The Macedonian Experience
Thessaloniki, and second largest city in Greece, is crammed with culture, sprinkled with sights and dotted with chic cafés and bars. It dates back to around 316 BC, when King Kassandros of Macedonia, (Alexander the Great’s son-in-law) (Alexander the Great’s Brother-in-law) united the inhabitants of 26 villages and towns in a new city, which he named after his wife.
The city has given Greece some of its greatest musicians, artists and poets, and in terms of culture and sophistication, it is on a par with Athens. The influence of the east is tangible, not just in the food but in the relaxed lifestyle.
Scale the hill to Thessaloniki’s acropolis, from which you’ll get a spectacular panoramic view of the city. For beautiful examples of Byzantine art visit the Basilica of Agia Sophia and the Church of St George. Additional pleasures for visitors include excellent nightlife, high quality eateries and the many fine beaches nearby – Chalkidiki or Pieria are both easily accessible from the city.
What to see and do
Take a wander around the Archaeological Museum for an insight into Thessaloniki’s Macedonian heritage. It houses a good collection of religious artefacts, sculptures and gold from the nearby cemetery. Among the highlights are the treasures of Vergina, discovered in 1978, which include the tomb of Phillip, Alexander the Great’s father.
In the Museum of Byzantine Culture, you’ll find a good collection of sculptures, frescoes and mosaics, plus a wide variety of orthodox religious icons from the 14th-18th centuries.
For superb frescoes visit the 17th century church of Agios Nikolaos Orfanos and the Byzantine church of Agia Sofia. Aga Sofia is a must-see, also noteworthy for its huge dome and mosaic of the Ascension.
Contemporary culture can be sampled with a visit to Thessaloniki during its International Film Festival, held every November. Alternatively, visit the Cinema Museum, the city’s impressive Concert Hall, or the National Theatre of Northern Greece.
Families can combine a trip to the zoo with a visit to the Natural History Museum, situated in its grounds. Look out for cross-sections of river beds, displays on forest, alpine and marine life, plus a good section on Greek predators and prey.
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