The Doorway to the Balkans

What is the principal mystery of Northern Greece? It is Greece's second largest city, Thessaloniki. Its surrounding villages, namely Vergina (the royal capital of Macedonia) give Northern Greece its culture and history. Did you know that many travelers pass through these villages en route to other European cities, bypass its oldest and finest Byzantium churches, impressive ancient fortifications, fascinating museums, adorable street cafes and colorful markets? Come join us through the doorway to the Balkans.

Thessaloniki is a busy, vibrant city and it is Greece's second major economic, industrial, commercial and transport hub in southeast Europe. It was founded by King Cassander of Macedon in 315 BC and named after his wife, who was Alexander the Great's half sister, Thessaloniki. This city has a large number of monuments of Byzantine architecture as well as Ottoman and Jewish structures. Unfortunately, in 1917, the town was destroyed by a single fire which was accidentally caused by French soldiers who were camping there. But, in 2004, the same city hosted some of the football events of the summer Olympics.

Spend your days at the beach or at the city center. The waterfront is a major attraction of Thessanoliki. The promenade of Nikis Avenue runs from the White Tower to the giant palace that is now on a ferry terminal. This tower is the landmark of Thessaloniki. It was built by Venetian architects in the 15th century as a part of the city's Ottoman fortifications. The fishmongers are at the Vlali Market which is a traditional market on the Lower Town and it is a popular shopping venue. The adorable street cafés line the waterfront. In addition, the city center is close to Aristotelous Square where there are numerous street cafés and markets with chic boutiques and department stores. I would recommend two well appointed and modern five star properties during your stay in Thessalaniki. The Lez Lazaristes Domotel is in the Stavroupoli district which is west of the city center. The Hyatt Regency Thessalaniki is behind the airport and is adjacent to the convention center. It is a mainstay for the international trade show attendees.

Did you know that during the Ottoman era, Thessaloniki's Jewish communities were dominant until 1922? For the duration of this time, it was probably Europe's most multiethnic city. It's population of 158. 000 included 61, 000 Jews, 46, 000 Greeks, 40, 000 Turks, and 3, 000 Romans. There was blue law which preverted trading on Sunday which caused further financial stress on the Jewish merchants already suffering from the loss of markets after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

Do not forget to tour Pella, Veria and Vergina which are on the Chalkidiki peninsula. If you plan to travel in September, the International Trade Fair and Film Festival reserves all rooms in all of the hotels in Thessalaniki. Therefore, it would have a better option would be to stay on the Chalkidiki peninsula, at the five star Dion Palace. The hotel property is two meters from the sea. It is also next to the ancient site of Dion, the magic locality at the foot of Olympus.

Dion is much more serene than in town plus is more accessible to other archaeological sites. 32 kilometers away from Thessanoliki is Pella. Pella is the birthplace of Alexander the Great and it served as a Palace of Macedonia. It has excellent floor mosaics of original villas dating back to 4th century BC. In addition, Saint Paul preached there. It also has a local museum which is worth a visit.

Pella is located a few kilometers from Veria which also boasted a large Jewish community at one time. Veria is only 15 kilometers from Vergina. Vergina is located 47 kilometers southwest of Thessaloniki. Vergina is still intact and has been existent since 3BC. It has beautiful mosaic facades.

Two of my favorite archaeological venues are the Archaeological and the Jewish Museums in Vergina. These two fascinating galleries have been preserved with minor changes, having remained prosperous during the centuries.

These museums house astonishing and priceless artifacts that belong to the Macedonian civilization such as the Royal Tombs of Macedonia and King Phillipos (the father of Alexander the Great). The remains of his palace are also available for viewing and are fabulous. The underground museum-shell was constructed in order to protect the ancient monuments by maintaining the correct temperature. What a truly amazing sites!

Thessalaniki has many museums with antiquities from its storied past. The ancient fortifications in Pella, Veria and Vergina are also steeped in history, once occupied by the Olympic Gods. The beaches of Chalkidiki are even accessible when you tour through the door to the Balkans.