90 km from Litochoro
139 km from Elassona
Thessaloniki was founded in 315 BC by Cassander, King of Macedonia. That it was named for his wife, Thessaloniki, who was the daughter of Philip II and the sister of Alexander the Great. History later brought the Romans to Thessaloniki, and they left their mark on the city with the Arch of Galerius.
History, too, was to bring to Thessaloniki the Apostle Paul, who had journeyed into Macedonia to found the first Christian churches. There is a folk tradition that the Gentiles in the city pelted him with stones. And that the Apostle to the Nations lost his Christian patience and pronounced a curse on Thessaloniki: that the stones should never be removed from its streets. And from that day on tradition has called the people of Thessaloniki “Paul-accursed”, and the streets of the city have never yet been cleared of those stones.
History, too, stationed in Thessaloniki a young officer named Diocletian, who became its patron saint under the name Demetrius. And his fame and glory spread with the glory of the Byzantine Empire. This was the age when monuments of faith and art arose throughout the city, in the Byzantine churches. But history is a fickle jade, and she replaced the Byzantines in her favour with the Turks, keeping them in the city for nearly five centuries. This was 1430, twenty-three years before the Fall of Constantinople.
Half a century later, she sent the city boatloads of persecuted Jews from the Iberian Peninsula. And when, after another three and a half centuries, the opening shots in the struggle for liberation were fired in the Morea in 1821, history brought their echo to Thessaloniki to give wings to the hopes of the enslaved. But their uprising was quenched in their own blood, and another ninety years had to pass before that same history, escorted by the Makedonomachoi, brought freedom to the ancient but still vital city of Saint Demetrius. And it was 26 October 1912, the feast day of the saint.
The visitor who sees the contemporary city with its broad straight streets and tall modern buildings will have trouble imagining what it looked like seventy years ago. Building up a complete and accurate picture requires considerable powers of reconstruction. Then, as now, the city occupied the same core area, from Bexinar to the Dépôt district and from the sea to the walls of the Moni Vlatadon. Only then it had not absorbed so many outlying townships, and its fringes were not so widely flung.
The area from Koudouriotou to Olympiou Diamanti Streets and from Hiou to Lemnou Streets was called “agora” (the market) during the Turkish occupation. The market square was a centre for the guilds. In the 17th century, clothing was sold in this same square, which in the 18th century was used to stockpile the grain that was later shipped to Europe. Today, this part of the city is known as “Ladadika”.
Ladadika is reconstructed after the fire of 1856. The area is not damaged by the fire of 1917, that destroyed the entire city centre, but it suffered serious damage by the opening of roads that isolated it from the Port and the Frankish quarters. Nevertheless, Ladadika still forms the historic core of the old trade centre of the city.
The Ladadika district comes alive at night. As the lights come on, the narrow streets fill with people. A few years ago this area was sacrificed on the altar of entertainment, with its dozens of night spots creating an aural and visual dead-end. Today things are quieter, and a small marketplace is developing that will be open during the day.
Rotunda is a pericentral construction, unique in Greece. It was part of the palace complex built by Cesar Galerius in the first years of the Roman tetrarchy, when Galerius was based in Thessaloniki. One theory has it that it was built as Galerius’ mausoleum, but was never used, and during the reign of the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius the Great (379-395 AD) it was converted into a Christian church. It was then that a rectangular area with a semicircular apse was added on the eastern side in order to serve as the sanctuary of the church. Rotunda, approximately 30 m in height, is covered with a semicircular dome. The 6-metre-thick walls are built with stonework and strong ceramic mortar. At regular intervals, there are sections with bricks that reinforce the stonework. After the conversion of the Roman building into a Christian church, the monument’s dome was decorated with exceptional mosaics. The variety of compositions, the multiple colours of the tesserae, and the great skill of the artists give an impressive result, where the divine and the transcendental are connected with matter and life on earth.
The White Tower, the symbol of Thessaloniki, and a point of reference for the inhabitants and the visitors to the city, is the remnant of the sea walls that were demolished in 1873. It was located at the point where the eastern walls joined the sea walls of the city; today it stands isolated in the coastal park next to the sea front. In the 19th century it served as a prison for long-term convicts. The Tower of that period was the “Bastille” of Thessaloniki, as the historian M. Hatziioannou puts it. In 1890, a prisoner whitewashed the tower, so that he could regain his freedom. Since then, it has been known as the White Tower.
In our days, the interior of the White Tower houses several periodical exhibitions embracing sculpture, mosaics, icons, coins etc.
The first church of Agios Dimitrios was a small oratory founded after the Edict of Milan which permanently established religious toleration for Christianity within the Roman Empire (313 AD). A century later, the eparch (provincial governor) of Illyricon, Leontios, founded on the same site a big three-aisled basilica, retaining under the sanctuary the part of the Roman baths where the saint suffered martyrdom. This basilica was burned down in 626-634, and the then Bishop Ioannis built a new, bigger, five-aisled basilica, which served as a place of worship for the saint throughout the Byzantine period. The monument was burned again in the great fire of August 6, 1917, that destroyed the city, but it was renovated and opened again in 1948.
At the highest point of the city, built amphitheatrically on the slope, we can see the imposing form of the Eptapyrgion (Seven Towers – Gendi Koulé). It covers the north part of the Acropolis. One year after the occupation of Thessaloniki by the Turks, there was some repair work on the middle tower. An inscription on a marble plaque, built into the wall over the main entrance to the fortified area, informs us that Sultan Murat conquered the Acropolis by force and founded this tower in the year 834 (=1431).