Cities in the Spotlight: Thessaloniki, Greece
Updated: Dec 28, 2022
In today's post we will be travelling to Thessaloniki, Greece. Enjoy!
Thessaloniki City Information
Thessaloniki is located on the Thermaic Gulf, at the northwest corner of the Aegean Sea. It is bounded on the west by the delta of the Axios. The municipality of Thessaloniki, the historical center, had a population of 325,182 in 2011, while the Thessaloniki metropolitan area had 1,030,338 inhabitants in 2011. It is Greece’s second major economic, industrial, commercial, and political centre; it is a major transportation hub for Greece and southeastern Europe, notably through the Port of Thessaloniki. The city is renowned for its festivals, events, and vibrant cultural life in general, and is considered to be Greece's cultural capital. Events such as the Thessaloniki International Fair and the Thessaloniki International Film Festival are held annually, while the city also hosts the largest bi-annual meeting of the Greek diaspora. Thessaloniki was the 2014 European Youth Capital. The city was founded in 315 BC by Cassander of Macedon, who named it after his wife Thessalonike, daughter of Philip II of Macedon and sister of Alexander the Great. An important metropolis by the Roman period, Thessaloniki was the second largest and wealthiest city of the Byzantine Empire. It was conquered by the Ottomans in 1430 and remained an important seaport and multi-ethnic metropolis during the nearly five centuries of Turkish rule. It passed from the Ottoman Empire to the Kingdom of Greece on 8 November 1912. Thessaloniki exhibits Byzantine architecture, including numerous Paleochristian and Byzantine monuments, a World Heritage Site, as well as several Roman, Ottoman and Sephardic Jewish structures. The city's main university, Aristotle University, is the largest in Greece and the Balkans. Thessaloniki is a popular tourist destination in Greece. Among street photographers, the center of Thessaloniki is also considered the most popular destination for street photography in Greece.
Thessaloniki Historical Significance
From classical antiquity to the Roman Empire
The city was founded around 315 BC by the King Cassander of Macedon, on or near the site of the ancient town of Therma and 26 other local villages. He named it after his wife Thessalonike, a half-sister of Alexander the Great and princess of Macedonia as daughter of Philip II. Under the kingdom of Macedonia the city retained its own autonomy and parliament and evolved to become the most important city in Macedonia. After the fall of the Kingdom of Macedonia in 168 BC, in 148 BC Thessalonica was made the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia. Thessalonica became a free city of the Roman Republic under Mark Antony in 41 BC. It grew to be an important trade hub located on the Via Egnatia, the road connecting Dyrrhachium with Byzantium, which facilitated trade between Thessaloniki and great centers of commerce such as Rome and Byzantium. Thessaloniki also lays at the southern end of the main north–south route through the Balkans along the valleys of the Morava and Axios river valleys, thereby linking the Balkans with the rest of Greece. The city became the capital of one of the four Roman districts of Macedonia; later it became the capital of all the Greek provinces of the Roman Empire because of its importance in the Balkan peninsula. At the time of the Roman Empire, about 50 A.D., Thessaloniki was also one of the early centers of Christianity; while on his second missionary journey, Paul the Apostle visited this city's chief synagogue on three Sabbaths and sowed the seeds for Thessaloniki's first Christian church. Later, Paul wrote two letters to the new church at Thessaloniki, preserved in the Biblical canon as First and Second Thessalonians. Some scholars hold that the First Epistle to the Thessalonians is the first written book of the New Testament. In 306 AD,
Thessaloniki acquired a patron saint, St. Demetrius, a Christian whom Galerius is said to have put to death. Most scholars agree with Hippolyte Delehaye's theory that Demetrius was not a Thessaloniki native, but his veneration was transferred to Thessaloniki when it replaced Sirmium as the main military base in the Balkans. A basilical church dedicated to St. Demetrius, Hagios Demetrios, was first built in the 5th century AD and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When the Roman Empire was divided into the tetrarchy, Thessaloniki became the administrative capital of one of the four portions of the Empire under Galerius Maximianus Caesar, where Galerius commissioned an imperial palace, a new hippodrome, a triumphal arch and a mausoleum among others. In 379, when the Roman Prefecture of Illyricum was divided between the East and West Roman Empires, Thessaloniki became the capital of the new Prefecture of Illyricum. The following year, the Edict of Thessalonica made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire. In 390, Gothic troops under the Roman Emperor Theodosius I, led a massacre against the inhabitants of Thessalonica, who had risen in revolt against the Gothic soldiers. By the time of the Fall of Rome in 476, Thessaloniki was the second-largest city of the Eastern Roman Empire.
Byzantine era and Middle Ages
From the first years of the Byzantine Empire, Thessaloniki was considered the second city in the Empire after Constantinople, both in terms of wealth and size. with a population of 150,000 in the mid-12th century. The city held this status until its transfer to Venetian control in 1423. In the 14th century, the city's population exceeded 100,000 to 150,000, making it larger than London at the time. During the 6th and 7th centuries, the area around Thessaloniki was invaded by Avars and Slavs, who unsuccessfully laid siege to the city several times, as narrated in the Miracles of Saint Demetrius. Traditional historiography stipulates that many Slavs settled in the hinterland of Thessaloniki; however, modern scholars consider this migration to have been on a much smaller scale than previously thought. In the 9th century, the Byzantine missionaries Cyril and Methodius, both natives of the city, created the first literary language of the Slavs, the Old Church Slavonic, most likely based on the Slavic dialect used in the hinterland of their hometown. A naval attack led by Byzantine converts to Islam (including Leo of Tripoli) in 904 resulted in the sack of the city. The economic expansion of the city continued through the 12th century as the rule of the Komnenoi emperors expanded Byzantine control to the north. Thessaloniki passed out of Byzantine hands in 1204, when Constantinople was captured by the forces of the Fourth Crusade and incorporated the city and its surrounding territories in the Kingdom of Thessalonica — which then became the largest vassal of the Latin Empire. In 1224, the Kingdom of Thessalonica was overrun by the Despotate of Epirus, a remnant of the former Byzantine Empire, under Theodore Komnenos Doukas who crowned himself Emperor, and the city became the capital of the short-lived Empire of Thessalonica. Following his defeat at Klokotnitsa however in 1230, the Empire of Thessalonica became a vassal state of the Second Bulgarian Empire until it was recovered again in 1246, this time by the Nicaean Empire. In 1342, the city saw the rise of the Commune of the Zealots, an anti-aristocratic party formed of sailors and the poor, which is nowadays described as social-revolutionary. The city was practically independent of the rest of the Empire, as it had its own government, a form of republic. The zealot movement was overthrown in 1350 and the city was reunited with the rest of the Empire. The capture of Gallipoli by the Ottomans in 1354 kicked off a rapid Turkish expansion in the southern Balkans, conducted both by the Ottomans themselves and by semi-independent Turkish ghazi warrior-bands. By 1369, the Ottomans were able to conquer Adrianople (modern Edirne), which became their new capital until 1453. Thessalonica, ruled by Manuel II Palaiologos (r. 1391–1425) itself surrendered after a lengthy siege in 1383–1387, along with most of eastern and central Macedonia, to the forces of Sultan Murad I. Initially, the surrendered cities were allowed complete autonomy in exchange for payment of the kharaj poll-tax.
Following the death of Emperor John V Palaiologos in 1391, however, Manuel II escaped Ottoman custody and went to Constantinople, where he was crowned emperor, succeeding his father. This angered Sultan Bayezid I, who laid waste to the remaining Byzantine territories, and then turned on Chrysopolis, which was captured by storm and largely destroyed. Thessalonica too submitted again to Ottoman rule at this time, possibly after brief resistance, but was treated more leniently: although the city was brought under full Ottoman control, the Christian population and the Church retained most of their possessions, and the city retained its institutions. Thessalonica remained in Ottoman hands until 1403, when Emperor Manuel II sided with Bayezid's eldest son Süleyman in the Ottoman succession struggle that broke out following the crushing defeat and capture of Bayezid at the Battle of Ankara against Tamerlane in 1402. In exchange for his support, in the Treaty of Gallipoli the Byzantine emperor secured the return of Thessalonica, part of its hinterland, the Chalcidice peninsula, and the coastal region between the rivers Strymon and Pineios. Thessalonica and the surrounding region were given as an autonomous appanage to John VII Palaiologos. After his death in 1408, he was succeeded by Manuel's third son, the Despot Andronikos Palaiologos, who was supervised by Demetrios Leontares until 1415. Thessalonica enjoyed a period of relative peace and prosperity after 1403, as the Turks were preoccupied with their own civil war, but was attacked by the rival Ottoman pretenders in 1412 (by Musa Çelebi) and 1416 (during the uprising of Mustafa Çelebi against Mehmed I). Once the Ottoman civil war ended, the Turkish pressure on the city began to increase again. Just as during the 1383–1387 siege, this led to a sharp division of opinion within the city between factions supporting resistance, if necessary with Western help, or submission to the Ottomans. In 1423, Despot Andronikos Palaiologos ceded it to the Republic of Venice with the hope that it could be protected from the Ottomans who were besieging the city. The Venetians held Thessaloniki until it was captured by the Ottoman Sultan Murad II on 29 March 1430. Ottoman period
When Sultan Murad II captured Thessaloniki and sacked it in 1430, contemporary reports estimated that about one-fifth of the city's population was enslaved. Ottoman artillery was used to secure the city's capture and bypass its double walls. Upon the conquest of Thessaloniki, some of its inhabitants escaped, including intellectuals such as Theodorus Gaza "Thessalonicensis" and Andronicus Callistus. However, the change of sovereignty from the Byzantine Empire to the Ottoman one did not affect the city's prestige as a major imperial city and trading hub. Thessaloniki and Smyrna, although smaller in size than Constantinople, were the Ottoman Empire's most important trading hubs. Thessaloniki's importance was mostly in the field of shipping, but also in manufacturing, while most of the city's trade was controlled by ethnic Greeks. During the Ottoman period, the city's population of Ottoman Muslims (including those of Turkish origin, as well as Albanian Muslim, Bulgarian Muslim and Greek Muslim of convert origin) grew substantially. According to the 1478 census Selânik, as the city came to be known in Ottoman Turkish, had 6,094 Greek Orthodox households, 4,320 Muslim ones, and some Catholic. No Jews were recorded in the census suggesting that the subsequent influx of Jewish population was not linked to the already existing Romaniots community. Soon after the turn of the 15th to 16th century, however, nearly 20,000 Sephardic Jews immigrated to Greece from the Iberian Peninsula following their expulsion from Spain by the 1492 Alhambra Decree. By c. 1500, the number of households had grown to 7,986 Greek ones, 8,575 Muslim ones, and 3,770 Jewish. By 1519, Sephardic Jewish households numbered 15,715, 54% of the city's population. Some historians consider the Ottoman regime's invitation to Jewish settlement was a strategy to prevent the ethnic Greek population from dominating the city. The city became both the
largest Jewish city in the world and the only Jewish majority city in the world in the 16th century. As a result, Thessaloniki attracted persecuted Jews from all over the world. Thessaloniki was the capital of the Sanjak of Selanik within the wider Rumeli Eyalet (Balkans) until 1826, and subsequently the capital of Selanik Eyalet (after 1867, the Selanik Vilayet). This consisted of the sanjaks of Selanik, Serres and Drama between 1826 and 1912. With the break out of the Greek War of Independence in the spring of 1821, the governor Yusuf Bey imprisoned in his headquarters more than 400 hostages. On 18 May, when Yusuf learned of the insurrection to the villages of Chalkidiki, he ordered half of his hostages to be slaughtered before his eyes. The mulla of Thessaloniki, Hayrıülah, gives the following description of Yusuf's retaliations: "Every day and every night you hear nothing in the streets of Thessaloniki but shouting and moaning. It seems that Yusuf Bey, the Yeniceri Agasi, the Subaşı, the hocas and the ulemas have all gone raving mad." It would take until the end of the century for the city's Greek community to recover. Thessaloniki was also a Janissary stronghold where novice Janissaries were trained. In June 1826, regular Ottoman soldiers attacked and destroyed the Janissary base in Thessaloniki while also killing over 10,000 Janissaries, an event known as The Auspicious Incident in Ottoman history. In 1870–1917, driven by economic growth, the city's population expanded by 70%, reaching 135,000 in 1917. The last few decades of Ottoman control over the city were an era of revival, particularly in terms of the city's infrastructure. It was at that time that the Ottoman administration of the city acquired an "official" face with the creation of the Government House while a number of new public buildings were built in the eclectic style in order to project the European face both of Thessaloniki and the Ottoman Empire. The city walls were torn down between 1869 and 1889, efforts for a planned expansion of the city are evident as early as 1879, the first tram service started in 1888 and the city streets were illuminated with electric lamp posts in 1908. In 1888, the Oriental Railway connected Thessaloniki to Central Europe via rail through Belgrade and to Monastir in 1893, while the Thessaloniki-Istanbul Junction Railway connected it to Constantinople in 1896. 20th century and since
In the early 20th century, Thessaloniki was in the center of radical activities by various groups; the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization, founded in 1897, and the Greek Macedonian Committee, founded in 1903. In 1903, an anarchist group known as the Boatmen of Thessaloniki planted bombs in several buildings in Thessaloniki, including the Ottoman Bank, with some assistance from the IMRO. The Greek consulate in Ottoman Thessaloniki (now the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle) served as the center of operations for the Greek guerillas. During this period, and since the 16th century, Thessaloniki's Jewish element was the most dominant; it was the only city in Europe where the Jews were a majority of the total population. The city was ethnically diverse and cosmopolitan. In 1890, its population had risen to 118,000, 47% of which were Jews, followed by Turks (22%), Greeks (14%), Bulgarians (8%), Roma (2%), and others (7%). By 1913, the ethnic composition of the city had changed so that the population stood at 157,889, with Jews at 39%, followed again by Turks (29%), Greeks (25%), Bulgarians (4%), Roma (2%), and others at 1%. Many varied religions were practiced and many languages spoken, including Judeo-Spanish, a dialect of Spanish spoken by the city's Jews. Thessaloniki was also the center of activities of the Young Turks, a political reform movement, which goal was to replace the Ottoman Empire's absolute monarchy with a constitutional government.
The Young Turks started out as an underground movement, until finally in 1908, they started the Young Turk Revolution from the city of Thessaloniki, which lead to of them gaining control over the Ottoman Empire and put an end to the Ottoman sultans power. Eleftherias (Liberty) Square, where the Young Turks gathered at the outbreak of the revolution, is named after the event. Turkey's first president Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who was born and raised in Thessaloniki, was a member of the Young Turks in his soldier days and also partook in the Young Turk Revolution. As the First Balkan War broke out, Greece declared war on the Ottoman Empire and expanded its borders. When Eleftherios Venizelos, Prime Minister at the time, was asked if the Greek army should move towards Thessaloniki or Monastir (now Bitola, Republic of North Macedonia), Venizelos replied "Θεσσαλονίκη με κάθε κόστος!" (Thessaloniki, at all costs!). As both Greece and Bulgaria wanted Thessaloniki, the Ottoman garrison of the city entered negotiations with both armies. On 8 November 1912 (26 October Old Style), the feast day of the city's patron saint, Saint Demetrius, the Greek Army accepted the surrender of the Ottoman garrison at Thessaloniki. The Bulgarian army arrived one day after the surrender of the city to Greece and Tahsin Pasha, ruler of the city, told the Bulgarian officials that "I have only one Thessaloniki, which I have surrendered". After the Second Balkan War, Thessaloniki and the rest of the Greek portion of Macedonia were officially annexed to Greece by the Treaty of Bucharest in 1913. On 18 March 1913 George I of Greece was assassinated in the city by Alexandros Schinas. In 1915, during World War I, a large Allied expeditionary force established a base at Thessaloniki for operations against pro-German Bulgaria. This culminated in the establishment of the Macedonian Front, also known as the Salonika Front. And a temporary hospital run by the Scottish Women's Hospitals for Foreign Service was set up in a disused factory. In 1916, pro-Venizelist Greek army officers and civilians, with the support of the Allies, launched an uprising, creating a pro-Allied temporary government by the name of the "Provisional Government of National Defence" that controlled the "New Lands" (lands that were gained by Greece in the Balkan Wars, most of Northern Greece including Greek Macedonia, the North Aegean as well as the island of Crete); the official government of the King in Athens, the "State of Athens", controlled "Old Greece" which were traditionally monarchist. The State of Thessaloniki was disestablished with the unification of the two opposing Greek governments under Venizelos, following the abdication of King Constantine in 1917.
On 30 December 1915 an Austrian air raid on Thessaloniki alarmed many town civilians and killed at least one person, and in response the Allied troops based there arrested the German, Austrian, Bulgarian, and Turkish vice-consuls and their families and dependents and put them on a battleship, and billeted troops in their consulate buildings in Thessaloniki. Most of the old center of the city was destroyed by the Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917, which was started accidentally by an unattended kitchen fire on 18 August 1917. The fire swept through the centre of the city, leaving 72,000 people homeless; according to the Pallis Report, most of them were Jewish (50,000). Many businesses were destroyed, as a result, 70% of the population were unemployed. Two churches and many synagogues and mosques were lost. More than one quarter of the total population of approximately 271,157 became homeless. Following the fire the government prohibited quick rebuilding, so it could implement the new redesign of the city according to the European-style urban plan prepared by a group of architects, including the Briton Thomas Mawson, and headed by French architect Ernest Hébrard. Property values fell from 6.5 million Greek drachmas to 750,000.
After the defeat of Greece in the Greco-Turkish War and during the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, a population exchange took place between Greece and Turkey. Over 160,000 ethnic Greeks deported from the former Ottoman Empire – particularly Greeks from Asia Minor and East Thrace were resettled in the city, changing its demographics. Additionally, many of the city's Muslims, including Ottoman Greek Muslims, were deported to Turkey, ranging at about 20,000 people. This made the Greek element dominant, while the Jewish population was reduced to a minority for the first time since the 14th century. During World War II Thessaloniki was heavily bombarded by Fascist Italy (with 232 people dead, 871 wounded and over 800 buildings damaged or destroyed in November 1940 alone), and, the Italians having failed in their invasion of Greece, it fell to the forces of Nazi Germany on 8 April 1941 and went under German occupation. The Nazis soon forced the Jewish residents into a ghetto near the railroads and on 15 March 1943 began the deportation of the city's Jews to Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. Most were immediately murdered in the gas chambers. Of the 45,000 Jews deported to Auschwitz, only 4% survived. During a speech in Reichstag, Hitler claimed that the intention of his Balkan campaign, was to prevent the Allies from establishing "a new Macedonian front", as they had during WWI. The importance of Thessaloniki to Nazi Germany can be demonstrated by the fact that, initially, Hitler had planned to incorporate it directly into Nazi Germany and not have it controlled by a puppet state such as the Hellenic State or an ally of Germany (Thessaloniki had been promised to Yugoslavia as a reward for joining the Axis on 25 March 1941). As it was the first major city in Greece to fall to the occupying forces, the first Greek resistance group formed in Thessaloniki (under the name Ελευθερία, Elefthería, "Freedom") as well as the first anti-Nazi newspaper in an occupied territory anywhere in Europe, also by the name Eleftheria.
Thessaloniki was also home to a military camp-converted-concentration camp, known in German as "Konzentrationslager Pavlo Mela" (Pavlos Melas Concentration Camp), where members of the resistance and other anti-fascists were held either to be killed or sent to other concentration camps. On 30 October 1944, after battles with the retreating German army and the Security Battalions of Poulos, forces of ELAS entered Thessaloniki as liberators headed by Markos Vafiadis (who did not obey orders from ELAS leadership in Athens to not enter the city). Pro-EAM celebrations and demonstrations followed in the city. In the 1946 monarchy referendum, the majority of the locals voted in favor of a republic, contrary to the rest of Greece. After the war, Thessaloniki was rebuilt with large-scale development of new infrastructure and industry throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Many of its architectural treasures still remain, adding value to the city as a tourist destination, while several early Christian and Byzantine monuments of Thessaloniki were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1988. In 1997, Thessaloniki was celebrated as the European Capital of Culture, sponsoring events across the city and the region. Agency established to oversee the cultural activities of that year 1997 was still in existence by 2010. In 2004, the city hosted a number of the football events as part of the 2004 Summer Olympics.
Today, Thessaloniki has become one of the most important trade and business hubs in Southeastern Europe, with its port, the Port of Thessaloniki being one of the largest in the Aegean and facilitating trade throughout the Balkan hinterland. On 26 October 2012 the city celebrated its centennial since its incorporation into Greece. The city also forms one of the largest student centers in Southeastern Europe, is host to the largest student population in Greece and was the European Youth Capital in 2014.
Travel to Thessaloniki *taken from Lonely Planet*
Thessaloniki is easy to fall in love with – it has beauty, chaos, history and culture, a remarkable cuisine, and wonderful, vast sea views. This is Greece’s second city, which, like the rest of the country, has suffered the hit of the economic crisis, but the streets remain full of life and vibrancy. The different neighbourhoods are little worlds unto themselves, and when you climb up to the Byzantine walls and take in the whole of Thessaloniki at sunset, you see what a sprawling, organic city it is. Old and new cohabit wonderfully: the Arch of Galerius, an intricate 4th-century monument, overlooks the busy shopping drag of Egnatia, while Thessaloniki’s most famous sight, the White Tower, anchors a waterfront packed with cocktail bars. The revamped waterfront area breathes life and is great for walking and cycling. By night, the city reverberates with music and nightlife.
Must See Sites Archaeological Museum; Macedonia's prehistory, Hellenistic and Roman periods are charted in this wonderful museum, home to many of the region's major archaeological discoveries. Highlights include goldwork from various hoards and graves, and the Derveni Krater (330–320 BC), a huge, ornate Hellenistic bronze-and-tin vase marked by intricate relief carvings of Dionysos, along with mythical figures, animals and ivy vines. The Derveni Papyrus, Greece’s oldest surviving papyrus piece (320–250 BC), is recognised by Unesco as Europe's oldest 'book'. The lower-floor exhibit, Prehistoric Macedonia, boasts prehistoric implements from the Petralona Cave north of Halkidiki, plus Neolithic and Bronze Age daggers, pottery and tools. The grounds, home to a rich collection of funerary monuments and a full-size floorplan of a Roman villa, are free to explore. White Tower; Thessaloniki's iconic landmark, the 34m-high White Tower has a harrowing history as a prison and place of execution. Built by the Ottomans in the 15th century, it was here in 1826 that Sultan Mahmud II massacred the garrison of rebellious janissaries (forcibly Islamicised elite troops). One story goes that the structure was known as the Tower of Blood until a prisoner painted the tower white in exchange for his liberty in 1883, when it was renamed Lefkos Pyrgos (White Tower). Others say that the name was changed after the 1912 Greek reconquest. Grab a free audio guide to help navigate multimedia displays tracing the history, culture and commerce of Thessaloniki, then head to the top for sweeping views of the city, Thermaic Gulf and surrounding hills. Museum of Byzantine Culture; This fascinating museum has plenty of treasures to please Byzantine buffs, plus simple explanations to introduce this long-lived empire and its culture to total beginners. More than 3000 Byzantine objects, including mosaics, intriguing tomb paintings, icons, jewellery and glassware, are showcased with characterful asides about daily life. You'll be confidently discerning early-Christian from late-Byzantine icons in no time. Temporary exhibitions might focus on anything from satirical maps to the work of Cretan writer and mystic Nikos Kazantzakis.
Church of Agios Dimitrios; This enormous 7th-century basilica honours Thessaloniki’s patron saint. A Roman soldier, Dimitrios was killed around AD 306 at this former Roman bath site by order of Emperor Galerius, infamous persecutor of Christians. The martyrdom site is now a crypt; Dimitrios’ remains occupy a silver reliquary inside. The Ottomans made Agios Dimitrios a mosque, and plastered over frescoes that were again revealed after the 1913 Greek reconquest. While the city's fire of 1917 was very damaging, five 8th-century mosaics survive. Palace of Galerius; Sprawling in splendid incongruity amidst the souvenir shops and crêperies of Plateia Navarinou, the ruins of this 3rd- to 4th-century palace remain impressive in scope. You can descend into it, or just peer over the handrail to see the surviving mosaics, columns, walls and infrastructure. What most brings the site to life is the Arched Hall, where exhibits, videos and digital recreations convey something of the nature and scope of not just the palace, but the nearby triumphal arch and rotunda. Roman Forum; As immaculately laid out as you'd expect of the Romans, this rectangular site was the centre of public and commercial Thessaloniki from the 1st to the 4th centuries. Understandably much reduced, you'll nonetheless be able to make out streets, shops, baths, cloisters, an amphitheatre, fountains and more. Underground is the small but very-worthwhile museum, which adds considerably to the understanding of the site you'll take away.
Must Try Food and Drink
Trigona panoramatos; Trigona panoramatos is a traditional Greek sweet pastry originating from the outskirts of Thessaloniki. These crispy and buttery triangular (cone-shaped) phyllo pastries are typically soaked in syrup and filled with creamy custard. The custard is usually made with a combination of egg yolks, flour, butter, milk, sugar, vanilla, and heavy cream. The phyllo triangles are baked until golden brown, dipped in cold syrup consisting of sugar and water, and then filled with the chilled custard. Trigona is often garnished with chopped nuts before consumption.
Koulouri Thessalonikis; Koulouri Thessalonikis is a traditional Greek street food staple and their national take on simit—a similar circular bread found in Turkey. In its simplest form, koulouri is made with wheat flour dough that is shaped into a ring before it is coated in sesame seeds and baked. This Greek version is believed to have traveled with Greek refugees from Asia Minor who first settled in Thessaloniki, hence the name. The origin is still disputed between the two countries, but the Greeks have implemented this crunchy and filling snack in their national cuisine. Unlike the Turkish version, koulouri is not braided, and it is only sometimes dipped in molasses. In Greece, modern varieties are often filled with chocolate spreads, tahini, or cheese, while some even appear without sesame seeds. This snack is often enjoyed for breakfast and it can be bought from street vendors or in numerous bakeries across the country.
Frappé; Although the word frappe first appeared in the 19th century, this Greek coffee variety was invented in 1957. It is made by combining instant coffee with water and ice. The combination is usually prepared in a shaker or a hand mixer, so when the drink is poured in a glass, a frothy foam should appear on top. The variations may include milk or evaporated milk—when it is often referred to as frapógalo—and the drink can be sweetened according to taste. Traditionally, this coffee is served in a tall glass, and three degrees of sweetness are available. These include glykós (classified as sweet and typically consisting of four teaspoons of sugar), métrios (medium sweetness with approximately two teaspoons of sugar), or skétos (no sugar). Other specialty versions may also include creamy liqueurs or ice cream, while sometimes the combination can also be mixed with a spoon. The invention of frappé coffee is usually associated with a former Nescafé employer Dimitris Vakondios. He created the drink by accident at the International Trade Fair in Thessaloniki when he wanted to make instant coffee, but hot water was not available. Frappé coffee is a Greek staple, but it is also popular in Cyprus. The drink was initially promoted by Nescafé.
Gyros; Gyros is one of the most popular Greek street food dishes, consisting of meat such as pork and chicken (in Greece) or lamb and veal (popular in other countries) cooked on a vertical spit. The meat is sliced in thin shavings and is then usually placed in a pita bread along with sauces such as tzatziki and vegetables such as tomatoes, onions, lettuce, and cucumbers. Gyros is derived from the Greek word gheereezo, meaning to turn, referring to the constantly rotating vertical spit on which the meat is cooked. Some believe that gyros originated during the time of Alexander the Great, when his soldiers skewered the meat on their swords and cooked it over a fire. Others claim that gyros was introduced to Greece in 1922, with the refugees from Constantinople and Smyrna. Many of the refugees became merchants and opened their shops with tiny holes in the wall, where gyros was sold. After WWII, gyros gained popularity and spread to Europe, Australia, and the United States. Today, gyros is known as one of the most popular street food varieties around the world.
Gamopilafo; This complex Greek dish couples rice and various types of meat such as goat, lamb, veal, chicken, and occasionally pork. The meat is cooked separately, while the broth is later used to cook the rice, which is additionally flavored with lemon juice and generous amounts of butter. When served, sliced meat is typically placed neatly on top of the rice, and the dish is usually accompanied by lemon wedges. Gamopilafo is also known as wedding rice, referring to the fact that the dish was only prepared and enjoyed on special occasions. Though it is usually associated with Crete, it is popular throughout the country and is still mainly reserved for special occasions and various festivities.
Akanés; Akanés is a traditional Greek sweet originating from the town of Serres. It's very similar to loukoumi, but the flavors are quite different because akanés is flavored with fresh goat butter instead of fruit essences. This sweet dates back to the Ottoman occupation in Greece – the Ottoman rulers boiled molasses with water from the Lailias springs. It is believed that the spring water gave akanés its distinct flavor. Over time, molasses was replaced with cane sugar. As the mixture developed a thick consistency, fresh butter and nuts were added to the cauldron. During the preparation, the mixture was usually stirred by slaves, as akanés needs several hours of stirring. After it has cooled down, the thick mixture was (and still is) cut into small pieces and served as a dessert.
Manitaropita; Manitaropita is a traditional Greek pie that's especially popular in Kastoria. Although there are many variations, the pie is usually made with thick sheets of phyllo dough that are filled with a combination of sautéed portobello mushrooms, onions, garlic, tomatoes, olive oil, mint, parsley, oregano, thyme, olives, and crumbled feta cheese. The pie is often brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with sesame seeds before baking. Once baked until golden brown, manitaropita is left to cool down, and it's then cut into slices before being served.
Souvlaki; Souvlaki is one of the most popular Greek dishes, consisting of small cubes of skewered and grilled pork, chicken, lamb, or beef. It is a popular fast food item that is usually served in souvladzidika, small eateries that also often serve gyros and other similar grilled meat dishes. Souvlaki first appeared in ancient Greece, when it was called kandaulos, consisting of a combination of grilled meat, pita bread, cheese, and dill. The name of the dish is a diminutive of the Greek word souvla, meaning spit. The first souvlaki shop opened in Livadia in 1951, and today, souvlaki is sold in almost every Greek city, ordered as a takeaway, on the beaches, or on numerous street corners. It is usually served with a slice of bread or pita bread, tomatoes, parsley, onions, sometimes chips, and thick yogurt or tzatziki. There's also an oversized variety of souvlaki called kontosouvli in which large chunks of marinated meat, onions, tomatoes, and peppers are cooked on long and slim skewers over charcoal.
Tsoureki; Tsoureki is a traditional Greek Easter bread characterized by its braided shape, which can be either circular or elongated like a loaf. Tradition says that tsoureki should be braided in three strands - one for each aspect of the Trinity. The bread is usually made with milk, eggs, butter, and flavorings such as mahleb, orange zest, cardamom, and vanilla. After baking, it should be moist, tender, and soft, yet chewy. It is often served with a red-dyed egg on top of it, although it can sometimes be baked together with scarlet-colored eggs, representing the blood of Christ and resurrection. Tsoureki has been prepared in Greece since ancient times, and is traditionally served at the breaking of Lent. Loaves of tsoureki are typically exchanged among Greeks on Easter Sunday as a sign of good will and friendship. Today, there are numerous variations of the bread in Turkey, Armenia, Romania, and Bulgaria, all of them especially good when paired with a hot cup of tea or coffee.
Bougatsa; Bougatsa is a traditional, rustic Greek pie consisting of a phyllo pastry layered with a filling of minced meat, cheese, or semolina custard. The name of the dish is a derivation of the Ottoman word pogatsa, denoting a pie filled with cheese. Bougatsa has origins from the Byzantine period, when Constantinople was Greek, and it began as a dough that was stuffed with numerous sweet and savory fillings. Over time, bougatsa evolved to incorporate a thinly rolled, hand-made phyllo pastry. As many Turkish immigrants settled in Northern Greece, bougatsa became a specialty of Serres and Thessaloniki. Today, the pies can be found throughout Greece in specialty shops called bougatsopolia, selling bougatsas exclusively.