Travels in Greece
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On the waterfront of
Museum of Byzantine Culture
Salonika (Greek Thessaloniki, in the past also known as the Slavic Solunj or Turkish Selanik) is the second in population city of Greece and the most important commercial and civic center of the Macedonian region. It is built on the edge of the Thermaic Gulf, and was named after King Philip's eldest daughter, when Kassandros (one of the generals of Alexander the Great), founded the city in 316 BC.
It was from this city that St. Paul, the Apostle of the Nations,
spread the Word of Christianity (AD 50). The Roman emperor Galerius,
made the city his headquarters (AD 300). Demetrios, a Roman officer, was
martyred, thus becoming Salonika's patron Saint (AD 303). The wealth and
glory of Byzantium followed and after that a long succession of
conquerors (Slavs, Avars, Saracens, Normans, Catalans and Turks). Here
started their careers SS Cyril and Methodius, the Apostles of the Slavs,
the Albanian architect Sinani, and the reformer of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk).
The city was liberated in 1912 and was permanently incorporated to the Greek state. Nowadays, Salonika is a modern cosmopolitan city of particular charm with distinct signs of its long eventful history and its cosmopolitan character: the Arch and the Rotunda with its mosaics, the churches of Agia Sophia, the Acheiropoetos, Ossios David, Agii Apostoli, Vlatadon Monastery, Agios Demetrios, Profitis Elias, Agios Nikolaos - churches representing every phase of Byzantine architecture and painting - as well as Byzantine walls, castles and towers. The White Tower, built on the site of an older tower, and its twin, the Trigonio, have become the symbols of the city. The Archaeological Museum surprises guests with the riches of its exhibition, while the Folk Art Museum is truly enchanting with its lovely crafts, signs of the nobility of the 18th and 19th centuries. Not far from the museum is located a contemporary landmark - the International Fair Grounds, a crossroad of nations, for friendship and collaboration, and further up, the University named after Aristotle.
Salonika pulsates with life. The streets are bustling with activity among spacious avenues, parks, squares, trees, streets lined with shops and attractive shop-windows. Salonika's markets can satisfy consumers' most demanding tastes. Old neoclassical houses neighbour modern apartment blocks. Nikis Avenue offers a very pleasant stroll on the waterfront. Every here and there one can spot tavernas, ouzo-bars, restaurants and pastry shops that offer typical Macedonian delicacies and sweets. Visitors can seat in open air and enjoy ice cream and the typical vanilla sweet, bougatsa, offered with a glass of water. Nightclubs, bars, and bouzoukia for those who prefer the sounds of bouzouki - the Greek mandoline. Salonika was the place where rebetika was born.
Moreover, visitors are welcome to Mediano market, Ladadika - the historical suburb near the port, now a modern entertainment center, and the Behtsinar area ("Princes' Gardens") where the Milos (the Windmill), a cultural and entertaining centre is located, with cinemas and theatres. The renovated Royal Theatre (which hosts the National Theatre of Northern Greece) stands out by the waterfront. Also worth visiting is the new impressive building of the Music Concert Hall.But there are also places where one can relax. Another world after the buzz of the city: the Upper Town with its poetry and charm. Old neighbourhoods with narrow alleys and gardens, courtyards draped with laundry, wide-open doors, and care-free children playing. Rebetika melodies add the scent of exotic flowers in the air.
Inviting places nearby include the forest of Seih-Su, Chortiatis,
Panorama, Oreokastro, Asvestohori and the Thermaic Gulf with fishing
villages and popular beaches such as Aretsou, Perea, Nei Epivates, Agia
Triada, Nea Michaniona, Epanomi, and Nea Krini. Twenty kilometers north
of Salonika, Langadas has become famous for the fire-walking spectacle
(Anastenaria) that takes piace there each May.
Chalcidean Peninsula is one of the most fertile and beautiful regions of Greece. Kassandra, Sithonia and Athos are the three peninsulae that make up the prefecture of Chalkidiki. Land and sea, tranquillity and eternity. Beech, chestnut, willow, pine, and plane tree forests. Beaches and unique coves. Golden sand. Picturesque villages. Poteidea, Olynth and Stageira - Aristotle's birthplace. Mount Athos, the Holy Mountain of Orthodoxy.
Polygyros, Chalkidiki's charming capital (67 km from Salonika), is a beautiful city built like an amphitheatre at the foothills of Mount Cholomondas (Cholomon). In the archaeological museum are exhibited sculptures and pottery from all around the region. Worthwhile a visit are the picturesque towns of Arnea (39 km from Polygyros) and Galatista (28km from Polygyros).
Kassandra is located at the west point of the three peninsulae, with endless stretches of beach and pine forests, dotted with pretty little villages. At Petralona village, the cave with the same name (800m outside the village) is well worth a visit. It is situated at the foot of Mount Katsika. This is a cave of important palaeontological interest. The overall length of the routes is 1900m, of which a section of about 600m has been opened for visitors. It is decorated with all forms of stalactites, stalagmites, columns, discs etc. Research begun in 1959 and it was named Kokkines Petres (Red Stones) when it was first discovered. At this area, 34 unique species of fauna were discovered and classified, and in 1960 the earliest skull in Greece (about 200,000 years BC) was found by chance. It is difficult to estimate its chronology as it presents a mosaic of advanced and archaic anatomical features, denoting genetic affinities with both Homo Erectus and the Neanderthals. The above finds are now housed in the Department of Palaeontology of the University of Salonika. There is also a palaeontological museum next to the cave.
From Petralona the road passes through lush green valleys before arriving to Nea Modania. After a scenic drive along beautiful sandy beaches, one comes to Nea Poteidea, built upon the ruins of the ancient Corinthian colony of the same name. Further there are more beautiful beaches and fishing villages such as Nea Fokea with its Byzantine tower lapped by the waves, the tiny traditional villages of Afyto, and Kallithea where are the ruins of Zeus Ammon sanctuary, Kriopigi, Polychrono, Chaniotis, and Pefkochori with thick vegetation and beautiful sandy beaches.
The coast of Paliouri, offers a fascinating scenery where travellers can rest at the organized camping site. The paved road continues on the west coast, passing through the villages of Agia Paraskevi, Agios Nikolaos and Kalandra. The fishing villages, Nea Skioni, Possidi and Siviri, offer lacy beaches and the freshest of seafood served with good wine and hospitable atmosphere at the small seaside taverns. The road continues through Kassandrea, where one can see the best preserved windmill in the area, and it leads to the beach of Sani, surrounded by a dense pine forest. The whole peninsula has developed the tourism industry, as there are plenty of high capacity hotels and well-organized camping sites set amongst its woods or beside the sea.
Sithonia, the middle "finger" of the Chalcidean Peninsula, is rimmed with charming little ports, long, sandy beaches, thickly wooded areas and villages by the sea. Starting out from Nea Moudania, the paved road leads to Olynth, an ancient Athenian colony, of which some ruins remain. Gerakini has a wonderful sandy beach, translucent waters and all the amenities of a modern tourist resort.
A detour takes the visitor to scenic Ormilia, the villages of Metamorfossi and Nikitas, and their superb beaches lined with pines. From the beach at Nikitas, visitors can glimpse the chimneys and red roofs of the old houses. Of particular interest around this region are early Christian churches of the 5th century. The visitor's wandering to the beauties of Sithonia continues to Agios Nikolaos built amongst green woods, to Pirgadikia, offering an island atmosphere and a view to Mount Athos, Vourvourou and Ormos Panagias, with its enchanting coves and fishing caiques (fishing boats) at anchor. Next come the villages of Sarti, Sikia, Porto Koufo, Neos Marmaras. Everywhere one will find natural small harbours, lovely scenery, small boats, caiques and fishing nets spread out to dry. On the south side of Porto Koufo - at the site of ancient Toroni - one can still see the ruins of the old fortifications dating back from ancient to Byzantine times, as well as the ruins of early Christian basilicas. Finally, at the west coast, the huge hotel group of Porto Karras spreads out (about 4500 acres) with its private vineyards, the largest in Europe.
How to get there:
From Athens and Salonika by bus (KTEL) and train (OSE).
From abroad via border stations at Evzoni and Doirani (by car) or Idomeni (by train).
At Doirani there is a customs office, tourist information office and foreign exchange facilities of the National Bank of Greece.