Of course: Athens is the largest and also the most famous city in Greece. But much more pleasant, exciting and interesting is the second largest city in Greece: Thessaloniki. The metropolis up north, located right by the sea, is a lively student city that has everything to offer visitors that a university city must have. There are pubs, bars, taverns, clubs and even dance parties in the middle of the city, on streets and squares. In normal times, of course, but one day they will surely come back.
The normal tourist day in Thessaloniki starts in the old town, which winds up the hill through narrow, steep streets. The higher you get, the more amazing the view becomes. At some point, the entire city lies at the visitor's feet, bordered by the sea on the horizon. The Macedonian king Kassandros founded the city under the name "Thessalonikē" already in 315 BC on the remains of one of 26 smaller towns on the site of Therme on the Thermaic Gulf, originally a Thracian settlement. He borrowed the name from his wife Thessalonikē, a half-sister of Alexander the Great. A real flatterer, a big spender. With small pockets.
Some things here today still look as if they have not been repaired much since then. Houses are crumbling away, dogs and cats roam the narrow streets, and ruins are tied up with ribbons that don't look as if anyone wants to renovate them in the near future. The situation is different further down, by the sea, where a wide promenade has been laid out at great expense. Here, crowds of people stroll along to the famous White Tower, the city's landmark. Ano Polis is the name of the old city center with narrow streets and magnificent houses, all with large balconies.
Ano Poli, which only means "upper city", is a maze of stairs, streets, alleys that lead everywhere and nowhere. Every walk a voyage of discovery through the hometown of 325,000 people, 150,000 of whom are said to be students. They sit everywhere, even in the afternoon. Coffee is always drunk, a drink that Greeks cannot survive a single hour. The cup is fused with the hands of the people and the black straw must never be missing!
So all the people move along the sea, on the wide, accurately paved and some meters with wooden plates covered boulevard, which used to be a kilometer-long garbage dump. A few lost anglers stand here, joggers run by, cyclists and dog owners mingle with the tourists. You can book boat trips here, sit in a beer garden or admire the many works of art and monuments.
Then the highlight is the famous White Tower, 34 meters high and the landmark of the city. Up close, he's not too spectacular, but at least the tower is really old and historic, unlike the crazy steel umbrellas that an artist has placed nearby. Right next to the monument to Alexander the Great, the city's greatest son. Or was it Aristotle, the philosopher?
Thessaloniki really comes alive in the evening, when coffee is exchanged for beer and ouzo. Then the thunder of techno beats out of cellars, dozens of young people dance in courtyards and flying merchants sell beer. Thessaloniki, an important metropolis for more than 2,000 years under the rule of Romans, Greeks and Ottomans, is now a party capital - maybe no longer the second most important city in the region as in the Byzantine period, when Istanbul was always more important. But the most atmospheric one of all.
The gray sea of houses transforms into a large disco in the light of improvised spotlights, the traffic slackens, and people dance, drink, and party among Roman archways, an old Arab hamam, and one of the many churches of all faiths. Be careful as you walk along: The next deep hole on the corner could be another ancient excavation site.
A few more pictures for you:
Some of the ancient sights are presented the next day as if on a stage directly in the pedestrian zone Dimitriou Gounari, which ends with the Arch of Galerius and the Rotunda Church, which are part of the world heritage of early Christian and Byzantine buildings in Thessaloníki.
Impressively like the centuries shrink together here, some is new, some old, but maintained. When Thessaloniki became one of the imperial cities of the Roman Empire around the year 300 under Emperor Galerius, the imperial palace, the Hippodrome, the Arch of Galerius, which is supposed to recall Galerius' victory against the Sassanids, were built here. And the famous Rotunda, of which today no one knows whether it is a mausoleum or a pantheon.