Thessaloniki or also called Salonica perfectly melds a small town’s charm and friendly ambience and the cosmopolitan energy and culture of a large city. This is an exciting destination where you can get to experience Greece in all its authenticity with no need to deal with the congestion and crowds of Athens.
The second biggest city of Greece, Thessaloniki traces back its history to 315 BC. The capital of Central Macedonia, it has formed an extensive array of iconic buildings through thousands of years with Paleochristian, Byzantine, Ancient Greek, Roman, Sephardic Jewish, and Ottoman origins.
The city is popular as the vibrant center of culture and festivals and also boasts of one of the country’s most imaginative nightlife scenes. Any visitor in the area who loves world religions, archaeology, and history would never run out of things to do here.
While in Thessaloniki, make sure you check out some of its renowned tourist attractions.
The White Tower
No visit to the city will be complete if you don’t get to see for yourself its most iconic monument, none other than the White Tower.
Considered as the official landmark of the city, the White Tower is no doubt one the area’s best places to check out.
This tower was built in 1535 and heavy walls originally surrounded it because this served as a prison when the Ottoman occupied Greece. Many prisoners there were executed and tortures, earning the tower the nicknames The Red Tower or The Tower of Blood.
It was in 1890 when it was officially given the new name The White Tower after a prisoner completely repainted this in white to get his freedom in return.
When visiting the White Tower, make sure you go to its top floor where you can admire the city in a stunning 360-degree view, the sea, and even the highest summit of Greece, Mount Olympus.
Saint George’s Church or Roman Rotunda
The Roman Rotunda is the most magnificent ancient monument of Thessaloniki. Established during the early 4th century, this was probably meant to be the mausoleum of Emperor Galerius although this didn’t happen. It was also part of a complex including the Arch of Galerius and Galerius Palace.
The grandiose sanctuary never fails to leave a breathtaking impression. With a height of 30 meters and a diameter of over 24 meters, the Rotunda has a cylindrical domed architecture like that of Rome’s Pantheon. Gorgeous mosaics can be found inside decorating the vaulted recesses and the dome.
The mosaic in the middle of the dome is already missing yet there are charming architectural façades and angel figures under with a gold background. The Rotunda serves as the home to Sculpture Museum and it is open every day for those who want to visit.
Agios Dimitrios Church
This impressive colossal church was erected on the spot of the ancient Roman bath. According to legends, the bath was where St. Demetrius, the namesake of the church was imprisoned, dropped down a well and executed by Roman soldiers.
There are a total of 5 aisles in the basilica with the unique hexagonal nave called a ciborium. What is particularly interesting here is the famous 6-paneled mural that is among the finest mosaics of Thessaloniki that shows St. Demetrius with the children and the church builders. Aside from being one of the city’s largest churches, it is also regarded as among the most important worship houses in the entire Thessaloniki as far as history and religion are concerned.
Arch of Galerius
As you go on a stroll from Egnatia Street to the city center, you will see the Arch of Galerius, an ancient Roman monument that dates back to around AD 297. The arch was the main entrance gate of the ancient town. There are only three piers that remain from the original structure on the west side. Two of these surviving piers with an arch linking them feature a façade made from marble and adorned with intricate reliefs.
Garlands separate the reliefs that depict the battle scenes from the Persian, Armenian, and Mesopotamian campaigns of Emperor Galerius during the 3rd and 4th centuries. These elaborately carved reliefs are some of the finest of their kind. Make sure you watch out for the animated scenes found on the south pier. Despite being badly weathered, these reliefs are still better preserved compared to the modern reliefs in Rome’s Arch of Constantine that date to AD 315.
Ernest Hebrard, a French architect, designed the main city square in 1918 though much of the square today, specifically the movie theater and the Electra Hotel were remade during the ‘50s. This was a move from the crowded, unplanned, and narrow streets coming from the centuries of build-outs of the Ottoman Empire to a more contemporary plan under Hebrard’s guidance. The square was officially completed right after a 1917 fire, marking a significant change in the city’s archaeological evolution. To date, the square serves as the home to numerous public gatherings and celebrations.
Ladadika’s historic district can be found at the back of the ferry port, just a few steps away from the Aristotelus Square. This is where you can find colorfully painted houses, warehouses, and workshops dotting the cobblestone streets featuring restaurant tables.
Among the best attractions to visit in the city, Ladadika was originally a frenzied merchant district where most of the Sephardic Jews of the city were settling in. The name of the place actually came from the stores that were selling olive oil and olive oil products there.
When the 20th century wars happened, the quarter turned into a cosmopolitan red light district crowded by spies and with clientele and businesses from different parts of the world.
It was in the ‘90s and 2000 when the interwar architecture of the quarter was restored after several years of decline.
Ladadika once again became a premier nightlife destination with a surplus of bars, various international eateries, Greek restaurants, and taverns or ouzeri.
Never miss out on these Thessaloniki attractions and have the best time of your life!
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