"The Jewel of the Balkans" Top 5 Page for this destination Thessaloniki by mikey_e
Thessaloniki Travel Guide: 642 reviews and 1,933 photos
I decided to visit Thessaloniki after reading a NY Times article on the city's renaissance. The Times authors are notorious for choosing the trendiest and most expensive of restaurants, hotels and clubs, but there was something about the way the author described the city (she called it the "Seattle of the Balkans") that made me think there was something unique about the entire atmosphere of the city. Thessaloniki reminded me of Barcelona - second largest city with a distinctive culture and history, birthplace of a hip and edgy music scene that was often overlooked by the tourists who headed to Athens and its many historic monuments. The one great difference was the almost total lack of tourists. Although there were some tourists (mainly Russians) when I came in mid-June, the city was remarkably free of picture-taking foreigners and tourguides.
The great fire of 1917 destroyed a large part of the city's historic centre, and further damaged was caused by a large earthquake in 1968. Nevertheless, there are countless examples of the city's rich history and many cultures, albeit hidden among the post-1917 development. This hodge-podge of building has produced an incredible blend of styles that are very unique to Thessaloniki. Roman monuments abut modern university campuses, modernist buildings face mediaeval churches and Ottoman structures will soon cap the tunnels of Thessaloniki's newest addition, the subway. The city authorities have done much to preserve the condition of the cultural heritage and one can only imagine that more will be done to ensure that it is not only a permanent part of the city's landscape but also that it is well explained and accessible to locals and visitors alike.
Thessaloniki's greatness, however, is not just in its standing structure. This city is truly alive and not just in the sense of massive traffic or lots of construction. The people here like to express themselves out in the open and it is hard to spend time here without seeing some of the authentic and indigenous culture of the city. Plateia Aristotelou has some open air concerts during the summer, but there are also spontaneous gatherings that give visitors insight into the lives of ordinary Salonicans. Students spend time in front of the Rotunda strumming their guitars at night and the Roman Agora is sometimes the site of plays or shows organized by various groups in the city. Sometimes various political faction will organize quasi-festivals near the Roman Agora, although the usual suspects are young Communists or anarchists who use the open space to provide an accessible area for the city's inhabitants to express themselves. Every two years this cultural flourishing takes the form of the biennale of contemporary art, the highlight of the city's artistic community's calendar.
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