Thessaloniki historically also known as Salonica, is the second-largest city in Greece and the capital of the periphery of Central Macedonia as well as the capital of the Decentralized Administration of Macedonia and Thrace. Its honorific title is “Symprotévousa”, literally “co-capital”, a reference to its historical status as the “Symvasilévousa)” or “co-reigning” city of the Byzantine Empire, alongside Constantinople.
Coordinates: 40.65°N 22.9°E
According to the 2011 census the municipality of Thessaloniki today has a population of 322,240, while the Thessaloniki Urban Area (the contiguous built up area forming the “City of Thessaloniki”) has a population of 790,824.
Thessaloniki is Greece’s second major economic, industrial, commercial and political centre, and a major transportation hub for the rest of southeastern Europe; its commercial port is also of great importance for Greece and the southeastern European hinterland. 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 Trade 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 is not only regarded as the cultural and entertainment capital of northern Greece but also the cultural capital of the country. The city’s main theaters, run by the National Theater of Northern Greece which was established in 1961, include the Theater of the Society of Macedonian Studies, where the National Theater is based, the Royal Theater, the first base of the National Theater, Moni Lazariston, and the Earth Theater and Forest Theater, both amphitheatrical open-air theatres overlooking the city. The title of the European Capital of Culture in 1997 saw the birth of the city’s first opera and today forms an independent section of the National Theatre of Northern Greece. The opera is based at the Thessaloniki Concert Hall, one of the largest concert halls in Greece. Recently a second building was also constructed and designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. Olympion Theater, the site of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival and the Plateia Assos Odeon multiplex are the two major cinemas in downtown Thessaloniki. The city also has a number of multiplex cinemas in major shopping malls in the suburbs, most notably in Mediterranean Cosmos, the largest retail and entertainment development in the Balkans.
Thessaloniki is renowned for its major shopping streets and lively laneways. Tsimiski Street and Proxenou Koromila avenue are the city’s most famous shopping streets and are among Greece’s most expensive and exclusive high streets. The city is also home to one of Greece’s most famous and prestigious hotels, Makedonia Palace hotel, the Hyatt Regency Casino and hotel (the biggest casino in Greece and one of the biggest in Europe) and Waterland, the largest water park in southeastern Europe.
The city has always been known between Greeks for its vibrant city culture, including having the most cafe’s and bars per-capita than any other city in Europe; and as having some of the best nightlife and entertainment in the country, thanks to its large young population and multicultural feel. Only recently has the city been exposing itself to the world and becoming more known for what it is, with Lonely Planet listing Thessaloniki as the world’s fifth-best ultimate party city.
Thessaloniki is home to numerous notable Byzantine monuments, including the Paleochristian and Byzantine monuments of Thessaloniki, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as several Roman, Ottoman and Sephardic Jewish structures. With a history of over 2,300 years, it is one of Europe’s oldest cities. The city’s main university, Aristotle University, is the largest in Greece and in the Balkans.
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 Macedon as daughter of Philip II. Under the kingdom of Macedon the city evolved to become the most important city in Macedon.
After the fall of the kingdom of Macedon in 168 BC, Thessalonica became a free city of the Roman Republic. It grew to be an important trade-hub located on the Via Egnatia, the road connecting Dyrrhachium with Thessaloniki, which facilitated trade between Thessaloniki and great centers of commerce such as Rome and Byzantium. The city later 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 due to the city’s importance in the Balkan peninsula. 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. With the fall of Rome in 476, Thessaloniki became the second-largest city of the Eastern Roman Empire.
The Church of Saint Demetrius, or Hagios Demetrios, is the main sanctuary dedicated to Saint Demetrius, the patron saint of Thessaloniki, dating from a time when it was the second largest city of the Byzantine Empire. It is part of the site Palaeochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessaloniki on the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO since 1988.
The first church on the spot was constructed in the early 4th century AD, replacing a Roman bath. A century later, a prefect named Leontios replaced the small oratory with a larger, three-aisled basilica. Repeatedly gutted by fires, the church eventually was reconstructed as a five-aisled basilica in 629–634. This was the surviving form of the church much as it is today. The most important shrine in the city, it was probably larger than the local cathedral. The historic location of the latter is now unknown.
The White Tower of Thessaloniki , is a monument and museum on the waterfront of the city of Thessaloniki, capital of the region of Macedonia in northern Greece and a symbol of Greek sovereignty over Macedonia. The present tower replaced an old Byzantine fortification which was mentioned around the 12th century and reconstructed by the Ottomans to fortify the city’s harbour, it became a notorious prison and scene of mass executions during the period of Ottoman rule. It was substantially remodeled and its exterior was whitewashed after Greece gained control of the city in 1912. It has been adopted as the symbol of the city.
Read more about the extensive history of Thessaloniki at Wikipedia’s website
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 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, while 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 fascilitating trade throughout the Balkan hinterland. The city also forms one of the largest student centres in Southeastern Europe, is host to the largest student population in Greece and is a keen canditate for becoming European Youth Capital in 2014, after it celebrates 100 years of union with Greece in 2012.
Thessaloniki lies on the northern fringe of the Thermaic Gulf on its eastern coast and is bound by Mount Chortiatis on its southeast. Its proximity to imposing mountain ranges, hills and fault lines, especially towards its southeast have historically made the city prone to geological changes.
Since midieval times, Thessaloniki was hit by strong earthquakes in 1759, 1902, 1978 and 1995. On 19–20 June 1978, the city suffered a series of powerful earthquakes, registering 5.5 and 6.5 on the Richter scale. The tremors caused considerable damage to a number of buildings and ancient monuments, but the city withstood the catastrophe without any major problems. One apartment building in central Thessaloniki collapsed during the second earthquake, killing many, raising the final death toll to 51.
Most of the old center of the city was destroyed by the Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917, which started accidentally by an unattended kitchen fire on the 18th of 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). As many businesses were destroyed, it resulted to 70% of the population being unemployed, while also a number of religious structures of the three major faiths were lost. Nearly 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 British Thomas Mawson, headed by French architectErnest Hébrard. It is indicative that the Jewish community’s properties were reduced from a value of 6.5 million Greek drachmas to 750,000.
Situated next to the sea, the city’s climate is directly effected by it. The city has a Mediterranean climate that borders on a semi-arid climate. Snowfalls are sporadic, but happen more or less every winter. Fog is common in the city, with an average of 193 foggy days in a year.
Thessaloniki’s summers are hot with rather humid nights. Maximum temperatures usually rise above 30°C (86F), but rarely go over 40C° (104F). Rain is seldom in summer, and mainly falls during thunderstorms. In the summer months Thessaloniki also experiences strong heat waves. The hottest month of the year in the city is July.
Air traffic to and from the city is served by Macedonia International Airport for international and domestic flights. The short length of the airport’s two runways means that it does not currently support intercontinental flights, although a major extension, lengthening one of its runways into the Thermaic Gulf is under construction, despite considerable opposition from local environmentalist groups. Following the completion of the runway works, the airport will be able to serve intercontinental flights and cater for larger aircraft in the future.
Museums in Thessaloniki:
• The Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki
• Byzantine Museum of Thessaloniki
• The Museum of the White Tower
• War Museum of Thessaloniki
• Crypt of Saint Demetrios
• Archaeological site of Toumba
• Ataturk Museum, Thessaloniki
• Balkan Wars Museum
• Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki
• Museum for the Macedonian Struggle
• Folk Art and Ethnological Museum of Macedonia and Thrace
• Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art
• Museum of Photography
• Waterworks Museum
• Thessaloniki Olympic Museum
• Thessaloniki Science Center and Technology Museum (NOESIS)
Other important links:
• Tourism offices, Camping sites, Port authorities, Diving centers, Mountaineering and ski clubs, Mountain Refuges
• Ministry of Culture and Tourism
• Thessaloniki International Film Festival
• Aristotle University of Thessaloniki
• Thessaloniki International Trade Fair