Thessaloniki, Greece: main tourist attractions

Thessaloniki, Galerios Arch

Mention Greece and the first place most people think of is Athens, a cultural and historical metropolis dating back to the dawn of civilization.

Not to be outdone by her more famous counterpart, Greece’s second city Thessaloniki boasts incredible historical sites dating back many centuries. There are references to Thessaloniki in the New Testament. St Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians are among the oldest records of Christian literature.

The city was founded in 315 BC by King Cassander of Macedonia, on a site of old monuments dating back to 2300 BC. It was named after his wife, who was Alexander the Great’s sister. Alexander’s father, King Phillip of Macedonia, incorporated it into his kingdom around 357 BC. Situated on the Gulf of Thermaikos, part of the Aegean Sea, the city is a strategic trading port for northern Greece and the Balkans. It is renowned for the universities and colleges offering many different courses and diplomas to students from all over the world.

Over the years, Thessaloniki has suffered invasions by many cultures, including Slavs, Arabs, Saraces, Normans, Catalans, Turks and Nazis. It is testament to the strength of this city that it has prevailed through each incursion, with its ancient monuments relatively unscathed.

Thessaloniki, Galerios Arch
Thessaloniki, Galerios Arch

Parking is at a premium in central Thessaloniki, which boasts much of the charm of a historical city. Narrow streets and cobblestone pavements are a common feature – wonderful to walk through but not easy to negotiate in a car. Thessalonians park on and beside pavements, on street corners and in restricted parking zones, because of the lack of street parking. Double and triple parallel parking is a common sight. I soon learned the location of the city’s municipal parking areas, most of which are central to almost all places of interest in the city.

Walking is the best way to see Thessaloniki’s city centre. A myriad of shops, cafs and restaurants border the pavements, overlooked by ten story apartments towering over the streets and adding to Thessaloniki’s cosmopolitan atmosphere.

The White Tower, the symbol of Thessaloniki, is situated on the waterfront, and is locally considered the city’s most important historical site. It looks like a giant rook from a chess set, and it is grey, not white. The tower was built in the fifteenth century, and served as a prison during the Ottoman Empire’s occupation of Greece, from 1430 to 1912. During this time it was known as “The Bloody Tower”.

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