Thessaloniki - Abbey Travel, Ireland



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Welcome to Thessaloniki


Greece's second largest city was the realm of Alexander the Great and named after his sister, Thessaloniki, when it was founded in 316 BC. The capital of Macedonia in the north, it sits in a bowl framed by low hills, facing a bay on the Gulf Thermaikos. Despite being one of the oldest cities in Europe, today Thessaloniki is lively and modern, and with its with wide avenues, parks and squares, is thought to be much more attractive than Athens.

The main squares are Platia Elefterias and Platia Aristotelous, both on the waterfront and alive with cafes and restaurants, children playing or people just strolling. Thessaloniki, having been under Ottoman rule for long periods in its history, has been left a legacy of numerous Byzantine churches, and museums housing Byzantine art and artefacts. The city also has a heritage of early Christian communities, particularly the renowned monasteries of nearby Mount Athos; and a rich Jewish tradition, evident in the synagogues and Jewish Museum.

In 1917, most of the city was destroyed in a massive fire, and rebuilt later. This is not a high-rise city, though, because the area is prone to earthquakes and regulations have been imposed preventing the building of skyscrapers. This means that residents and visitors alike can enjoy the seaside situation of Thessaloniki, with views aplenty from the city streets.

There is much to see and do in Thessaloniki besides the ruins, including visits to the Turkish Baths, central market, and cafes and restaurants of Aristotelous Square. Thessaloniki also has a vibrant nightlife, with a number of lively bars and clubs.

Information & Facts


Thessaloniki displays characteristics of both a Mediterranean and continental climate with hot and humid summers with average daytime weather highs of 86°F (30°C) and the possibility of thunder storms. The winters are much cooler with dry, cold days, morning frost and annual snowfall. The weather in Thessaloniki in general is warmer in the south than the north with the mountainous areas being cooler. The season between November and March experiences plenty of rainfall.

Getting Around

Thessaloniki is a pleasant city to explore on foot. However, it does have an efficient and extensive bus service. Taxis are plentiful and easily available throughout the city.

Greek is the national language, but English is widely spoken.

The Euro (EUR) is the official currency, divided into 100 cents. Banks and bureaux de change are widely available and travellers cheques and major credit cards are widely accepted. ATMs are widespread and are generally the cheapest and most convenient method of obtaining euros.

Thessaloniki has numerous beautiful churches, large and small, dating from various eras, most notably Byzantine. Most are sited in the Upper City area, which is a warren of quaint, narrow cobbled streets and has become a fashionable quarter favoured by local city slickers. Some of the most important churches are the church of Saint George, a domed building dating from the 4th century, which was originally the mausoleum for Roman Emperor Galerius; Agia Sofia, the domed cruciform church built in the 8th century that is a copy of the Agia Sophia in Istanbul (Constantinople); Agfi Apostoli from the 14th century, with its rich Byzantine decorations; and the 14th-century Agios Nikolaos Orfanos with it's beautiful frescoes. Churches are wont to close in the afternoons and sightseers are expected to dress appropriately.

Only men are welcome to make a pilgrimage to Mount Athos, the secretive 'Shangri-La' on a rugged promontory about 80 miles (129km) south east of Thessaloniki, where it is possible to step back in time and mingle with hundreds of monks, from more than 20 monasteries, in one of the most scenic spots in Europe. This unique mountainous enclave on the coast is sprinkled with huge monasteries, most resembling castles, containing wonderful frescoes, mosaics and libraries. There are also smaller monasteries known as kelions attached to small churches, as well as caves on the mountain slopes where monks retreat as hermits. There are forests and a pristine seashore, and beautiful gardens cared for by the monks. Mount Athos is a self-governing area within Greece, and to visit it is necessary to obtain a permit from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Athens, or from the Ministry of Northern Greece in Thessaloniki.

Towering above ancient Dion, about 48 miles (77km) south of Thessaloniki is Greece's highest mountain, Mount Olympus, home to the famed Gods of Greek mythology. The mountain is rich in tree and plant life, supporting more than 1,700 species, some very rare. The main village in the area is Litohoro, which is connected to Athens and Thessaloniki by bus and train. It is possible to climb the highest peak in about two days, without experience or special equipment, along numerous mountain trails.

Close to one of the city's main bus terminals in Dikasterion Square lies the archaeological site of the ancient Greek agora or marketplace, which was later expanded to become a Roman forum on two levels. The forum was the heart of the ancient city, and was discovered by workmen in the 1960s. The best-preserved component of the forum is the large theatre, which is still used for occasional summer concerts.

The city's most famous landmark, the White Tower was originally built as part of the city walls. It now stands, no longer white but still imposing, on the seaside promenade south of the Archaeological Museum, having been restored and offering panoramic views of the city and harbour from its rooftop café. The tower was once used as a prison, and on the way up the winding staircase visitors can peep into the dim rooms that were used as cells. The tower contains a museum housing some Byzantine art and historical artefacts from Thessaloniki's history between 300 and 1,500 AD.

Regarded as one of the finest museums in Europe, Thessaloniki's Archaeology Museum near the famous White Tower and opposite the city's international fairgrounds, houses a huge collection including the incredible treasures of the tomb of Alexander the Great's father, Phillip of Macedon, which was discovered at Vergina in 1977. Another treasured artefact is the 3rd century BC Derveni papyrus, the only intact ancient papyrus found in Greece, which was discovered in the tombs of Derveni. Other rooms in the museum contain exhibits depicting the history of the city from prehistoric days through to the Roman period, including spectacular mosaics and some exquisite, delicate Hellenistic glass.

Vergina, known in ancient times as Aigai, is the most important of a cluster of three archaeological sites in the area connected with Philip, father of Alexander the Great. Vergina is where Philip built a massive palace and a theatre, and where he was assassinated in 336 BC. The palace has been excavated, as has the theatre, and the site also features hundreds of burial mounds, some dating from the Iron Age, across the plain. The tomb of Philip was found here undisturbed in 1977, full of treasures that are now on display in Thessaloniki's Archaeological Museum. Nearby is Pella, the remains of the former capital of Macedonia from the 5th century, where Alexander the Great was born; and Dion, an important religious sanctuary frequented by Philip and Alexander.

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