Thessaloniki: A Layered City

After my interesting experiences in Albania, I let two relaxed days in Thessaloniki, Greece follow. The city hides a few secrets, which had to be discovered. The city had a moving past, since its important location made it the target of many peoples for invasions. Many remainders from the past are still there, but many things have forever disappeared.

The days before and after my stay in Thessaloniki were and will be dominated by bus rides. In between, I regain my strength and relax a little bit. My original plan was to spend one day in the city, while for the other, I wanted to explore the surroundings of the city. As often, plans change before they are thought out. Since I caught a light cold in Albania, I preferred to hang around in Thessaloniki and drink lots of tea, instead of running up and down the city. This led to me stretching the breakfast times for the first time. On Monday and Tuesday, I was served a really nice breakfast, before I went on short discovery tours around the city. On Monday, I headed up the mountain to the Ana Poli, the upper town from Byzantine times, on Tuesday I explored the area between Egnatia and the sea.

Byzantine wall

Byzantine wall surrounding the city center of Thessaloniki

Before arriving in Greece, I was worried that because of the general strike, nothing would go in Thessaloniki. Fortunately, everything seems to be up and running, even the garbage disposal service started doing their job again. Which is a very good thing indeed, since the garbage piles are man-high in many places.

Eptapyrgion: a prison from Ottoman times until 1989

Already in Roman times, Thessaloniki was an important commercial hub. It lay on the Via Egnatia between Constantinopel and Rome and probably was also connected to the network of the silk road. In memory of this fact, the main road in Thessaloniki is still called Egnatia and one block from this road, the ancient Roman Agora can still be visited today.
Roman agora

Roman agora in the center of Thessaloniki

From the Byzantine times, ruins remain about one level below today’s streets. During the current construction of a new metro line along Egnatia, more and more ruins are discovered, which leads to a huge construction site in the middle of the city and its traffic. On Monday, I visited the Byzantine Wall which still surrounds about three quarters of the city center, albeit sometimes rather vaguely. On the hill, the wall surrounds the Ana Poli, the upper town, from where one has a great view across the city.
On my way down-hill, instead of following the main roads or the LonelyPlanet walking tour, I was looking especially for small streets and corners. This journey led me into a nice part of town with very steep roads, lined be colorful houses in Macedonian style.
Once I arrived at the bottom of the slope, I started looking for some food and found a nice bakery. Continuing my way, I finally sat in a nice café, where everybody was drinking some sort of coffee from large glasses. Since I wanted to try the local drinks too, I asked the waitress to bring me “one like that”. This proved harder than I imagined. The coffee in the glasses is cold coffee on the rocks, called Frappé, which is available in many different options. Finally I got a medium-sweet variant with milk. I really enjoyed my Frappé enjoying the view on some street salesmen dealing with customers.
Shopping in Thessaloniki

Shopping in Thessaloniki: Vegetables and fruits

For dinner, I followed the recommendation of my host to a particular restaurant. The restaurant is known for Greek and Middle Eastern specialties. I didn’t really care about the menu, I just told that this was my first dinner in Greece and I would like to discover what Greek food is like. I couldn’t believe my eyes what happened next. The table was filled with delightful dishes ranging from bread and salad to French fries and all sorts of meat prepared in different ways. I could have had a free dessert, but considering the state of my stomach, which was painfully full, I declined.
Shopping in Thessaloniki

Shopping in Thessaloniki: Camping gear

On Tuesday, I visited the part of the city center between Egnatia and the sea. On the way of my discoveries, I bought my bus ticket to Istanbul for Wednesday and explored the central market of Thessaloniki. From Albania, I was used to the concept of shops reaching from the building across the sidewalk to the road. The Greeks are somewhat more reserved only using half the sidewalk. I consider it very interesting observing how people sell and buy in foreign countries.
The white tower

The white tower

Along the coast, I reached the white tower, the main attraction and symbol of Thessaloniki. A nice historical museum is contained within the walls of the tower, where I could learn a few things about the cities past times. Little remains of this vibrant multi-cultural city. The big fire of 1917 and the relocation of people in the area during the twenties of the last century mainly left Greeks in the city. Another result of the great fire was, that 45 percent of the city had to be rebuilt from scratch on top of the old ruins. Today there are many “windows” into the past which lies beneath the current roads and squares. New ruins keep being discovering during the ongoing construction of the metro in Thessaloniki.
Past and current times

Past and current times side by side in Thessaloniki

My further plans include the mandatory chase for food, before getting my luggage ready for the bus ride tomorrow to Istanbul.