Greek Macedonia: Kavala and Thessaloniki

Another (short) visit to Greece — my 4th. It was the first time Ferda or I had visited the Macedonian part of Greece, the east-west strip stretching from Albania to Turkey, bordering (North) Macedonia and Bulgaria.

Our first stop was Kavala. We arrived after dark:

IMG_20231011_203351 by bryandkeith on flickr

It looks like this during the day:

IMG_20231012_151122 by bryandkeith on flickr

Kavala’s most photographed attraction must be the Roman aqueduct right in the middle of the city.

IMG_20231012_154359 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20231012_153736 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20231012_153153_6 by bryandkeith on flickr

Reminded me of Segovia.

It’s worth strolling around Panagia, the district on the hill overlooking the port,

IMG_20231012_154006 by bryandkeith on flickr

but my goal in Kavala was to visit the nearby ruined Roman city of Philippi, named after its founder, Macedonian King Philipp, the father of Alexander the Great. Philippi makes it onto UNESCO’s list though it’s not terribly different from many of Turkey’s ruined Roman cities that don’t get UNESCO recognition.

On-site signs criticized the shoddy restoration work at the theater.

IMG_20231012_115741_6 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20231012_115827 by bryandkeith on flickr

The basilica was closed to visitors for current restoration work.

IMG_20231012_122437 by bryandkeith on flickr

US tourists on a Christian tour of Greece were very excited to see the jail where Paul from Tarsus was imprisoned until an earthquake (divine intervention?) opened an escape route for him.

My favorite thing was perhaps the portable solar clock, calibrated for Mediterranean latitudes, at the onsite museum:

A portable solar clock from Philippi to be used in Mediterranean latitudes, 3rd-4th century AD by bryandkeith on flickr

How the heck would something like that work? Wouldn’t you have to know where north is?

A bit further west is Thessaloniki, Greece’s 2nd biggest city. The draw here are the UNESCO-listed Byzantine monuments. On the way to our hotel we happened upon Atatürk’s birth house and went inside to take a look.

Atatürk's Birth House by bryandkeith on flickr
Atatürk was born here

A sign inside explained that this is the first place that Turks visit when they come to Thessaloniki — indeed that’s exactly what we did! It’s also interesting that legally you’re on Turkish soil in the complex (which also serves as the Turkish consulate) — just like the room in our neighbor’s house in Antalya for Slovenia since he’s the Slovenian honorary consul.

On Turkish soil in Thessaloniki by bryandkeith on flickr
Ferda’s in Turkey (in Thessaloniki)!

İstanbul has done a poor job of preserving its Byzantine heritage. I was excited to see these monuments in Thessaloniki.

A lot of the later churches (13th, 14th centuries) look similar from the outside to what we might see in Serbia or Kosovo. Some examples:

IMG_20231014_091934_7 by bryandkeith on flickr
Prophetes Elias, 14th century
Agia Ekaterina (aka St. Catherine), 13th century by bryandkeith on flickr
Agia Ekaterina (aka St. Catherine), 13th century
IMG_20231014_103405 by bryandkeith on flickr
Church of the Holy Apostles, 14th century
Panagia Chalkeon by bryandkeith on flickr
Panagia Chalkeon, 11th century

I was saddened to see so many damaged frescoes, just like in Turkey.

IMG_20231014_092152 by bryandkeith on flickr

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. The Ottomans were here as well, of course, and most of these churches were also used as mosques for many centuries.

From the outside the older churches (4th, 5th century) aren’t as interesting architecturally, but I loved the way they tried to preserve old walls, columns, mosaics, and frescoes. As an example here’s the 4th (7th?) century Agios Demetrius:

IMG_20231013_170550 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20231013_164441 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20231013_165206 by bryandkeith on flickr

or the 5th century Church of Panagia Acheiropoietos with its impressive frescoes in the arches and above the columns (in the interior):

IMG_20231014_114656 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20231014_113936 by bryandkeith on flickr

The 8th century Hagia Sophia was exceptional, modeled on the real deal in İstanbul. It had among the best preserved (recently restored?) frescoes and mosaics that I saw.

IMG_20231014_115416 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20231014_120600 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20231014_120250 by bryandkeith on flickr

Nestled among modern apartment blocks tiny Church of the Metamorphosis (Transfiguration) of the Sotir (aka Christ Savior; 14th century) was one of my favorites.

Church of the  Metamorphosis (Transfiguration) of the Sotir (aka Christ Savior), 14th century by bryandkeith on flickr

I arrived at Latomou Monastery (aka Church of Osios David) as a guide was banging on the door trying to get the monk to let him in. The guide explained that the mosaic is a fine example of early Christian art and unique in Thessaloniki in that Jesus is portrayed without a beard.

Latomou Monastery (aka Church of Osios David) by bryandkeith on flickr

Just up the hill is Vlatadon Monastery, like Latomou not so interesting architecturally, but it had some colorful frescoes.

IMG_20231015_115023 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20231015_114820 by bryandkeith on flickr
IMG_20231015_114517 by bryandkeith on flickr

For comparison Agios Panteleimonas is an example of a modern Greek church:

IMG_20231015_130856 by bryandkeith on flickr

and its paintings:

IMG_20231015_131020 by bryandkeith on flickr

We ran out of time and didn’t get into the 4th century Rotonta of St. George (aka Galerius):

Rotonta of St. George (aka Galerius0, 4th century by bryandkeith on flickr

or the Venetian Purgos Aluseos (aka Trigonion Tower):

Purgos Aluseos (aka Trigonion Tower), Venetian by bryandkeith on flickr

or the Ottoman White Tower:

IMG_20231013_175518 by bryandkeith on flickr

There’s a lot to see in Thessaloniki, and everything’s centrally located making it an easy city to visit.

IMG_20231013_163609 by bryandkeith on flickr

Ferda and I caught a bus to Florina in the pretty, slightly mountainous area where Greece, Albania, and North Macedonia come together. Bus service only goes so far, and the next day we found ourselves walking north on a quiet highway, trying our chances at hitchhiking to North Macedonia.

IMG_20231016_104655 by bryandkeith on flickr
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One Response to Greek Macedonia: Kavala and Thessaloniki

  1. Mike Painter says:

    “Reminded me of Segovia.”

    Me, too—even before seeing your comment. It all looks very interesting.

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