A Cosmopolitan, Historical Treasure
You are planning your trip to Greece, looking over brochures of mythical Greek Isles. You've planned to stop in Athens to see the ruins and then off you go, to the land where blue meets white. But you'd be missing the rest of ancient, authentic Greece, including Thessaloniki, the country's second largest city.
Thessaloniki's commercial port is of great importance to Greece, and has become a major transportation hub to southeastern Europe with direct railway connections to many major cities including Belgrade, Moscow, Budapest, Istanbul and more. And not to worry, you'll get your moment in the sun with direct daily ferry connections to a many of the Greek Islands. Rail Europe offers passes such as the Eurail Greece Pass and Eurail Greece-Italy Pass to help you make the most of your time abroad.
Like all of Greece, Thessaloniki holds in its hands history and culture. Myriad empires have taken hold here, and there's much evidence of this in the construction of the city, despite a fire in 1917 that destroyed the city's historic center and a majority of its architectural heritage. Rebuilding efforts have helped preserve the Ottoman and Byzantine structures.
The most recognized landmark in Thessaloniki is The White Tower, built in the 15th century as part of a sea fortification at the eastern waterfront. After the city's liberation from the Ottomans, the tower was whitewashed as if to purify it from the blood that so often covered it, thus the name " White Tower ". And while the tower is no longer white, it serves a greater purpose as the Museum of History and Art of Thessaloniki.
The city has a long history with the Sephardic Jewish population. By the early 16th century, over half the population was Sephardi, due to being expelled from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella. Traces of what was once the "Jewish Quarter" can be found in Ladadika, which is now the "in" place for nightlife in Thessaloniki. Now an entertainment center, you'll find gussied-up Greeks dancing to live music, and enjoying a bitter coffee and slice of spanakopita. Opa!
Greece is the cradle of the Olympics, and you can see some of the history on display at the Thessaloniki Olympic Museum. Come imagine yourself dressed in grape leaves hurling a discus while viewing the objects on display including medals, torches and athetic equipment.
Thessaloniki is, at its large heart, a university city thanks to the Aristotle University, the largest in Greece and all of the Balkans. Covering over 230,000 square meters of the city, nearly 100,000 students attend from around the region. The school is famous for its seismological station, used to detect and measure earthquakes that occur in Greece and around the world. You can come take a tour and learn more about a different kind of plate-breaking (the less celebratory kind.)
More people are visiting Thessaloniki before heading out to party on the isles. Choosing history before hedonism? Talk about a seismic shift.
Contributed by: Anna, Online Marketing, a Greek, whose most beloved place in the whole world is Paris.