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At the crossroads of East and West, Macedonia bears the traces of many civilizations: Macedonian, Hellenic, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman. Greece's second city, cosmopolitan Thessaloniki lies in the strategic center of Macedonia, nestled gracefully in the wide but protective arms of the Thermaic gulf and buttressed on its inland side by a low-lying mountain range around which the Axios river flows south to the Aegean. Macedonia's famed three-fingered peninsulas, tipped by famed Mt. Athos monasteries, are only a few hours away by car on good highways.