialising in the cutting of precious stones and the manufacture of woollens and silks, they soon developed into an active commercial community trading with all parts of Europe. Between the 17th and 20th centuries these Jews, speaking Ladino (a hybrid dialect of Spanish and Hebrew), made up more than half the population. They were active in all trades and professions and played a predominant part in commerce and industry. In the second half of the 17th century the Dönme sect split off from the Jewish community and became converts to Islam. Some of the town's many Christian churches (most of which, as noted above, were converted into mosques) were used by the Jews as synagogues.
As the power of the Ottoman Empire declined Turkish rule in the Balkans, and particularly in Macedonia, grew steadily harsher, and the inhabitants of Salonica, suffering ever greater hardship and privation, several times rose in revolt (1720, 1753, 1758, 1789).
In the course of time large numbers of Greeks moved into the town, which was granted a degree of autonomy by the Turkish authorities. Many Salonicans took part in the struggle for Greek liberation; and when Emmanuel Pappas declared open rebellion on the Chalcidice peninsula in March 1821 the Turks killed at least 3,000 people in Salonica, including leading figures in the Greek community, and imprisoned hundreds of others in the White Tower.
By the year 1865 the population of Salonica had risen to around 50,000. Towards the end of the 19th century the town enjoyed an economic upswing: in 1888 a railraod link with the rest of Europe was established, in 1893 the first horse-drawn tramway system began operating, and between 1897 and 1903 a new commercial harbor was built. By 1895 the town had a population of 120,000. More than half of them were Jews, and the city had some thirty synagogues.
At the beginning of the 20th century Salonica became the headquarters of the "Young Turks", who deposed Sultan Abdul Hamid II (and exiled him to Salonica). One of the Young Turks was Mustafa Kemal Pasha (1881-1938), a native of Salonica, who in 1923, under the name of Atatürk ("Father of the Turks"), became the first President of the Turkish Republic.
In 1908 electric lighting and electric trams were introduced in Salonica.
Soon after the outbreak of the first Balkan War the 25,000 strong Turkish garrison, after some skirmishes with a Bulgarian unit, surrendered the town to Greek forces advancing from the west.
In March 1913 King George I was assassinated in Salonica.
Under the treaty of Bucharest (August 1913), which ended the second Balkan War, Salonica and much of Macedonia were returned to Greece. In 1914 the town had a population of 180,000, half of them Jews, and newspapers were published in French, Greek, Turkish and Ladino.
During the World War I - in spite of Greece's neutrality - the headquarters of the Allied Eastern Command were in Salonica (1915-18). Here too (in the former Greek consulate, now a museum, near the Mitrópolis church) were the headquarters of Venizelos's government of national defense.
In 1916 the railroad line from Salonica via Lárisa to Athens was opened.
Of the many great fires in Salonica's history (1890, 1894, 1898, 1910, etc.) the most devastating was the one in 1917, which destroyed large areas of the city (including a number of old churches and mosques) and left 80,000 people homeless. The exchange of population between Turkey and Greece in 1923 meant that Salonica had to provide a home for more than 115,000 refugees, putting a further strain on its housing resources. Between 1925 and 1935 the city was rebuilt in modern style, largely to the design of the French architect and town planner Hébrard.
At the end of September 1918 an armistice between Bulgaria and the Allied powers was signed in Salonica.
In April 1941 Salonica was occupied by German armoured forces thrusting down the Vardar valley from Yugoslavia. During the ensuing German occupation almost the whole Jewish population of Salonica (estimated at over 60,000) was deported to Nazi death camps and killed. The large Jewish cemetery on the east side of the old town was destroyed and its site occupied after the war by the Trade Fair grounds and the University campus.
The development of the city after the war was delayed by the bloody Greek civil war, and a severe earthquake in 1978 brought a further setback. Nevertheless Salonica has continued to prosper and now presents the aspect of a busy modern city.
Visitors arriving in Salonica by car and finding their way, after a long drive through the city's extensive suburbs, into the heavy traffic of the city center will be well advised to find a parking place - itself no easy task - and do their sightseeing as pedestrians. Distances in the lower town are not particularly great, and the main sights can easily be seen on foot. Alternatively, it is easy, and not expensive, to hire a taxi.
The Paleochristian and Byzantine monuments of Thessalonika were designated World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1988.
Seafront Promenade & Aristotle Square