New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Personal memories of food experiences in Thessaloniki almost materialize, fragrantly, as the GN conveys the invitation of Alexandros Thanos, Deputy Governor of Tourism and Culture of Central Macedonia to visit the second largest metropolis in Greece, Thessaloniki, in his region this summer. A gorgeous kataifi with a delicate scoop of ice cream and “in Panorama, a flaky, warm bougatsa sprinkled with powdered sugar, an icy, tangy retsina from the just-cracked barrel in the chosen koutouki of a local connoisseur, of which many exist in this gourmet heaven.
Welcome to Thessaloniki, the city famous for a sophisticated cuisine reflecting Greek, European, Byzantine, Jewish, Pontic, Anatolian—and a unique urban/regional/cuisine all its own. Enjoy the best fresh seafood and fish in ouzeris and fish tavernas in Peraia and Aretsou Beach. Cretan and other fantastic appetizers in Athonos Square, Ladadika, Navarinou Square and Chortiatis. And for tsipouro with tasty kebabs, try the Modiano market in Kapani, Tsinari and Bit Bazaar. You will always remember your tasteful wanderings in Thessaloniki.
Drifting away from the topic of food, or the Gastronomic Tourism of Thessaloniki, Mr. Thanos’s invitation makes special reference to the long history of Thessaloniki: At the time of the Roman Empire, about 50 A.D., Thessaloniki was one of the early centers of Christianity. The evolution of Imperial Byzantine architecture and the prosperity of Thessaloniki go hand in hand. Thessaloniki’s numerous notable Byzantine monuments, are among the most significant of the Byzantine period.
Historical Tourism in Thessaloniki:
In 306 AD, Thessaloniki acquired a patron saint, St. Demetrius. A basilica dedicated to St. Demetrius, Hagios Demetrios, was first built in the 5th century AD. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as are Hagia Sophia of Thessaloniki, the Church of the Acheiropoietos, and the Church of Panagia Chalkeon. Thessaloniki has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites listed than any other city in Greece, a total of 15 monuments.
Ano Poli (Old Town and literally the Upper Town, the most traditional part of the city, with small stone paved streets is another UNESCO World Heritage Site, with old squares and homes featuring old Greek and Ottoman architecture. It is the highest point in Thessaloniki and as such is the location of the city’s acropolis. Its Byzantine fort, the Heptapyrgion (Seven Towers) a large portion of the city’s remaining walls, and many of its additional Ottoman and Byzantine structures are still standing.
The White Tower, adopted as the symbol of the city of Thessaloniki, is a monument and 6-floor museum on the waterfront. The present tower replaced an old Byzantine fortification that the Ottoman Empire reconstructed to fortify the city’s harbor in 1430. The tower 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.
Thessaloniki has important archeological sites, the imposing Rotunda and the Roman forum. The Rotunda, built by Caesar Galerius in the 4th century to be used as a mausoleum, was turned into a Christian temple two centuries later by Emperor Theodosius. The Kamara (the Arch of Galerius) is located almost next to the Rotunda and portrays representations of Galerius’ victories against the Persians. Thessaloniki features a large two-terraced Roman forum featuring two-story stoas, dug up by accident in the 1960s. The forum complex also boasts a small theater and
two Roman baths, one of which has been excavated while the other is buried underneath the city.
The Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki and the Museum of Byzantine Culture. are the two most important museums in the city. The archaeological Museum houses some of the most important ancient Macedonian artifacts, including an extensive gold collection from the royal palaces of Aigai and Pella, and exhibits of Neolithic and Bronze age Macedon. The Prehistoric Antiquities Museum of Thessaloniki has exhibits from these periods as well.
The Atatürk Museum in Thessaloniki, the historic house where Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of modern-day Turkey was born, contains historic information about him and his life, especially while he was in Thessaloniki.
Other ethnological museums of the sort include the Historical Museum of the Balkan Wars, the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki and the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle, containing information about the freedom fighters in Macedonia and their struggle to liberate the region from the Ottoman yoke. Construction on the Holocaust Museum of Greece is underway.
The city also has many important art galleries. The Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art mounts exhibitions of well-known Greek and foreign artists. The Teloglion Foundation of Art, part of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, includes an extensive collection of works by important artists of the 19th and 20th centuries, including works by prominent Greeks and native Thessalonians. The Thessaloniki Museum of Photography also runs many important exhibitions.
One of the most modern museums in the city is the Thessaloniki Science Center and Technology Museum, one of the most high-tech museums in Greece and southeastern Europe, the largest planetarium in Greece, a theater with the country’s largest flat screen, and an amphitheater.
The Thessaloniki waterfront, which is lined with cafés and bars, is full of Thessalonians enjoying their long evening walks, the “volta”, embedded into the culture of the city. Having undergone an extensive revitalization, the city’s waterfront today features a total of 12 theme gardens/parks.
Thessaloniki’s proximity to the beautiful beaches of Chalkidiki, the national park of Pieria, and, just 2 miles from the city center, the Seich Sou forest national park offer mountain bike trails and landscaped hiking paths for a rounded vacation. The city’s zoo, which is operated by the municipality of Thessaloniki, is also nearby.
To be timed with your visit: Thessaloniki hosts important annual events such as the Thessaloniki International Fair, the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, and the largest bi-annual meeting of the Greek diaspora.
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