The city at a glance
The port, the White Tower, Nikis Avenue, Aristotelous Square, Mitropoleos Street, Tsimiski Street, Egnatia Street. Ladadika, Modiano Market, Aghia Sofia. Ano Poli, Eptapyrgio, Trigoniou Tower. Students, couples, ladies who do their shopping, retired people, entrepreneurs and business executives, they all flock every day the sidewalks, streets, numerous cafés, ouzo joints and restaurants of this exciting, vivid city of northern Greece. The same thing has been going on for thousands of years: people are attracted like magnets to the huge arms of this city-port that seems to constantly close an eye to destiny, close and open circles, flourish and decay – without ever going unnoticed! Travelers, merchants, Romans, Jews, Ottomans, Asia Minor refugees, Balkan people, allies and enemies, friends, conquerors: they have all passed from here, adding their own tessera to this incredible mosaic called Thessaloniki. It is worth tasting, literally, as it is famous for its Greek cuisine, nibbles and desserts, but also figuratively, as it has its own unique ambience and many interesting attractions.
The White Tower. It is the emblem of Thessaloniki, rising at its waterfront since the early 16th century. The tower was part of the perimeter walls of the city, at the point where their eastern part met the sea wall. It was initially used as a defensive stronghold and it replaced an older Byzantine fortification. Its construction was completed in 1535-6. In the 18th century, it was called Kalamaria Fortress and in the 19th century Tower of the Janissaries or Bloody Tower - because it was a long-term convicts prison and its façade was painted with blood due to frequent executions of prisoners by the Janissaries. In 1890, while the Ottomans had already begun the process of Europeanizing the city, it was symbolically whitened with lime and got the name it has ever since. Inside the White Tower, there is an exhibition presenting the city’s history through a set of applications and images, projections, videos, slides, sound documents, touch screens and a few artifacts. More information can be found at www.lpth.gr.
Aristotelous Square. It is the most famous square of Thessaloniki and one of the most impressive squares in Greece. The members of the famous Emprar Committee, that was in charge of redesigning the city after the great fire of 1917, strolled here, and this is where the clusters of famous Greek and foreign people who took part in the first week of Greek cinema in 1960, at Olympion Hall, hang out. During the city’s recent history, concerts, political protests and happenings have been held here. Parents drink their coffee sitting in the comfy outdoor sofas of the cafés, letting their children play in the square. The façades of the buildings at Aristotelous Square took the form we see today in the 1960s, after the Emprar Commission's plan was implemented. It is bounded by two large hollow buildings: Olympion, a project by architect Jacques Mosset, built between 1948 and 1950 to accommodate auditoria (nowadays, it hosts the Thessaloniki Film Festival), and the building of Electra Palace Hotel, which was built by architects of the Greek National Tourism Organization in the late 1960s.
The Old Waterfront Promenade. The quayside now called Old Waterfront Promenade was created during the Turkish occupation, when Sabri Pasha of Smyrna was the area’s commander. Nowadays, it is a narrow pedestrian lane and an asphalt road with dense traffic. Opposite the sea, the tall, clinched buildings rise. The Old Waterfront Promenade is the most famous and vibrant public space of the city, its gateway to the infinite “boundary” of water. It has defined the city’s identity since the 19th century it and became an integral part of its everyday life. As urban planners note, the coexistence of the old waterfront promenade with the new one, which starts at Makedonia Palace Hotel and has ample spaces, limited structure and green areas, gives the city a unique balance and a special identity.
The Ladadika neighborhood. Where Ladadika stand today, Constantine the Great created the first port of Thessaloniki in 315 AD. The market area in the port retained largely the characteristics of the original urban design and architecture of the city. It was one of the few areas in the city centre that survived the great fire of 1917. The basic architectural style of the buildings was adopted when the market was redesigned after the fires of 1854 and 1856 – for that reason, their preservation was important because it shows us the architectural style of the city centre before the great fire. Buildings in Ladadika are made of stone or dark Flanders bricks and wood - mainly on roofs and window cases. The area was named Ladadika after the ground floor shops and warehouses where oils and other products were kept. During World War I and later, there were brothels on the streets of Ladadika. The area was thriving even after World War II, but it began to decline after the earthquake of 1978, as wholesale decayed and warehouses were abandoned. In 1985, upon a joint decision by the Ministry of Culture and the City Council, the area was listed as a preserved monument and the building of blocks of flats was prohibited. Following various studies, the preservation of the buildings on funding from the individuals who had their new use in their possession was decided. Today, after consecutive renovations, it is one of the nicest neighbourhoods at the city centre, full of stylish cafés and restaurants, small squares, cobblestone streets and an avant garde ambience.
The port. The port of Thessaloniki has a history exceeding 2,300 years. The first port was created in 315 by Constantine the Great as an artificial port. It was situated at the location of contemporary Ladadika and the Jewish district spread around it. In modern times, most of the Thessalonians walked about it and loved it after the renovation of the old warehouses that were built in 1910 by architect Eli Modiano, following the characteristic morphology of European industrial buildings of the late 19th-early 20th century. The impressive Customs House building was also designed by Eli Modiano: its façade is 200-metres long and its morphology was influenced by French architecture of that period. The warehouses’ restoration and reconstruction took place in 1997, when Thessaloniki was the Cultural Capital of Europe. In their premises, the Museum of Photography, the Cinema Museum, the Centre of Contemporary Art (see the Museums section) and a nice café-restaurant are housed. Every year in November, thousands of Greek and foreign cinema fans join the port, as it hosts, together with Olympion Hall, the Thessaloniki Film Festival.
Kamara- Rotunda- Galerian complex. Kamara is one of the most important landmarks of Thessaloniki and part of a larger complex with palaces of great history. It was built as a huge complex of palaces in the early 4th century at the southeastern part of the then walled city. The buildings became the administrative and religious centre of the city. They stretched from the Rotunda to the seafront and from the east wall of the city to the area between Navarinou Square and Aghia Sofia. The complex included the Rotunda (also called Aghios Georgios, named after the chapel located opposite its west entrance), the triumphal arch, namely Kamara, and the palace complex at Navarinou Square.
The Ancient Market. The Ancient Market square is located between Philippou, Olympou, Agnostou Stratioti and Karmopola streets, in the heart of the city. It was the administrative centre of Thessaloniki during Roman times. Its revelation took place 1962 during excavations because, according to the Emprar plan, the court house was going to be built there.
Aghios Dimitrios. He is the patron of Thessaloniki and its inhabitants, celebrated on October 26. In Byzantine icons and contemporary iconography, he is depicted as a red horse rider who steps on infidel Lyaios. The church’s crypt is very impressive, with a particularly imposing atmosphere. The exhibition featuring the church’s sculptural decoration concerns various phases of its history – works that survived the disastrous fire of 1917 or were found in excavations. It is located at Aghiou Dimitriou street, going up from Aristotelous Square.
Archaeological Museum. The museum opened its doors to the public after a extended period of renovation work required for the reorganization of the spaces used for exhibits, storage, conservation, and administration. During this period, apart from the extension of the museum building itself, the most significant and essential part of our efforts was completed: the new exhibition of the museum’s collections was planned and carried out in a way that responds to the needs of the modern-day visitor. The aim is to illuminate various aspects of the culture which developed in Macedonia, primarily in the Thessaloniki area and neighboring prefectures, over a long chronological period: from the dawn of prehistory until late antiquity, i.e., until the first Christian centuries. (6, M. Andronikou str., tel. +30 2310 830538, www.amth.gr).
Museum of Byzantine Culture. Once in the courtyard of the museum’s café, one feels like they are at the heart of Europe. The building’s architecture, the space’s design and the background music prepare visitors for what they will see inside. What the architect achieved is the coexistence of modern architecture with the natural surroundings. It opened its doors to the city’s public in 1994, and in 1997, it hosted the treasures of Mount Athos, participating at the celebration of Thessaloniki as the Cultural Capital of Europe. In 2005, it was awarded with the “Cultural Heritage Museum” prize by the Council of Europe. So far, apart from permanent collections (sculptures, murals, mosaics, icons, coins, metalwork, inscriptions, etc.), it has also hosted temporary exhibitions and conferences. (2, Stratou Avenue, tel. +30 2310 868570 www.mbp.gr.
Jewish Museum. Here, you will learn a lot about the history of Thessaloniki’s Jews, as well as about the city itself. (13, Aghiou Mina str., tel. +30 250406-7, www.jmth.gr).
Thessaloniki Cinema Museum. A very interesting museum that “narrates” the history of, mostly, Greek cinema. (Port, Warehouse Α, tel. +30 2310 508398, www.cinemuseum.gr).
Thessaloniki Museum of Photography. It is a special section of the State Museum of Contemporary Art. Its café offers a unique view over the less popular, but equally charming, side of the port. (Port, Warehouse Α, tel. +30 2310 566 716 www.thmphoto.gr).
Clothes and accessories shops. Thessaloniki is widely known in Greece and the Balkan countries for its very interesting market. The window displays in the so-called “expensive” streets can be compared in design, look, themes and style to those of major European cities. The haute couture houses and shops with designer clothes and accessories are mainly located at the roads that are parallel to the Old Waterfront Promenade (Nikis), namely Proxenou Koromila and Mitropoleos streets, as well as at those that are vertical to it, especially Mitropolitou Iosif, Chrysostomou Smyrnis, Lassani and Karolou Ntil streets. Shops selling clothes and accessories signed by alternative European designers have opened recently at Proxenou Kormila street. In this area, you will also find the ateliers of most Thessalonian designers. Another interesting shopping part are Iktinou, Zefksidos, Aghias Theodoras and Georgiou Stavrou footwalks, where you can combine shopping with a coffee or lunch/diner.
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