Discovering Thessaloniki  
  ...a walking tour...some history....and some useful numbers  
 
Our Tour
 
 

Much of the area you are about to cover was rebuilt after the disastrous fire of 1917. Thus many of the historic sites that were here, the center of the harbor area during successive Macedonian, Roman and Byzantine days, no longer exist. However, you can still get the feel of this 2300-year-old city as you explore the path suggested below.

Start from the intersection of Aristotelous Street with Tsimiski Street in-front of "Terkenlis Patisserie" (you can tell by the delightful smell of fresh baked "tsoureki" known as "Eastern bread" in the States) Walk towards the sea-front to meet Aristotelous Square. Nowadays, people from all over come to enjoy an elaborate ice cream dish at one of the many cafes here. Turn right onto Mitropoleos Street, continuing for two blocks parallel to the waterfront, to Komninon Street. Turn right and continue back to Tsimiski Street. Along the way you will notice several older buildings of rather Italian design, survivors of a previous era.

 
 
After you cross Tsimiski, continue up Komninon. On the left side of the street, you will soon notice the Yahudi Hamam, double Turkish baths, or what remains of it. Now occupied by merchants, it received this name because it was in the Jewish district. There at the far corner is the flower market. There's no need to describe the colorful place, as it does that very well on its own. Continue on Komninon across the street and turn right. Half way up the block is the Central Market (Agora Modiano), a large building with aisles of stalls selling everything from fresh fish and meats, to wines, vegetables and local delicacies. There is no bargaining here, but you may find a tasty treat at some of the city's lowest set prices.
 
  If you can find your way through to the opposite end of the market building, you will exit on Ermou Street. Turn left and go to the corner (Komninon again) and continue another block to Venizelou Street. This is one of the old roads that ran down from the upper city to the harbor gates. Go right, up Venizelou. You will notice on your left about half way up the block an old market building, Bezesteni. The Turkish word Bezesteni or Bezesten is derived from the Persian word Bezzazistan which means "clothing materials market." These markets sold silk and other expensive materials and this is the main reason why they were always guarded. The Thessaloniki Bezesten was built around the end of the 15th century in a rectangular design covered by six lead domes.

 
  At the first corner, turn right. You will now enter a maze of outdoor shops selling everything from woven baskets to T-shirts. You might try to bargain here, except for foodstuffs which are fixed price. As you wander, you will no doubt get lost. Just ask for Egnatia (Egg-nah-TEE-ah) as quizzically as you can. You will eventually be pointed (or led) to the famed road the Romans built to continue the Appian Way across Europe to Constantinople. Cross Egnatia wherever you find a pedestrian light. You will be very close (if anything it will be to your right) to the church called Panagia Chalkeon (Pan-ah-YEE-a Hal-KAY-on), or Our Lady 'of the Coppersmiths' [bellow road level]. Built in 1028 it was adorned with frescoes which no longer exist. The frescoes the visitor can now see are from the 14th century. This is the southwest corner of the ancient agora district. When you walk past the church on Chalkeon Street, you will see the many copper and bronze shops for which the church and street are named. Continue for a few long blocks, and when you come to a dead end, turn right on Filippou Street and then left a half block over. You will see on your right the archeological site of the Roman Forum where famous Romans such as Marc Anthony and the Emperor Galerius trod. Still further up (turning uphill on Makedonikis Amynis Street) you will come to Agiou Dimitriou Street.  
 

 
 
Cross the street and you will be just a little ways from the city's foremost house of worship, Aghios (Saint) Demetrios , dedicated to Thessaloniki's patron Saint, who is credited with delivering the populace from an invasion by barbarians. The first shrine was built in 313 AD. The basilica church itself was built a century later. It burned down sometime between 626-634, but a larger church was almost immediately rebuilt. In 1491 the Turks turned it into a mosque. In 1912, following the city's liberation from Turkish rule, it became once again a Christian church, but it burned again during the big fire of August 6, 1917. It was refurbished and began functioning again in 1948.
 
  The church is open to the public daily from 07:30 to 12:00 and from 17:00 to 20:30. Entry is free. Inside the church, and towards the front of the church is the entrance to the Crypt of St. Dimitrios, situated bellow the church.

 
  This is an interesting area to find older cafes and restaurants not usually frequented by foreign tourists. Either go back toward the agora, or east down Agiou Dimitriou Street, where there are a number of cafes. Since most Greeks will treat you warmly, feel free to go inside to rest your by-now weary feet.

 
 
Once you have relaxed, take Mitropolitou Genadiou Street down the east side of St. Dimitrious and the Roman agora to Egnatia Street. Turn right onto Egnatia and on your right hand side you will see Bey Hamam, the first Ottoman bath house in Thessaloniki, built in 1444. It is open to the public from 08:00 to 14:30, Monday through Friday. Admission is free.
 
 
Upon exiting the Bey Hamam, turn left back onto Egnatia Street. Two blocks later you will find yourself next to Makedonomachon Square. Turn right where you see "McDonald's" to cross Egnatia on Agias Sofias Street. After one block, the street will open up to Agia Sofia Square, which was one of the most important centers of religious and social life for the Greeks in Thessaloniki. You will notice a few architectural novelties surrounding the square, one of which is the most notably striking "red house" built in 1926. The Church of Aghia Sophia, or Church of the Holy Wisdom, is on your left. This is one of the first monuments to reflect the change from Roman to Byzantine influence, and is also the first in Thessaloniki to be constructed with a dome. Built sometime during the seventh century, the church served as the city cathedral until the sixteenth century, when it was converted to a mosque. In 1912 the church was returned to its original function for Christian worship. It is worth going in to see the colorful mosaics on the ceilings and walls.

 
  As you exit the church, turn left, following Agias Sofias Street towards the waterfront for one more long block until you meet Tsimiski Street once again. Cross Tsimiski Street and walk for a block. You will meet Mitropoleos Street. Cross Mitropoleos Street. On your left side is the Church of Saint Panteleimon which is the Cathedral of Thessaloniki. Next to the Cathedral, and towards the sea is a three floor house Greek neoclassical house (19th century) home of the Museum of Macedonian Struggle . The entrance is from the side street Proxenou Koromila Street.  
 
Walk down to the waterfront. Turn left in the direction of the White Tower. Along the way you will pass many cafes and some 1930s art deco buildings. Before you reach the White Tower itself, you will walk past the site (now completely obliterated) of the Roman Port area. This is just as the strand widens. You can imagine old galleons loading olives, grapes, nuts and wine after bringing in replacement legions for the Emperor's army. The White Tower is a restored mid-16th century Turkish structure (Beyaz Koule - Lion of the Fortresses) said to be built by Suleyman the Magnificent. It is now a very interesting museum (Summer hours: closed Monday, Tuesday-Sunday 08:00-14:30, Winter hours: Monday 10:30-17:00, Tuesday-Friday 08:00-17:00, Saturday and Sunday 08:30-15:00). Admission fee of about 2000 drachmas.
 
  Keep continue along the water-front. You will pass the newly renovated Basiliko Theater and reach the statue of Alexander the Great riding his horse. The floating-boat-cafes make a small trip around the port of Thessaloniki every couple of hours. It is a great way to view the city. Walk behind the statue of Alexander the Great. Cross through the park. Cross the Paraliaki Avenue and continue through the park. In the summer there are plenty of cafes and restaurants here. At the other side of the park, you will come to a big intersection. On your left you will see the YMCA building built in the early 1930's. Inside are a public swimming pool (heated, hair cap required, swimming lanes only), and a host of youth activity rooms. On a clear day, from the corner you can see the remains of the ancient seven towers fortification, Eptapyrgio, high on the hill. On your right you will see the famed Archaeological Museum home to many rare Macedonian treasures. You can see for yourself the splendors of the first Western empire. (Summer hours: Monday 12:30-19:00, Tuesday-Friday 08:00-19:00, Saturday and Sunday 08:30-19:00. Winter hours: Monday 14:30-19:00, Tuesday-Sunday 08:00-19:00) Admission fee around 2000 drachmas.  
 

Behind the Archaeological Museum ins the Museum of Byzantine Culture Do not miss it
Along the way to the museum you no doubt saw the modern tower at the entrance to the International Trade Fair (HELEXPO) grounds. Major exhibitions are hosted here throughout the year.

 
 
After you exit, cross the street to your right and head down Tsimiski. Turn right on Gounari Street and go up three blocks to see the remains of The Palace Complex of Galerius Maximianus. On your left side, you will see the Octagon, which was probably Galerius' throne-room. The Palace, just north of the Octagon, was a two-story structure with an open atrium in the middle. It was destroyed by an eighth century earthquake. Upon passing the Palace, turn right into the pedestrian area and you will find yourself facing the Hippodrome, which was the recreation center of Thessaloniki until 390 AD when 7000 cityfolk were slaughtered by order of Emperor Theodosius.
 
 
You will soon find yourself on Svolou Street, on which you should turn left. The first street you approach will be Gounari again, and turn right to continue on toward Egnatia Street. Once you come to Egnatia, it will be hard to miss the Arch of Galerius or Kamara and the Rotunda, named for its circular shape, behind it. The Rotunda has been closed for renovations in years past, but if you find it open the mosaics are striking.
 
 
With your back to the Rotunda, turn right on Egnatia, which was the Christian quarter during Ottoman rule. Thus, you will note the number of churches on this street, which date from anywhere during the Byzantine period to the Turkish period. On the left, you will see the Transfiguration of Our Lord from the mid-fourteenth century and then Our Lady "Panayouda" (Swift to Mercy), built in 1818.
 
  Next, you will see two bright yellow buildings on either side. The one on the left is the oldest surviving school of the Greek community, and is still being used as a school today. The one on the right is an old physician's mansion, donated to the city for use by international organizations. Farther down Egnatia are the churches of St. Charalambus, an urban dependency of a monastery on Mt. Athos, and St. Athansius, built in 1818. Continue down Egnatia for a few blocks until you meet Aristotelous Street, a pedestrian thoroughfare with a variety of shops and cafes. Turn left on this street and about three blocks later you will find yourself back on Tsimiski. This is were we started the tour.  
     
  A few words about Greece
Greece, officially known as the Hellenic Republic, occupies the southernmost part of the Balkan peninsula and numerous islands in the Aegean and Ionian Seas. Its total land area is 131,957 square kilometers, about the size of the State of Alabama. The country has a highly indented coast, giving it a total coastline of 15,000 km. Greece is a mountainous country relatively poor in natural resources. Its highest mountain is Mount Olympus (2,917m), which lies south of Thessaloniki. Less than one-third of the land is arable. The most important plains are in Thessaly and in Macedonia. The population of Greece is 10,500,000 and the annual rate of population growth is 1%. Around 63% of the population is urban, most of which is concentrated in Athens, Thessaloniki, and Patras. Some 97% of the people are members of the Greek Orthodox Church, with the remainder including Muslims, Roman Catholics, Jews, and Protestants.
 
 


THE HISTORY OF THESSALONIKI AND NORTHERN GREECE THE CITY

Thessaloniki is Greece's second largest city with a population of about a million inhabitants. It is located 300 miles north of Athens in the ancient province of Macedonia. In contrast to the dry Mediterranean climate of southern Greece, northern Greece has more rainfall, more river systems and more of the temperate-zone appearance. Built around the shores of the Thermaikos Gulf and framed by its acropolis and Mount Hortiatis, Thessaloniki's natural setting is lovely.

By Greek standards the city is not old. It was founded in 315 BC by Kassandros, brother-in-law of Alexander the great, most likely in the site of classical Therme at the head of the Thermaikos Gulf. Kassandros named the city in honor of his wife, Thessaloniki, who was the daughter of Philip of Macedonia the half-sister of Alexander the Great. Just two decades earlier King Philip had staged a decisive victory for his Thessalian allies at Chaeronia. The daughter born to Philip that year was named Thessaloniki ("Thessalian victory") to commemorate it. When Alexander's half-sister was wed to General Kassandros, the city, given to them as a home, was renamed after her. Thessaloniki later came under the domination of Rome and in 146 AD was one of the Empire's provincial capitals dominating the area from the Adriatic to the Black Sea. During this era the famous Via Egnatia was constructed as a through-road between Rome, on the Adriatic Coast, and Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire. This is one of the greatest commercial roads ever in existence and is still one of Thessaloniki's major arteries, paralleling the sea.

Thessaloniki achieved its greatest prominence during the late Roman and Byzantine empires when it became the first city of the Greek "province," far surpassing Athens in commercial and administrative importance. Saracens, Normans, and Venetians at various times later controlled the city. Venice bought the city in 1423 AD, but it was seized by the Ottoman Empire in 1430 and progressively suffered a decline in importance under the 482-year Turkish occupation (1430-1912 AD). Turkish rule ended on October 26, 1912, an event commemorated yearly on October 26th, the name day of the city's patron, Saint Demetrios.

The central part of the city is new, having been rebuilt after a disastrous fire in 1917, on new plans drawn by the famous French architect Hebrard. During WWII, the Germans occupied Thessaloniki for nearly four years until their withdrawal in October 1944. Since the war and particularly in the last twenty years, there has been a rapid expansion of the city, which brought its population from 380,648 in 1961 to 871,580 in 1981. The character of the city changed at the same time from a prosperous provincial city to a booming modern metropolis with all the urban problems that plague most large cities in the world.

The Economy
Thessaloniki is second only to the Athens/Piraeus area as an industrial center, and Northern Greece is economically one of the most important areas in Greece. Major industrial sectors are petrochemical products, textiles, wood and paper products, steel, and assorted manufactured goods. As throughout the city's history, transportation services and shipping remain significant sources of revenue for Thessaloniki. The city dreams of regaining its Byzantine role as a pan-Balkan commercial center. Tobacco and deciduous fruits such as peaches, apples and pears are the most important agricultural products in the region. Both are significant foreign exchange earners, with tobacco going to world-wide markets and fruits, either fresh or preserved, to European markets. Philip Morris and other American tobacco companies maintain buying offices in Northern Greece to handle their tobacco purchases.

Another interesting and important industry is fur processing and garment manufacturing. It is centered in the mountain town of Kastoria about 100 miles west of Thessaloniki, and its success is based on the ability and willingness of the local people to sew together bits of fur scrap into pieces large enough for garments.

 
 


Getting around in Thessaloniki

TAXI
Taxis in the city are numerous if a bit feisty. Drivers routinely pick up other passengers en route, and often refuse to take customers to destinations deemed inconvenient.
Hail the driver by raising your hand. Before entering, tell him the name of the hotel or the location of where you wish to go. He will tell you if he's going in that direction. (Ask "OK?" if you're uncertain. It is universally understood.)

Radio taxis can be ordered at a slight additional cost, but are sometimes unavailable at peak hours. Makedonia 2310- 555-111 White Tower 2310-214-900 Mercedes 2310-525-000

BUSES

Tickets are a flat fare of 100 drachmas within the city. You have to purchase them from the kiosks that sell newspapers, candy etc. before you enter the bus. No tickets are sold inside the bus. Once you enter the bus, you time-stamp your ticket by entering it in one of the red boxes.

Urban Bus Terminal Filipou Street (in front of Roman agora) 2310-416-921

AIR
Macedonia Airport 2310-425-011
Olympic Airways Office 3 Navarhou Koundouriotou 2310-281-880, 2310-230-240

TRAIN
Railway Station Monastiriou 2310-517-517
A ticket office is also located at Aristotelous Square.

 
 
MAJOR MUSEUMS, CULTURAL CENTERS, AND ART ORGANIZATIONS


Thessaloniki is host to an impressive array of museums and cultural organizations. A list includes:

Archeological Museum Opposite YMCA 2310-830-538
Byzantine Museum 2 Stratou Ave. 2310-868-570/4
Folklore/Ethnological Museum 68 Vas. Olgas 2310-830-591
White Tower Museum at the White Tower 2310-267-832
Museum of the Macedonian Struggle 23 Proxenou Koromila St. 2310-229-778
Macedonian Center for Modern Art 5th km Georgikis Scholis 2310-471-545
Technological Museum Sindos Ave 2, bldg 47 2310-799-773
Cultural Center of N. Greece 108 V. Olgas 2310-834-404
Municipal Art Gallery 162 Vas. Olgas 2310-425-531
Vafopoulio Cultural Center of the Municipality of Thessaloniki 3 G. Nikolaide St. 2310-424-132
Industrial Design Museum 43 Mitropoleos St. 2310-263-043
Photography Museum 18 Aristotelous St. 2310-257-050
Cinema Museum 44 Andreou Georgiou St. 2310-257-050
Telloglio Cultural Center 159A Agiou Demetriou 2310-280-009
State Orchestra of Northern Greece 21 Ippodromiou St. 2310-260-620
Municipal Orchestra 17 Kountouriotou St. 2310-538-440
 
 
THE GREEK SCHEDULE
Offices open between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m., but many close permanently for the day in mid-afternoon. Lunch rarely occurs before 1:30 in the afternoon - later on the weekends - and tends to last several hours. Dinner in private homes and at restaurants seldom begins before 9:00 p.m., and can start as late as 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. on weekend evenings. Nightclubs and similar centers generally do not begin to fill with people before midnight, and often remain active until dawn, even during the week. The city's large university population (about 60,000) ensures that such establishments are always busy.
 

SHOPPING
Most stores in Thessaloniki are open:
Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday: 8:30 to 14:00
Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday: 8:30 to 13:30 and 17:00 to 20:30

AREAS WITH TAVERNAS
--Square "Navarinou" (around the The Palace Complex of Galerius Maximianus...see above)
--Square "Athonos" (between the Church of Aghia Sophia, or Church of the Holy Wisdom and Aristotelous Square)
--"Ladadika" area (across from the Port)
--"Ano Poli" (on the hill where you see the remains of the castle...visible from the White Tower)

CAFE
Dozens of Cafes can be found on "Leoforos Nikis" (Parallel to Tsimiski Street by the sea)

NIGHT CLUBS
In the summer (late April till late September) all night clubs operate in open-air facilities near the airport. Arrive not before 1am and expect to stay till 4-5 in the morning. You can go by TAXI and you will find TAXIs there when you decide to go back to bed.

In the winter (early October till middle of April) clubs operate in their "winter" facilities around Thessaloniki. "MASKES" is on Aristotelous Square (arrive at 1am). "SHARK" is more of a bar (arrive at 11pm) on the east side of the city 15min drive from Aristotelous Square.
"MYLOS" (pictured above) and nearby "VILKA" are complexes with a taverna, a cafe, a club with Greek and a club with non-Greek music. They are in the west side of the city, 5 min drive from Aristotelous Square.

 
 


LINKS

Info about life in Thessaloniki in Greek
Info about the History of Thessaloniki in Greek
Ministry of Culture--Info about Thessaloniki in ENGLISH
Some history about Macedonia in ENGLISH (see also "Interesting Pages")