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At the crossroads of East and West, where North blends into South, Thessaloniki (accent on the "ni") has seen the rise and fall of many civilizations: Macedonian, Hellenic, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman, and that of the Jews and the modern Greeks. Each of its successive conquerors has plundered, razed, and buried much of what went before. In 1917 a great fire destroyed much of what was left, but the colorful past can still be seen and sensed. The vibrant city with close to 1.5 million inhabitants today—also known as Thessalonike, Saloniki, Salonika, or Salonica—has a spacious, orderly layout that is partly a result of French architect Ernest Hébrard, who rebuilt the city after the fire.
Though Thessaloniki has suburbanized in the last two decades, sprawling to the east and west, the old part of the city is fairly centralized and easy to get used to. Whether you're in Ano Polis (Upper City) or along the bay, short walks here are well rewarded; you may come across parks, squares, old neighborhoods with narrow alleyways and gardens, courtyards draped with laundry, neoclassic mansions, and some of the more than 50 churches and 40 monasteries. Thessaloniki's early Christian and Byzantine monuments, with their distinctive architecture and magnificent mosaics, are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The ever-changing nature of the city continues and neighborhoods like Ladadika, a former warehouse district (which got its name from the olives and olive oil or ladi stored here), have been recycled into pedestrian zones of restaurants and clubs. The neighborhood is filled with young and old, strolling by fountains, snapping fingers to the music in the air, and savoring mezedes (appetizers) and microbrewery beers at tables spilling onto the stone squares.
The appeal of Thessaloniki lies in part in its warmth, accessibility, and languid pace. The afternoon mesimeri, or siesta, is still sacrosanct (don't call people between 3 and 5 pm). Take your time exploring in-town archaeological sites and Byzantine treasures, making sure to stop for café-style people-watching. The two walks suggest routes for exploring highlights. It's best, however, to simply to wander through the streets responding to whatever you encounter. It is hard to get lost, since the entire city slopes downhill to the bay, where you can always align yourself with the White Tower and the city skyline.
Thessaloniki at a Glance
- Arch of Galerius
- Archaeological Museum
- Athonos Square
- Ayia Sofia
- Ayios Dimitrios
- Ayios Nikolaos Orfanos
- Ayios Panteleimon
- Byzantine Museum
- Center of Contemporary Art
- Church of the Metamorphosis
- Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki
- Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art
- Dimitria Festival
- Helexpo International Trade Fair
- Kratiko Theatro (State Theater)
- Megaron Moussikis Thessaloniki (Thessaloniki Concert Hall)
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