Walking Tour Through Thessaloniki’s History
The Rich History of Thessaloniki
Due to its many different rulers and unique eras, Thessaloniki has one of the richest and most diverse histories of any Greek city. Thessaloniki was founded in 315 BC by the Greek king, Cassander of Macedon. The city developed extremely rapidly, and by the 2nd century BC there was already a fully functioning city wall surrounding Thessaloniki. However the Greek rule was short-lived, and in 168 BC Thessaloniki became a city under Roman rule.
The Roman Republic turned Thessaloniki into an extremely important trade-hub which connected Byzantium to Dyrrhachium. Not only did this magnificent trade line open up connections between Europe and Asia, but it also gave the city many of the open markets and forums you can still visit today. Again, the Roman rule was not meant to last, and after repeated barbarian invasions and a catastrophic earthquake in 620, the city gradually rebuilt itself under Byzantine power.
During the Byzantine rule, Thessaloniki became the largest Jewish city in the world for 200 years. It was known as the “Mother of Israel”. Today you can still see the strong Jewish influences throughout the Jewish quarter and in some culinary techniques. In 1423, after the Ottoman Empire’s strong advance, the Byzantine Empire handed over the city to the Republic of Venice. However, this small force could only hold Thessaloniki for 7 years before the Ottoman Empire captured it in 1430.
In 1912, the Greeks finally won back their magnificent city during the Firs Balkan War. Thessaloniki is now the prime port for both the northern Greek regions and the whole of Southeastern Europe.
Historical Walking Tours
With over 2300 years of rich and unusual history, Thessaloniki is one of the best places to take a walking tour. The city is easily accessible by foot, and there are historical monuments, statues, markets and museums on every corner.
The best place to start a walking tour is on the east side of the city, at Galerius’ Palace. The palace is one of Thessaloniki’s most important late antique excavations as it’s the best-preserved monument from this era in the whole of Europe. Although Galerius’ Palace is highly protected, part of the structure is visible and open to the public. Just a few steps away, standing proudly amongst the modern apartment buildings, is the Arch of Galerius. This triumphal arch was built to commemorate Galerius’ victory over the Persians in 298 AD.
Heading north from the Arch of Galerius, you will find the Rotunda. This impressive building is 30m high with walls 6.3m thick. The closest structural design is that of the Pantheon in Rome. The Rotunda is thought to have been built as a place for cult worship, as the people of Thessaloniki moved from Christian to Pagan.
As you walk towards the centre of Thessaloniki, you will discover a new era of its fascinating history. The beautiful Agia Sophia Temple is the oldest Byzantine church in Thessaloniki, and is one of the buildings UNESCO marked as a World Heritage Site. From the outside, you can admire the beautiful domed structure, and inside marvel at the intricate paintings dating back to the 11th century AD.
Just south of the impressive temple of Agia Sophia, you will find an abandoned monastery around 5m below street level. Follow the entrance of the monastery and you will find yourself underneath the great city of Thessaloniki, in the catacombs of Agios Ioannis. Not only were these catacombs built to honour St. John the Baptist, but they were also used as a safe place for Christians to worship during the Roman rule.
A short walk from the catacombs will lead you down towards the port where you can find the impressive Hagios Demetrios. This gigantic church was built in honour of St Demetrios, the patron saint on Thessaloniki. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was built during the Byzantine era and replaced a historic Roman bath. Inside, the church has an impressive shrine covered in silver and six stunning mosaic panels that date back to 730.
Just 2 minutes from the Hagios Demetrios, you will find the Roman Forum. This historical site was dug up by accident in the 1960s and has since become somewhat of a historic tourist attraction in Thessaloniki. The archaeological site features two roman baths and a small theatre which would have been used for gladiatorial games.
The final stop on your walking tour will take you down to the shoreline, to the White Tower of Thessaloniki. This impressive monument and museum was constructed during the Ottoman rule in 1430, to replace an old Byzantine fortification. However, this white exterior was created by the Greeks when they took control of Thessaloniki in 1912. The White Tower has since become a strong symbol of the city and its powerful history.
Places to Visit During your Walking Tour in Thessaloniki
- Galerius’ Palace
- Arch of Galerius
- Agia Sophia Temple
- Hagios Demetrios
- Roman Forum
- White Tower of Thessaloniki