Wednesday, March 29, 2023

Thessaloniki, City of Infinite Attractions

THESALONIKI, Greece (AP) – Greek and Byzantine flags were hoisted recently on Saturday as three men erected a party tent on the roof of the 5th-century Osios David Church to protect visitors from a scorching sun that engulfed the churchyard. Clearly obscures the view. Mount Olympus across the bay.

The scene explains what is Thessaloniki, a seaside city filled with art and architecture from the early Christian era, with everything from mythical mountain dwellings of ancient Greek gods to Christian monasteries to more contemporary Orthodox holy sites on Mount Athos.

A little more hidden, there are also manifestations of Islam and Judaism, although many monuments were destroyed by fire in 1917.

“People see (archaeological) ruins, but they don’t know about our diverse history,” said Angeliki Ziaka, professor of religion at Aristotle University in Thessaloniki. “It’s time to reclaim that knowledge, find connections between different cultures.”

Every year for the past six years I have spent at least a few days in or near Greece’s second largest city and have enjoyed the energy of a city halfway between Athens and Istanbul, the meeting point between Europe and Asia. Is.

To me, Thessaloniki is walkable, even in the heat of summer, thanks to the cold coffee called frappe available everywhere and the ocean waves from Thermic Bay. Famous for the iconic Torre Blanca and with a popular resort that stretches for several kilometres.

Walk anywhere and you will see monuments embedded in the urban fabric. To buy some roses at the flower market, I discovered a hammam (public bath) built by the Ottomans, with several Byzantine-style domes, called Yahudi hammams, by Sephardic Jews who settled here.

According to Ziaka, the hammam and the bazaar that still function were meeting places for centuries for Jews, Christians and Muslims, who lived in separate neighbourhoods.

During the centuries of Muslim Ottoman rule – whose legacy is reflected in the number of cafes – Thessaloniki sheltered a thriving Jewish community. His story told in the Jewish Museum will be further uncovered at the upcoming Holocaust Museum and Educational Center.

Until the early 20th century, most Muslims lived in Ano Poli, a quiet neighborhood with walled gardens, houses with upper storeys that towered above the bottom, and sloping streets that lead up to a hill fort.

A thousand years before the Ottoman conquest, it was here that Saint Paul brought Christianity to Thessaloniki, to which he later devoted some of the most widely read letters in the Christian world.

The church has been scattered through its labyrinthine streets ever since Thessaloniki was the center of the Byzantine Empire.

A narrow passage filled with fruit trees gives way to a spectacular view of the sea and the small church of Hosios David, whose dome preserves a mosaic from 1,600 years ago in which Christ appears in a river full of fish, in which two prophets from the Old Huh. Testament that they look amazed.

The walls are decorated with 12th century frescoes.

The most important frescoes in the city, however, are found in the Agios Nikolaos Orfanos, another small church in Ano Poli within a garden. They retain vivid colors after 700 years. They show the life of Jesus, the prophets and the saints with many details.

Down the street is the Rotunda, encapsulating the city’s intertwined religious history.

It is a large circular building built in 300 as a Roman temple or mausoleum, which soon became a Christian church, then a mosque – whose minaret still stands – and is now a museum and sanctuary for dozens of friars.

The Liturgy is still held a dozen times a year, but most visitors go to see the early Byzantine-era gilded mosaics that decorate a massive dome and show a fusion of Roman architecture and Christian worship, most of all. Pray in front of one of the more. Stately buildings in the empire.

There are many more churches and museums, but I always try to make time to go inside.

In the fertile plains to the west are traces of the dynasty that founded the city, that of Alexander the Great, who was born in ancient Pella, where there is a museum and excavations dedicated to him.

Less than an hour’s drive away, the Aigai Royal Tombs Museum immerses visitors in an underground world where you can see reconstructions of the tombs of Alexander’s father and other Macedonian royal figures.

Not far are the beaches of Halkidiki, a peninsula consisting of three strips of land along the Aegean Sea, southeast of Thessaloniki.

From the rock formations of my favorite beach, Kavorotripes, lined with pine trees, I can see Mount Athos across the bay.

The beach bar owners’ binoculars allow me to see several Orthodox Christian monasteries, part of a Byzantine-era complex that houses about 2,000 monks.

Women can’t go to Mount Athos, so I’m content to watch it from afar, sipping another frappe, before diving back into the clear waters of the bay.


Associated Press religious news coverage is supported through a partnership with The Conversation US with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for the content

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