Unlike Athens that shrank in importance after its heyday in antiquity, until its nineteenth-century revival as the capital of the modern Greek state, Thessaloniki has a continuous and glorious urban history. This is a town named after Alexander the Great’s sister and built by her husband, one of Alexander’s generals. The ancient Greek city is nearer the sea and hardly anything is left from it now. The Roman further up above is abutting the Rotonda. But if you really want to feel the glory that was Thessaloniki, leave the Rotonda behind you and start ascending Agiou Pavlou street like me. Slowly but surely you’ll notice the stretch of city walls still standing after a thousand years. When faced with a cul-de-sac – and you will, you will – retrace your steps and go up the next gentle gradient.

Curtain walls in the Upper Town Curtain walls in the Upper Town

Anyway, your detour won’t have been in vain. You’ll have seen precariously standing, yet brightly painted houses, with window grills and thick wooden doors, their first-floor balconies suspended almost miraculously over the cobblestones. You may have encountered the occasional Parisian-looking streetlamp. You will definitely have heard birdsong, for the cypresses and plane trees harbour finches and nightingales. If you follow roughly the Eastern Wall you’ll end up, like me, at Plateia Trigoniou, where one of the largest Byzantine towers provides a challenge for the city’s youngsters who climb up in defiance of the “Danger” signs.

Youngsters climbing the walls. Youngsters climbing the walls.

Next to it stands the narrow Empress Anna Palaiologos gate leading into the town’s Acropolis, the fortress that withstood countless sieges. Still, Thessaloniki was sacked three times in its history. The last time, in 1430, it was the Turks, and it was through this tower that they stormed the fort. I walk through the gate and I hear a tourist next to me read aloud a fourteenth-century inscription, still comprehensible in Modern Greek today: “This portal was erected on the orders of our holy and mighty Lady Anne Paleologos..” Below, there is a later graffiti carving in Hebrew: an unnamed man is declaring his love for Rebecca. Here they are, several centuries of history on one wall.

The Turks modified the central Acropolis tower and turned it into the Ottoman governor’s headquarters. It became a notorious prison in the nineteenth century and was only closed down in the late 1980s. When the Germans arrived in 1941, the open area east of the prison was used for executions. The bodies fell into the empty cistern that in times past supplied water to the Byzantine garrison. How differently people put existing features to use through the ages!

The Ottoman Efendis Hedquarters, once a prison inside the Acropolis The Ottoman Efendis Hedquarters, once a prison inside the Acropolis

I walk south by the curtain walls, where large, embossed crosses fashioned out of coloured bricks invoked God’s help in defeating invaders. But some regular, vertical holes betray some parallel pragmatism. They were chiselled in to allow scaffolding in case the walls were damaged – more often by earthquakes than armies. God helps but sometimes God destroys and we must be ready for His mysterious ways.

The Curtain Walls promenade inside the Acropolis The Curtain Walls promenade inside the Acropolis

All along there’s a sad parade of empty dilapidated houses clinging to the walls like limpets. This part was repopulated by refugees from Asia Minor following the exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey in 1923. If you’re going to build a house, put it up against an existing wall and you’ll only have to erect another three sides, won’t you?

I finish my stroll at Moni Vlatadon, the only monastery still functioning in Thessaloniki and, like those on Mount Athos, under the direct authority of the Patriarchate in Istanbul. Founded in the 14th century, it was built by the Byzantines on a site where they could control the flow of water into the city.

Today I’ve come as a photographer, because the monastery’s immense courtyard has an incomparable vista towards Thessaloniki. It’s a clear day, and I can see all the way to Mount Olympus opposite the bay. Yet, I can’t help overhearing a guide next to me. Rumour has it that it was the monks who cut off the city’s water during the Turkish siege and forced its surrender. Yes, traitors are often needed to explain one’s shortcomings but the Turks did, indeed, confer many privileges to the monastery afterwards.

View from the Upper Town View from the Upper Town

The higher up you walk in Thessaloniki, the deeper into the past you dwell…

John Malathronas

Neil Brassington

By Neil Brassington

5th July 2016



Talk to our Greece expert

Neil Brassington
Neil Brassington

At Sunvil we run a very high risk business as we charter aircraft and we pay whether we fill the seats or not. Neil is our wheeler dealer. He monitors our load factors on the aircraft and matches the beds we have abroad with the availability of the seats on the aircraft. He also takes reservations when necessary and counts the Peloponnese as his first choice for a holiday.

Call one of our experts to discuss your next holiday with Sunvil on

020 8568 4499

We're open tomorrow at 9:00 AM

Make an Enquiry

Please use this form to request further information about a Sunvil holiday or destination.

We promise that a member of our specialist reservation teams will reply personally to your holiday enquiry before 5.30pm if received before 12.00pm (Monday to Friday). Enquiries received after 12.00pm will be replied to within 24-hours (excluding Sundays).

If your enquiry is of an urgent nature, please telephone our dedicated reservation teams on the numbers listed below.

Our lines are open from 9.00am to 5.30pm Monday-Friday and from 9.30am to 4.30pm Saturday.

  • Greece: 020 8758 4758
  • Cyprus: 020 8758 4759
  • Portugal, the Azores, Spain, Italy, Sicily and Scandinavia: 020 8758 4722
  • Latin America: 020 8758 4774

Required Information

* Mandatory Information
Title *
First name *
Surname *
Telephone number *
Alternative telephone number
Email address *
Confirm email address
Preferred method of communication *
If you would like to be called during a specific period, please specify

Details

Preferred departure date *
Duration *
Preferred UK departure airport *
Party size *

Back

  • Adults(12+ yrs)
  • Children(2 to 11 yrs)
  • Infants(Under 2 yrs)
Budget range
Other comments:

Email newsletters

We promise that a member of our specialist reservation teams will reply personally to your holiday enquiry before 5.30pm if received before 12.00pm (Monday to Friday). Enquiries received after 12.00pm will be replied to within 24-hours (excluding Sundays).

If your enquiry is of an urgent nature, please telephone our dedicated reservation teams on the numbers listed below.

Our lines are open from 9.00am to 5.30pm Monday-Friday and from 9.30am to 4.30pm Saturday.

  • Greece: 020 8758 4758
  • Cyprus: 020 8758 4759
  • Portugal, the Azores, Spain, Italy, Sicily and Scandinavia: 020 8758 4722
  • Latin America: 020 8758 4774

Required Information

* Mandatory Information
Title *
First name *
Surname *
Telephone number *
Alternative telephone number
Email address *
Confirm email address
Preferred method of communication *
If you would like to be called during a specific period, please specify
Booking reference number *
Alternatively, please enter your query in the box below:

Email newsletters

Thank you for your enquiry

Thank you for your enquiry. A member of our specialist reservation teams will be in touch shortly.

If your enquiry is of an urgent nature, please telephone our dedicated reservation teams on the numbers listed below.

Our lines are open from 9.00am to 5.30pm Monday-Friday and from 9.30am to 4.30pm Saturday.

  • Greece: 020 8758 4758
  • Cyprus: 020 8758 4759
  • Portugal, the Azores, Italy, Sicily and Scandinavia: 020 8758 4722
  • Latin America: 020 8758 4774

Your details have been saved

Feel free to continue to browse the site and add to your enquiry. Don't forget to send the enquiry before you leave!

My Suitcase

We understand that so much choice can be overwhelming which is why we have developed 'My Suitcase'. This facility allows you to save and compare your favourite holidays, and even allows you to return to your selection at a later stage.

Why not use 'My Suitcase' to compile a wish list of your future Sunvil holidays?

 

Sign in


New to Sunvil?

Create Account


Already have an account?

Password reset

Back

Close

Close