As promised in a previous post, before I leave for Japan I am making a post about Thessaloniki the city I was born and grew up in. As a warning to any potential reader a lot of photos will be included so don’t be frustrated if it takes up a lot of time to load.As a side note a blog redesign is planned to match with the main site redesign which itself is a work in progress. That will happen when I manage to find the time to do it so back on topic!
The city was built around the 3rd century BC by the Macedonian king Cassander and was given the name of Alexander the Great’s half-sister Thessaloniki. Its history is long and rich. Suffice to say that it went through the hands of many different civilizations including the classical Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman. For the history geeks among the readers who, like me, want to know more historical details you can visit the wikipedia link on Thessaloniki.
Today 25/03/2010, a Greek national holiday the weather was very nice and the streets were full of people, so I grabbed my camera and went for a walk around Thessaloniki to gather material for this post. Even though this post will have some personal commentary due to the whole situation with me leaving for Japan it can also serve as a form of tourist’s guide to Thessaloniki since I took photos of many famous landmarks a visitor could go and see. To that end each photo will be a link to Google maps pointing to the exact geographical location of the place that the photo depicts.
And what would be a better place to start than the white tower? Built in the 15th century it is now the symbol of the city. Whenever you see some event having to do with Thessaloniki or any logo of the city it will definitely have that tower on it.
The white tower is located by the sea. Thessaloniki has a beautiful albeit a bit smelly (due to an awful sanitizing system) coastal road that you can walk along. Especially in a sunny day like it was today, walking along the sea is invigorating. I can not count the times I walked that road either alone or with friends. It serves as a very good way of forgetting the anxieties and problems of daily life and provides a means of clearing your head. As I am a computer programmer many times I was stuck in god knows how awfully difficult to debug code. Taking this walk by the sea always cleared my mind and helped me pinpoint the root of the problem. All of that without ever looking at the code itself, but just by clearing my head and breathing in some “fresh” air.
On the picture above you can see a view of the coastal road with the white tower appearing in the distance on the left. It was a sunny day and many people were out walking. Below is a picture of a statue of Alexander the Great. That statue is located in a central point of the road and in a day such as this you can see people trying to sell their wares to passerbys.
Further down the road, walking towards eastern Thessaloniki the coastal road widens. Many bicycles pass by a recently re-created area and the road leads to Thessaloniki Music Hall in the distance where various concerts take place. Walking along the coastal road from the white tower to the music hall would take around half an hour with an average pace. As I said above such a walk is invigorating and I would recommend it to anyone living in Thessaloniki who can find the time to include it into his daily routine
Walking back towards the center of the city one can find another very central point, the XANTH square. This is a youth organization, something akin to YMCA but in Thessaloniki it is best known for this big building depicted in the picture below which has given the square its name. In the distance the white tower is visible.
Exactly opposite to this building, still in the same square one can locate HELEXPO. HELEXPO is a place where all kinds of exhibitions both domestic and international take place. Anyone remember the showcasing of the mazebot? That took place inside HELEXPO grounds. As for that big tower, it is called the OTE telecommunications tower belonging to the Hellenic telecommunications organization.
As a final mention of seaside Thessaloniki I could not omit Aristotelous Square, taking its name from Aristotle, Alexander the Great’s teacher. This is considered a very nice place to go out in Thessaloniki with lots of cafes to sit and relax at and lots of people to see. The only downside is that compared to other areas it can be considered a bit expensive. I remember that as a kid my parents brought me here often even though I can’t say I remember any details since it was a long time ago. All I can remember is chasing doves, since going out for a cup of coffee was not in my agenda back then 🙂
A lot closer to the place I live is Navarinou Square. It is built around the palace grounds of Galerius, a Roman emperor who lived around the 3rd Century AD. Back then the Roman empire was divided and he got the eastern part, that is why he had a palace in Thessaloniki, a strategical location in the Balkans. For more history stuff visit the Wikipedia link I posted above.
Today Navarinou square is bustling with all sorts of activity. Many cafes to sit and relax, interesting people to meet and generally a place where many young people tend to hang out. Even though we call it a square it is not a square per Se but just some areas built around the palace of Galerius. If anyone visits Thessaloniki I would definitely suggest going by Navarinou just to check out the young crowd and of course if interested in historical monuments a visit to the palace is also possible.
As for me Navarinou is practically the place where I grew up. Playing soccer and other games as a kid, going out with friends as a teen and falling in love as an adult. I can definitely say that I lived all kind of experiences and felt all kinds of emotions here. If I would pinpoint an area where I got ties to this would be the one.
A 2 minutes walk from Navarinou, considered by many an extension of it as an area lies Kamara. If you look closely in the above picture you can recognize Kamara which will be in the following pictures. In Greek it means an Arch. And that is what it basically is, a victory arch. Remember the Roman emperor Galerius? He built it to celebrate and commemorate his victory against the Persians in the East. If you clicked on the wikipedia Galerius link you could read more details about that. In the picture below you can see it from the side, with Rotunda behind it. More on Rotunda later.
Nowadays Kamara serves a much humbler but more practical purpose. It is THE meeting place of young people. I don’t know how it came to be so but whenever two or more people want to meet in Thessaloniki this is the landmark they set as their meeting place. As a result, just like Navarinou close by the surrounding area is bustling with activity.
Just next to Kamara lies Rotunda. This was also built by Galerius and it was intended to be his tomb. It was not meant to be though and later with the christianization of the Roman Empire it became a church. A lot later it became a mosque under the Ottomans. Now it is a museum accessible by all. Definitely a place to visit as a tourist. Below you can see a picture of Rotunda and if you want more historical details just visit the link I posted.
Since Thessaloniki is surrounded by hills and small mountains the further you get from the sea the elevation changes. So going a little higher one can see the city walls of the old Thessaloniki. Unfortunately the seaside walls were demolished so the walls higher up are the only ones that remain. It is definitely a very nice place for a walk especially if you come and visit as a tourist. Not to mention the breathtaking view of Thessaloniki that you can enjoy at the end of the walk.
The walls stretch a long way around the city and even though some parts are missing the castles and garrisons built on the walls are still there so walking and following the walls would be a great way to see part of Thessaloniki while at the same time sightseeing too. Below you can see a Garrison located in the old city, or Upper City as we call it.
As you can see from both pictures it is located in a corner of the walls joining two different wall parts. It dates from the Byzantine period of the city and is very well preserved. Many tourists visit the particular Garrison. I have to admit that I have never gone inside so I have no idea about any additional details concerning its history.
As I said above this part of the walls is located in the Upper city, basically the old city. We call it Ano Poli, meaning Upper City in Greek. This area has maze-like small streets and graphical little buildings. It is a very nice place to visit and walk if you like but beware since it is very easy to get lost in between all these small roads. Just remember that everything that goes downwards leads to the sea (or a dead end).
As a kid I used to love to come and visit my friends who live in the old city. Playing a game of hide and seek in maze-like streets such as these close to the old city walls are some of the best memories I have from my childhood.
I think this is getting too big for a single blog post. Maybe I should have made two blog-posts on this topic so that I could post all the pictures I took. But this will have to suffice. I can not think of a better way to end this post than with pictures of Thessaloniki taken from the old city providing a panoramic view of the city.
The pictures are posted from left to right. Left:
I am very happy to have made this blog post. It put some things about my home city into perspective and makes it a bit easier to think about my future endeavors in Japan. This place holds most of my childhood and early adult life memories. I will never forget it and I am sure I will be coming back at least as a visitor. My final opinion/consensus about Thessaloniki? All I know is that the city I was born and grew up in is beautiful.