Updated: Jul 18, 2021
We came to Thessaloniki for three days. Liat had a lecture at a fascinating academic conference about Film Adaptation at the Museum of Byzantine Culture. At the same time, I, as usual, used the time to explore the city.
Thessaloniki is the second-largest city in Greece and the center of the northern Macedonia region. I have heard some people say it's not worth a visit – a big mistake. Although this is not a magnificent city - it has a unique charm. It is most recommended to dedicate at least three days to travel to the town and enjoy its treasures.
As a historic city, Thessaloniki opens a window to acquaintances with fascinating ancient periods of the Mediterranean. The Roman period is represented by ancient sites like the Roman Forum and the Arch of Galerius. The Acropolis Walls, the Trigoniou Tower, and a few churches like Osios David and Prophet Elijah Church remain from the Byzantine period of Thessaloniki. The White Tower and the Mosques of the Hamza Bey Cami will open a window to the Ottoman period of the city. Ano Poli, the upper town that survived the big fire of 1917, which burned most of the town, is like a time capsule of Ottoman and traditional Macedonian architecture. This unique neighborhood is full of churches, monasteries, and fortresses. You can complete the historical experience by visiting some museums dedicated to the different subjects, like the Museum of Byzantine Culture, the Archaeological Museum, The Museum of Thessaloniki in the White Tower, and even an underground museum under the Roman Forum. So many old layers and diversity in a not-so-large city.
The complete Greek experience must include sitting in one of the many traditional Taverns in the city, listening to Greek music with live bouzouki performances. And don't forget the markets in the city center. Modiano Market and Kapani Market are great places to visit, taste, and shop.
As a coastal city, Thessaloniki has a lovely promenade – walking along it enables us to visit some of the most important and interesting sites of the city: the White Tower, Aristotelous Square, the old harbor, shops, bars, and restaurants.
Like many cities in Europe, WWII opened a black hole in the city's history when the Nazis deported and murdered the ancient and well-established community of Thessaloniki Jews in 1942. The Jews were one-third of the city's population and considered a primary factor in its economy, trade, and culture. You can find several sites in the town that tells the story of the life and the destruction of this fabulous community. Visit the Jewish Museum in the city center. The Monastirioton Synagogue is the only one left in Thessaloniki to remind the great community that flourished there for more than 500 years. The Jewish Cemetery of Thessaloniki hosts 300,000 graves, a few of which dated back to the Roman period. Not much left from the cemetery – The Nazis used most of the tombstones as building materials. Now the university lies in its ruins.
When I travel to a new city, the first thing I do is to join a Free City Tour (well, those tours are not really free – the guides expect a tip at the end of the trip). The quality of those tours, usually conducted by students, is varied. Still, it always gives me a good starting point for exploring the city. In Thessaloniki, we found a real charming guide called George. We took two different tours with him – in the city center and in Ano Poli – the upper town. Both visits were enriching, teaching, and very enjoyable, and I highly recommend them. Check the tour's schedule on his website.
To sum up, Thessaloniki is a beautiful city, combines history and culture – a lovely place for your next vacation!