Top Free Things to do in Thessaloniki

Top Free Things to do in Thessaloniki

Free Walks Thessaloniki

The Honest Explorer

1. The House of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk

One of the coolest and FREE things to do in Thessaloniki is to visit the birthplace of the founder of modern Turkey – Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Currently serving as the Turkish consulate and a museum, it is open to visitors free of charge. Decorated with (some of) the original furniture, waxed statues of Kemal and of his mother and, if the story is to be believed, the pomegranate his father planted in the yard. 

Top 10 museums to visit in Thessaloniki:

https://goo.gl/maps/4JiYTYMf35rdRHMp8

2. Bey Hamam

Constructed only 14 years after the Conquest of Thessaloniki by the Ottomans in 1430, this iconic Hamam, recently, opened its doors again. Get this great opportunity and visit the oldest Hamam in Thessaloniki while it is still entrance free. In the enterior you will find a very nice exhibition narrating the story of the construction of the central square of Thessaloniki – Aristotle Square.

3. The Crypt in Saint Dimitrios Church

Inside the church of the patron saint of Thessaloniki you will find one of the must-see things in Thessaloniki. Take the steps down by the altar and see the remnants of the former roman bath upon which the church of Dimitrios was built. 

4. The Vision of Ezekiel

Hard to reach but rewarding. This is something that you can’t possibly miss. On the dome of the Church of Osios David in the upper town of Thessaloniki you will find a stunning fresco depicting the end of days – the Apocalypse. This hidden treasure of Thessaloniki awaits to be discovered and adored. 

Walking Tours in Thessaloniki (Self Guided)

THREE WALKS TO HAVE
IN
THESSALONIKI

You 've just arrived in Thessaloniki and you are completely clueless on what to do
Nothing to worry about
Find bellow three waliking routes that will allow you to explore Thessaloniki in no-time

NOTE: This is a quick outline of the route
Click on the Links to find out more
The honest explorer

– City Center Walk –

Start at the rotonda

Start your walk at the Rotonda. If the White tower is the most recognizable monument in the city, then the Rotonda is, probably, the most important one

– The Upper Town Walk –

Start at aristotle square

Explore The Upper Town in 10 stops. Use our stories to keep you company along the way.

Alternative Seaside Walk

Start at aristotle square

Explore The Upper Town in 10 stops. Use our stories to keep you company along the way.

Aristotle in a Nutshell

Thessaloniki Short Stories

By The Honest Explorer

Aristotle in a Nutshell

Aristotle is last of the “Big Three” of the Greek philosophers of the classical era. Socrates passed the torch to Plato and Plato to Aristotle. The latter is, arguably, the first Homo Universalis (a polymath). He didn’t live, however, in the time of the renaissance but 17 centuries earlier. 

Short Bio

Early Years

Aristotle was born in 384 (B.C.E), in Stagira, in the Greek Kingdom of Makedonia. His father was a doctor working in the court of king Amyntas II and he envisioned a similar career path for his son. However, Aristotle had the misfortune to be left an orphan in a very young age. His uncle, Atarneus raised him in Asia Minor, just toward the island of Lesvos. At the age of 17, Aristotle moved to Athens where he studied under Plato. The latter saw the brilliance of his young pupil and soon became one of his favorite students.

 Aristotle had a curious mind and a tendency to ask questions about EVERYTHING: Biology; zoology; chemistry; math; reasoning; botanology; meteorology; physics; astronomy; ethics; poetry; just name a topic and you will find out that Aristotle had a working theory in progress for everything.

He surprised his teacher when he volunteered to be the reader of the daily texts for study and debate. Usually, that was a job reserved for slaves but Aristotle didn’t like to simply listen to ideas but study them. Progressively, and more often than not, Aristotle took a different approach to thinking than his mentor.

While Plato was an idealist, Aristotle was practical. He didn’t concern himself with imaginary ideals but with concreate ideas that could be supported by empirical evidence. His classification, methodology and investigated approach to learning constitute Aristotle the first true scientists of the classical era and the father of the scientific method. 

Aristotle would stay by his mentor’s side for about 20 years, all the way until Plato’s death. When the later passed away, a process took place to select the successor of Plato as the head of the academy. Although the brightest, Aristotle did not receive this honor and the torch was passed to Plato’s nephew Speusippus. 

Aristotle Tutor of Alexander (The Great)

When Plato died, Aristotle returned to Asia Minor where he spent his time in the court of his friend Hermias, king of Atarneus and Assos. In 338 B.C.E, Aristotle traveled to his birth land under the invitation of King Phillip II. The latter invited Aristotle to become the tutor of his young son and successor to the throne Alexander. Aristotle agreed on the term that Philip would restore Stagira which Philip burnt down to the ground years earlier.   

The philosopher was intrigued with the brilliance of the young prince but often debated. While Aristotle was the personification of balance, Alexander, already from a young age was drawn to extremes. Regardless, the two grew very close together in the three years that Aristotle tutored Alexander. He taught him math, physics, history, ethics, leadership, politics, rhetoric and to think critically.

 

When Alexander defeated Athens and before he set for his campaign in Persia, he allowed Aristotle to return to Athens and he financed his newly set academy called Lyceum. 

 

Back to Athens

Aristotle not being an Athenian citizen was excluded from owning property. Instead he rented a former wrestling ground which is located where nowadays one will find the national garden of Athens (one of my favorite places in Athens).

In the next 13 years, Aristotle went overboard. He wrote 400 papers!!! To put this into perspective, in today’s standards that would be equal to 11.000 pages or 10 MILLION words. Sandy, only 47 remain today.

At Lyceum, he created a new type of student named peripatetic: Word to word translation from Greek to English would mean the walkers. However, a more meaningful translation would be the wonderers. He asked of his students to keep notes and to produce papers. It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to state that Aristotle created the first proper educational system of human history.  

Well Known Ideas & Contrubutions
Aristotle's Universe

Aristotle’s universe is an enclosed sphere with the Earth at its center. The philosopher gave to his universe three attributes: 

  1. Unified: Everything in the universe is connecting and enclosed withing a sphere

  2. Eternal; The universe will always be

  3. Unborn: The universe pre-existed everything

The essence of the universe, i.e. what the universe is made of, has four interconnected and interchangeable ingredients in a ranking order (bottom-up order):

Aristotle's Biology

Every living thing comes from the same essence but has come to life to fulfill a different purpose:

Aristotle's Ethics

The logical coherence of Aristotle’s ethics is based upon the presumption that humans are social beings.

 

Via interaction (a continuous process), humans observe behaviors and learn to distinguish right from wrong intuitively both internal (esoteric) and external (social). 

From this process some people will stand out as moral exemplars – people to look up to. These people all share a common trait. They have found the golden mean. The balance between excess and deficiency.

 

These exemplary have completed or they are closer to achieving Eudemonia – happiness or a meaningful life. 

According to Aristotle, the fastest track to achieving Eudemonia is through education and friendship. Mutual educated individuals create meaningful relationships and build their character together as they attempt to find self-actualization and fulfill their purpose in life. 

 

A great sub-benefit of this process is moral justice: true friends will do justice to one another. 

Our Stories Collection

Explore Thessaloniki at your own pace

The Patron Saint of Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki Short Stories

The Patron Saint of Thessaloniki

By The Honest Explorers

St. Dimitrios Church

Saint Dimitrios is one of three churches in Thessaloniki you should definitely visit even if you are not interested in religion.

The Story of Dimitrios

In the late 3rd century the persecution of christianity was reaching a climax under the Emperors Galerius and Diocletian. At the same time, in Thessaloniki inhabited a young Roman soldier with a name Dimitrios. Talented, bright and a preacher of christianity. The latter made him very unpopular to the Emperor and Dimitrios found himself prisoner in a Roman bath – it sounds weird, I know. 

In the same bath, Dimitrios received a visitor and follower named Nestoras. Nestoras had the fine idea to fight against the undefeated champion of the emperor Liaios. With the blaising of Dimitrios and the will to revenge the christian persecutors, Nestoras, in a David vs Goliath type of battle, managed to defeat his enemy despite the overwhelming odds. 

When the emperor asked him how he managed to accomplish such a miraculous did, Nestoras got somewhat cocky: It was the love and power of the one God that aided me – the God of Dimitrios.

Galerios, offended, ordered the execution of both him and Dimitrios with the latter finding a bitter end with 33 spears (symbolic) piercing through his ribs.

In the aftermath of the event, the christians hid his buddy in the well, not to be dishonored by the pagans. Soon later, christianity became a legal religion and at the spot raised a small church. The great basilica was built about a century later by the Leondios, the prefix of the region when he, in a desperate attempt to cure his untreatable disease, tasted the miracle water of Dimitrios and became all well. 

Sandly, the church has been entirely destroyed twice with the last one being during the Great Fire of Thessaloniki in 1917.  However, the church has been well remade and currently operates with regular services. 

If you visit, and you should, make sure to check the crypt: the underground space where the original bath used to be.

Fun fact: the city of Thessaloniki was liberated to the Ottomans on the anniversary of its patron Saint – Dimitrios: 26th of October 1912. 

 

Find the Church of St. Dimitrios Here . . .

The Great fire of Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki Short Stories

The Great fire of Thessaloniki (1917)

By The Honest Explorers

The Catastrophe

On the 18th of August 1917 a small fire started in Olimpiados 3 street. In the next 32 hours, 32% of the city would be destroyed. 

The Origin of the Fire

Many theories have been proposed to explain the origin of the fire. Some argue that it was a number of French soldiers who got drunk one day and in their delusion accidently started a small fire which ended up burning Thessaloniki to the ground.

You see, more than 100,000 soldiers – British and French – were camping in Thessaloniki during WWI. Rumor has it that it was due to the water used by the military camps of the Allies that Thessaloniki lucked the water pressure needed to put the fire out.

Note that the city did not have an established fire department at the time and the it was heavily depended on the efforts of the British soldiers and the local volunteers to extinguish the fire.

The French on the other hand got a bad name during this tragedy and according to local witnesses the French soldiers looted the fortunes of the locals in need instead of assisting them.

Another interesting (conspiracy) theory is that a number of Greek Jew-haters started the fire in order to destroy the livelihood of the local Jews – their houses and businesses.

Thessaloniki was liberated from the Greek army in 1912 and the Greek of the city had finally gotten the upper head in the city since the late 15th century. Up until then, the city was predominantly populated by Jews and controlled by the Ottoman. In a time of rising nationalism all around Europe, it’s not a surprise that this theory has many supporters. After all, out of 72,000 people who lost their houses and businesses to the fire, 50,000 were from the Jewish community.  

A third theory, however, became some sort of legend on the city. According to this theory a housewife (let’s call her Maria) was frying aubergine (eggplants) and while at it she got distracted and forgot about her cooking.

Thessaloniki, if you must know, has long had a reputation for gossip. News were travelling around the city with the speed of light. Whenever I speak of this story, I imagine Maria in a balcony chatting with the neighbors, gossiping, eager to share and learn the “news” of the day.

To this end, however, we need to take a moment to clarify the officially accepted version of the story and clear Maria’s name. It turns out that a flame landed on a stack of hay, the local did not respond fast enough and due to a heavy wind the fire was spread widely. Within the first 12 hours the fire was heading to the seaside but the wind changed direction and the fire start spreading North reaching, eventually, all the way up to the Church of St. Dimitrios completely destroying the church. 

 

The story of Maria is represented in one of the nicest murals in Thessaloniki. Here we can see a young woman in the middle, the front views of buildings and an explosion. A brilliant way, in my opinion, to capture one of the most well-known legends in the city.  

The Aftermath

By the order of the prime minister – Eleutherios Venizelos – no actions of re-construction were to take place until a detailed plan for the re-make of the city was approved. This colossal plan to re-design Thessaloniki was given to Ernest Hébrard. The latter was the person the city needed: an archaeologist, architect, and urban planner. A Frenchman who arrived in Thessaloniki as a member of the academic personnel that joined the French campaign.

Ernest Hébrard designed Thessaloniki with large squares and wide streets, a network of monumental axis to unite the places of archaeological and historical interest moving away from the narrow streets paths and path that made no sense during the Ottoman era and gave Thessaloniki a much-needed orientation. Although, the grand plan of Ernest Hébrard was never fully utilized due to high expenses, it is he to who modern day Thessalonikian own the openness of the living space they enjoy with primary example the heart of the city center – Aristotle square.

 

Fun fact: Aristotle square resembles the shape of Absolut vodka bottle. 

 

Absolut-thes

Our Stories Collection

Explore Thessaloniki at your own pace

The Bewitched Gate of Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki Short Stories

‘Las Incantadas’

By The Honest Explorers

The Bewitched Gate of Thessaloniki

Have you ever heard the story of the stolen Elwin marbles – The Caryatids – of the Athenian acropolis? Well, this is the story of the stolen jewel from Thessaloniki. Located right below the ruins of the modern day Roman Agora in Thessaloniki you will find a small playground. However, on the same spot, all the way until 1864, one would be able to admire the charm of the Encantadas.

The Name

As per usual, many historical places in Thessaloniki, including the name of the city itself, are known by many names. That is the case due to the multicultural character of the city: the many traditions followed, the many flavors and aromas, the many religions worshipped and the many languages spoken.

 

Hence, the Sephardic Jews called the gate Las Incantadas in Ladino, the Greek called it Idols, the Turk called it Suret-maleh (angel figures) and the foreign visitors Enchanted. 

The Gate

The gate itself dates back to the 2nd century A.C.E and it was the most recognizable landmark in the city before it was stolen and the White Tower became the new face of Thessaloniki.

 

On the top of the gate, the visitors and locals were able to lay eyes on the 8 Caryatids that decorated the gate:

 

The Gate was originally one of the entrances to the Roman Forum (Agora). However, things got a bit messy during the Ottoman times. In the pictures below you see that the gate became part of the yard of a Jewish merchant, Liatsis Adritis, in Rogos (Jewish) district.

At the balcony we see the wife and children of Liatsis Adritis, by the steps his mother, and in the middle are positioned Liatsis Adritis himself with the ambassador of Britain Petros Paradeisos along with a servant boy. At the corner stand the artist of the painting – James Stuard, an architect named Revett and the translator/diplomatic assistant of the ambassador.

Fun fact: the middle window in the background of the pictures belongs to the house of the family of, the former president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy.

The Myth

According to the legend, Alexander the great invited the king of Thrace and his wife to Thessaloniki. The Queen fall in love this Alexander and the two became intimate. When the king of Thrace was informed of this misdoing he got extremely jealous and hatred grew within him. In his anger, the king of Thrace ordered his wizard (Yes, he had a wizard… It is a legend guys…, Okay?) put a spell in the corridor so that whoever walks there at night will be transform into stone. 

Alexander, was informed of the conspiracy and he never left his room that night. The Queen, however, was eager to see Alexander and she sneaked into the corridors at night. Behind her, the king and his guards were spying on her. At the end, it was he, the Queen and the guards who fall victim of the spell. They were transformed into stone and became the famous Incantadas. 

Clearly the legend is a bit off. First of all, Thessaloniki did not exist as a city at the time of Alexander the Great. The city was founded by Cassander in 315 B.C.E. – Alexander died in 323. This is a common mistake shared by many articles I found online. This legend refers to a king named Alexander but not Alexander the Great.

The fate of the Gate

In 1864, so-called archaeologist Emmanuel Miller by the order of Napoleon III, took permission by the Ottoman authorities to dissemble the gate, loaded it in a cargo ship named ‘La Muette’ and transferred it to France. Today the Caryatides of Thessaloniki adorn the Louvre museum in Paris.  

Our Stories Collection

Explore Thessaloniki at your own pace

Time for meze – the Food Markets of Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki Short Stories

Time for Meze . . . 

By The Honest Explorer

The Street Markets
of Thessaloniki

It was about time to speak about FOOOOD! If you, too, are a food lover then I have good news for you. Thessaloniki is the gastronomical capital of Greece and in this post we will find out why, how to enjoy the city’s delicacies to the fullest and where – which parts of the city – you will increase your chances of shopping the real local products.  

There is a famous quote attributed to Hippocrates: “Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food.” But what do we mean by saying food exactly? Is it the cereals; the nuts; the vegetables; the legumes? Would you include the herbs; the fruits; the spices? What about the chilled meat products; fish and cold cuts (charcuterie)?

Nature has given us a plethora of goods and we have been anything but sort of imagination in using these gifts to feed; heal and entertain ourselves with all sorts of flavors. To this end, the Greek fauna and flora are truly privileged: Sun, water and a very fertile land. Greece is located in the temperate zone of the planet with four distinct seasons and mild weather conditions that help the local fauna and flora thrive. If we had to summarize it in one sentence, Greece is the country of the onion and garlic, the country of olive oil and wine.

Now, following this long introduction to Greece, let’s shift our attention to Thessaloniki and let’s find out how this city stands on top of the gastronomical tradition of the country.

Thessaloniki has been a cross road of people, cultures, goods and civilization, even, for over two millennia. The second most important city of the Byzantine and Ottoman empire and the co-capital of modern day Greece. From the 15th century onwards, Thessaloniki was the home of the main three monotheistic religions with Muslim, Christian and Jews co-existing harmoniously. All these cultures and people gave to this city an unparalleled multicultural identity with a unique mix of flavor and aromas. With this pre-existing wealthy of flavor plus the addition of modern fusions of flavor and the increasing presence of international cuisines will make probably have you thinking that it is impossible to fully explore the gastronomy of the city within a day or two.

There is a simple one-word answer to your desire to taste all that there is to taste: Meze! The equivalent of Spanish tapas for former Ottoman Empire’s territory (the Balkans, middle east, Greece and North Africa) will allow to you taste lots of food in a single go.

Although, this isn’t an exact rule or something and the truth is that you will find good meze all around the city, for reason of timesaving your best change is to visit the food market of the city and make the most out of your time.

Sooo…? Are you ready to get a first glimpse into the markets of Thessaloniki? 

1. Athonos Market

Thessaloniki has two main street markets – one across the other – by each side of Aristotle square. Athonos is the fancy market. Not so much in terms of construction but mostly regarding the products sell in it: the fancy spices and herbs, the quality fruits and veggies as well as the delicatessens. Thessaloniki is a heaven for the food-lovers and if you spend a little bit more you will taste exquisite products that reflect the long and the multicultural identity of the city. 

2. Kapani Market

The Kapani Market or previously known as Un-Kapan, meaning “flour market”. You will find Kapani being a tiny bit under-cared by the local authorities. It is a little bit smelly, hygiene standards are not exactly sparkling but the Kapani has a character. If you take a few minutes to walk in the small streets, you will find the local shopkeepers shouting out, advertising their goods. A vivid atmosphere and a great spot to get a meze. What is the meze? Well, in short, the meze is something like the Ottoman version of Spanish tapas and, in my opinion, the fastest, cheapest and most inclusive way to discover the flavors of the gastronomical capital of Greece. 

3. The Modiano Market

The Modiano family were Sephardic Jews who migrated to Thessaloniki from Italy. Saul Modiano, was a famous banker and his youngest son Eli a well-known engineer in the early 20th century. Nowadays, the market is closed. Rumor has it that a French investment group will re-build the market and give this jewel back to the city. For the time being, however, the market is closed. An interesting fact about the building is that it used to be a synagogue. During the Great fire of Thessaloniki in 1917, about half of the 35 synagogues of the city were destroyed. Following the destruction of the synagogue, Eli Modiano redesigned the building to become a central food market. Towards the former Modiano market, you will find one of two remaining synagogues in the city – the “memory synagogue”, Yad Lezikaron. 

4. The Flower Market

Although, this isn’t a food market, the flower market is one of the cutest little squares in Thessaloniki to relax after a long walk, grab a drink or a snack. There used to be seven flower shops in close proximity yet to day only five of them remain. In the center of the square you will find Yahudi Hamam, or otherwise known as the Jewish bath or Pazar Hamam due to the fact that it was located near the central market. Today, some of the best delis in the city are around the triangle among Kapani, Modiano and Flower market. 

5. The Ladadika

Again, although the ladadika isn’t really a market, the upper Ladadika is one of the prettiest neighborhoods in the city center with lots and lots of options for food and drinks. 

The word Ladadika, comes from the word Ladi, which means oil in Greek and, of course, when we speak about oil in Greece we refer to the one oil we love – Olive Oil! Olive oil was packages in the neighborhood and it was transferred to the port nearby. Here, you will find a typical 19th century architecture in Thessaloniki. Most of the building were destroyed during WWII but remade in 1990s due to the efforts of Melina Mercury.

Fun fact: During WWI, the Ladadika were the beginning of one of the largest red light districts in Europe! Later on, it housed many restaurants and bars and became more of a family district. 

Today, the Ladadika is, perhaps, the most touristic part of the city. However, you will find out that Thessaloniki, despite attracting an increasing number of visitors over the past few years, it is still a fairly virgin destination in terms of over-tourism. Thus, I encourage you to spend some time in Ladadika and explore its nightlife while you mix with the locals. 

6. Stoa Malakopi & Upper Ladadika

Finally, we need to take a moment to talk about the center of the city’s nightlife. Over the past years, the municipal government has been engaged in a beatification project with environmental considerations. Fans were installed and fountains were created to improve the walker’s experience and provide the square with a vibrant vibe. Here, you will find a number of important historical buildings like the Catholic church, Malakopi gallery, the former Ottoman bank and the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki. By night, the square transforms into the center for the night life of the city with its countless bars and restaurants in close proximity. 

Tip: Make sure to taste cocktails in Thessaloniki. Over the past few year the local bars have risen the quality and variety of cocktails tremendously  making a name for the city all-around Europe. 

 

Our Stories Collection

Explore Thessaloniki at your own pace

The Round Beauty – Rotonda

Thessaloniki Short Stories

The Round Beauty

By The Honest Explorer

The Pantheon of Thessaloniki

The Rotonda – meaning round in Latin – is a building with striking similarities to the Pantheon of Rome and, for as far as I was able to find during my research, like the Pantheon, the Rotonda also had an oculus (empty ceiling), originally. 

In my opinion, this is the most important building in Thessaloniki. Originally, the Rotonda was constructed to become the mausoleum of either Galerius or Constantine the Great. However, the Rotonda was never used as a mausoleum but instead it was used as a place of spirituality. Within its premises, three different religions were practiced over the 17 centuries of its existence. 

The First religion to be practiced here was the pagan. The Olympian Pantheon, Zeus himself, along with the protector of the city Kaveiros (before St. Dimitrios took over this “responsibility”) was worshiped within the temple.

Every time I walk past the Rotonda, I can’t help but to imagine the high priestesses dancing around in circles within the round building. Euphoric and in ecstasy, praying to the Gods. The round construction working as a loud speaker, amplifying the sounds, sending the prayers straight to the sky. The throne of Zeus in perfect alignment to the imperial entrance of the temple, as if he was directly observing the mysteries. Fascinating . . . 

The Rotonda becomes a church

Now, soon after its original conception, the Rotonda was converted into a Christian church. During the conversion, the architects of the time were faced with a small issue: The Rotonda is a round building . . .  Where are we going to place the altar?

Hence, the first conversion of the Rotonda took place and an extra square part was added on the east side to house the Christian altar. This addition, however, threatened the stability of the entire building, hence, two minor semi-arches were adding to support the altar and stabilize the building. 

It should be noted, that the Rotonda is one of the oldest churches in the world. For reference the Nativity church in Bethlehem, in the West Bankwas built in 330. The Rotonda was probably converted by Constantine the Great in 322. On top of it, the Rotonda is in its original form – not a copy, not a restoration. WOW  . . . 

 

Sadly, though, the fantastic acoustics of the round construction were, at least slightly, corrupted.

 

The Rotonda as a Mosque

About a millennium later, the Ottoman Turk conquered Thessaloniki. One after another the churches of the city were converted into mosques. In 1591, it was the time of the Rotonda to follow this trend. In the yard surrounding the Rotonda, a minaret was added along with a fountain for the Muslim to wash themselves before prayer.

This minaret is the last one currently standing in Thessaloniki today. In 1912, Thessaloniki was liberated by the Greek army and soon afterwards the mosques of the city were re-converted to churches once more. In the meantime, two dozen minarets were destroyed giving a heavy blow to the city’s Ottoman tradition.

The main reason as to why this minaret survived, my conclusion is that it was due to the usage of the premises of the Rotonda by the French army during WWI. 

Let me explain. During WWI, more than 100.000 allied troops were camped in Thessaloniki. Along the soldier, a number of academic personnel was established in Thessaloniki and the French were using the premises of the Rotonda to collect antiquities. In fear of losing these treasures, the Greek proclaimed the Rotonda into an archeological site and kept the French from stealing the antiquities. 

To this conclusion, I’m aided by the fact that during the same period of time, the British were using the White tower as a center to collect antiquities. The White Tower, however, was not proclaimed into an archeological site in time and now, if you visit the British museum, next to the antiquities that were stolen by the British you will find the antiquities of Thessaloniki.

One of the sad side effects, however, of all these conversions and reconstructions, is that the beautiful decoration from the pagan and Christian time are no more. During the Ottoman era, the decorations were either transferred to the city’s hamams or they were covered by a thick layer of plaster because the representation of the divine is not allowed in Muslim religion. When the time came to reveal the decorations centuries later, the frescoes and mosaics were destroyed along with the plaster.

 

Conclusion

In any case, I strongly advise you to visit the Rotonda. The entrance, last time I checked, was 2 euro for adults and free for anyone less than 25 years old. If you visit Thessaloniki, make sure if there are any events like concerts or performances taking place at the Rotonda. The spectacle is ALWAYS amazing.

As always, I strongly advice that you make your own research before agreeing or disagreeing with my conclusions and/or hire a local licensed guide to fill in the gaps.

Thank you for taking the time to read through these line. For more stories check out more of my posts here. If you enjoy this blog and you want to help us continue writing interesting stories to help you explore the city like a local, a small donation would be a great way to show us your support. In the meantime, stay curious and keep exploring!

For a 3D representation of the Rotonda click here

Find the Rotonda Here . . .

Galerius Who?

Thessaloniki Short Stories

Galerius.., Who?

By The Honest Explorer

The Arch of Galerius

The Arch of Galerius, or otherwise known as Kamara, is one of the most common meeting spots in Thessaloniki today. It was built in the era of the emperor Galerius as part of his four building complex known today as the Galerian complex: The Rotonda, the Arch, the Hippodrome and the Palace.

Galerius is a very interesting guy. He was born in modern day Serbia by a poor family in the early 3rd century A.C.E. Galerius was an ambitious man. Despite his lowborn origin, he pursuit greatness in life. First, he joined the Roman military where he excelled and found great success to rise through the ranks. However, his greatest political maneuver, might, have been, his marriage to the daughter of the emperor Diocletian – Valeria – which made him one of four co-emperors in the Roman empire.

His greatest achievement in life is, perhaps, his victory over the Persian Sassanid King Narseh. Following his victory, Galerius returned to his provisional capital – Thessaloniki – with lots of wealth and a determination to make Thessaloniki a proper Roman capital. His accomplishments in Persia are celebrated in the glyphs of the arch.  

The arch itself, today, is half of what it used to be in the era of Galerius. In the eyes of a great observer, the two square footprints on the floor 5 meters parallel to the main “legs” of the arch, tell a story of destruction. In the remaining two legs one can see the propaganda laid down by Galerius. 

 

Let’s take a closer look at the arch: 

Here we see the battle between the Roman and the Sassanid Persians. In the middle you can see the two leaders on their horses. The left one is Galerius and the right one is Narseh. 

The Roman soldiers stand tall and brave while the Persian are represented small and fearful. Galerius with an eagle on top of his head – a symbol to imply divine power and wisdom. Galerius goes even as far as to compare himself to Alexander the Great. 

When you take – and you should – a long walk by the seaside, you will inevitably go by the statue of Alexander the Great. Note the stance of his body; his battle position; his armor and clothing. Now go back to the arch and see the same representation on the gate but this time you won’t see Alexander but Galerius imitating Alexander.

Damnatio Memoriae

Another interesting thing about the arch is the “celebration” part. All four rulers came together to celebrate the victory of Galerius but the faces of the emperors are way too damaged as if someone intentionally tried to erase their memory. The answer to this might be: Damnatio memoriae. This Latin phrase means: to erase the memory, to condemn it. It is an indicator to tell us about an effort to delete someone for public records, to make one’s memory less.

So, what is the story here? Well, if you read so far good for you. You have the main info you need already, but for you who want to know a little bit more, let’s shed some light to things: First off, what is the tetrarchy, who are the main characters and what’s with the damnation thingy. . .  

 

Well, let’s make a long story short . . .

In the 3rd century A.C.E. the Roman empire suffered from civil war. To exaggerate a little, every Roman general wanted to become the ONE emperor. Throughput the century more than 28 people claimed the status of the emperor. 

In 286, Diocletian came on top of everyone and became the sole emperor of the Roman empire. However, he soon made a bitter realization . . . The Roman empire was soooo large . . From the UK to the West all the way to modern day Syria to the East. Well . . , with no flights and no internet you can imagine that running the empire efficiently was a little bit too much for one person alone. Diocletian, however, had a plan: Why not divide the empire to smaller geographical regions and appoint “small” emperors (rulers) to each one to help me govern? 

Thus, the tetrarchy was born and at the beginning, at least, it was fairly successful. Galerius defeated the Persians in the East, Constantius crushed the British userper Allectus in the West, Maximian put the Gauls in order and Diocletian put down the revolt of Domitianus in Egypt and for a while everything was in order.

Peaceful times, though, don’t last long and soon (in 306) Diocletian retired to Split (Croatia) and build his empirial building there. Galerius was promoted from Ceasar (small emperor for simplicity) to Augustus (big emperor) and competed with Diocletian to build bigger, taller and more luxurius empirial nuildings in Thessaloniki using the wealth he brought from Persia. 

On the other side of the empire, Constantine, (the later great) succeeded his father and self-proclaimed himself Augustus. In the years to come, Constantine had to fight a number of battles against his political opponents but eventually he became the rulers of the Western provinces of the Roman empire. In 311, Galerius died a gruesome death (probably bowel cancer) and by 324 he deafeated Licinius (who in the meantime had become the sole emperor of the East) and became the ONE and Only emperor until his death in 337.

Now . . , what do all this have to do with the missing faces in the arch of Thessaloniki? Well . . , perhaps, Everything . . .  Let me explain . . .

Diocletian realized that the empire was falling apart. To unite the empire, he needed a common denominator; a value followed by everyone; an idea to bring people together; a god to be universally worshipped . . . in other words he needed someone to be a role model . . . 

That role model became HIMSELF! To this end, an era of persecutions took place. Diocletian and Galerius were openly antichristian and the persecution of the latter picked during their era.  Two decades later, however, with Diocletian and Galerius both out of the picture and with Constantine gaining momentum another god came forth to become this uniting factor

– The Christian God!

Whether Constantine was truly a Christian in his heart or whether Christianity was part of a political campaign to unite the empire is a debate for another day. For now, let’s focus on the gate. You can imagine, by now, that the faces of four pagan, Christian-persecution-emperors celebrating a successful Roman empire would be a little too much for the Christian emperor. 

In the light of this information, it stands to reason that Constantine (who stayed in Thessaloniki for one to 12 months depending what historian you believe) ordered the damnation of the memory of his pagan predecessors (even that of his father) from the gate.

Now whether this is a conspiracy theory or an actual historical fact, it’s up to you to decide. Make your own research or hire a local licensed guide to fill in the gaps.

Thank you for taking the time to read through these line. For more stories check out more of my posts here. If you enjoy this blog and you want to help us continue writing interesting stories to help you explore the city like a local, a small donation would be a great way to show us your support. In the meantime, stay curious and keep exploring!

*  For a 3D representation of the Arch click here

 

Find the Arch of Galerius Here . . .

Do it in One Go – Historical city center of Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki walking Tour - The Historical city center

Do it All in One Go . . .
The honest explorer

Did you want to take a walking tour in Thessaloniki and you didn’t find the time?
This (self-guided) walking tour will help you explore Thessaloniki in no time. The purpose of this (self guided) walking route is to offer an all-inclusive walking route for people in a hurry.
 Note that this is a quick overview. However, there are links to articles that go in depth for most of the suggested spots. Without any further ado, Let’s begin . . . 

 City Center Walking Route

01 - The Rotonda

Start your walk at the Rotonda. If the White tower is the most recognizable monument in the city, then the Rotonda is, probably, the most important one

02 - kamara

No more than 100 meters south you will find the The Arch of Galerius, or Kamara. This is one of the most common meeting spots in Thessaloniki today. 

03 - The hippodrome

You keep on hearing about a hippodrome in Thessaloniki, a great imposing construction which was part of the emperor’s Galerius complex of buildings. You keep on hearing stories and legends of it but it is impossible to track it down. Where is this hippodrome already? 

04 - The palace

Congratulations! You are standing right in front of the famous Octagon. You ‘ve just explored the Galerian complex. Move on to the next stop.

05 - THe Catacomb of saint john

Get in the church. Follow the steps to the lower level and see one of the hidden spots of Thessalonki. Don’t forget to fill in your bottle at the drinking fountain  on the way out

06 - The Agia sofia

Behold the crown jewel of the local Christians of the city – the church of the Holy Wisdom of God

07 - Athonos market

 Thessaloniki is a heaven for the food-lovers. In Athonos market you will find the exquisite herbs and spices as well as some of the best delis in the city

08 - kapani market

The Kapani Market or previously known as Un-Kapan, meaning “flour market”. You will find Kapani being a tiny bit under-cared by the local authorities. It is a little bit smelly, hygiene standards are not exactly sparkling but the Kapani has a character. 

09 - modiano market

Rumor has it that a French investment group will re-build the market and give this jewel back to the city. For the time being, however, the market is closed. 

10 - flower market

The flower market is one of the cutest little squares in Thessaloniki to relax after a long walk, grab a drink or a snack.  In the center of the square you will find Yahudi Hamam, or otherwise known as the Jewish bath or Pazar Hamam due to the fact that it was located near the central market. 

11 - Stoa Malakopi

Congratulations! You ‘ve explored most of the historical city center and you currently walk the narrow streets of the trade square. Over the past years, the municipal government has been engaged in a beatification project with environmental considerations. Fans were installed and fountains were created to improve the walker’s experience 

12 - ladadika

Here, you will find a typical 19th century architecture in Thessaloniki. Most of the building were destroyed during WWII but remade in 1990s due to the efforts of Melina Mercury. 

 

13 - the port

You have officially arrived to one of the most loved, by the locals, spots in Thessaloniki. If visibility is good enough, you should be able to see the famous house of the Greek Gods – the Olympus Mountain. 

14 - liberty square

Behold the crown jewel of the local Christians of the city – the church of the Holy Wisdom of God

15 - the white tower

Get in the church. Follow the steps to the lower level and see one of the hidden spots of Thessalonki. Don’t forget to fill in your bottle at the drinking fountain  on the way out

Our Stories Collection

Explore Thessaloniki at your own pace