Thessaloniki

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Thessaloniki, also known as Thessalonica, Saloniki, Salonika, or Salonica, was founded in 315 BCE by Cassander of Macedon, who named it after his wife Thessalonike, daughter of Philip II of Macedon and sister of Alexander the Great. Today the modern city of Thessalonica is the capital of the geographic region of Macedonia, the administrative region of Central Macedonia and the Decentralized Administration of Macedonia and Thrace.

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Overview

Originally built some 40 kilometers south-east of ancient Pella, the capital of the Kingdom of Macedonia. It was an important metropolis by the Roman period. The ancient city of Thessaloniki was the second largest and wealthiest city of the Byzantine Empire. It was conquered by the Ottomans in 1430 CE and remained an important seaport and multi-ethnic metropolis during the nearly five centuries of Turkish rule, and from the sixteenth to the twentieth century was the only Jewish-majority city in Europe. It passed from the Ottoman Empire to the Kingdom of Greece on 8 November 1912 CE.

The archaeology of Thessaloniki exhibits Byzantine architecture, including numerous Paleochristian and Byzantine monuments, a World Heritage Site, as well as several Roman, Ottoman and Sephardic Jewish structures.

Notable Structures

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Ancient Agora of Thessaloniki
The earlist use of the current archaeological site of Thessaloniki's ancient Greek agora dates back to the Hellenistic period. Recent discoveries and archaeological excavations confirm that the site was used from the last quarter of the third centry CE until after the mid-second century BCE when workshops were found with dung clay-pits for pottery and figurine.

The sout-east sector, which essentially lies outside the agora complex, provides information of particular interest. This area had been brought in use around the late third or second century BCE, when large clay pits were dug and filled in soon afterwards, followed by construction phases in the second century BCE approximately until the time of emperor Augustus. One distinctive structure in this sector is part of balneary complex has been built in the late Hellenistic period (circa second century BCE) and survived until the time of emperor Vespasian (circa 78 CE).

The site was raised in the second century BCE when the Agora complex was built, rectangular structures (possibly shops belonging to a smaller commercial agora or marketplace) were constructed along the street directly to the south, and this remained in use until the early Christian period.

The stratigraphy of the east wing showed at least seven main phases. Before the public buildings of the imperial period were constructed, there seem to be two phases in the east wing. The first, without building remains dates to the late third and early second century BCE, when private houses were built and remained standing until about the first century CE.

The second century Odeon structure, with seating for two hundred spectators, was enlarged to a capacity of four hundred after the middle of the third century to serve the need of what Lucian descibes as a large and populous city. This building in the fourth century CE began to be transformed to an open air theatre, an effort which was never fulfilled. An important building which is connected with the administrative function of the Agora complex is the southern most chamber, which was one of the city's archives.

The agora covered an approximate area of twenty hectors, with open area towards the north. Around a rectangular marble-paved square, three double stoas with Corinthian columns were in front of each wing, where there were all public services (a mint, archives, courts etc.) of the city, capital of the province of Macedonia. To the south the wing stand on a double underground stoa (cryptoporticus). After the fifth century CE the cryptoporticus was converted in to a cistern. To the south of the cryptoporticus is a row of twenty shops open to a two and a half meters wide marble paved street. This great complex was not only an administrative center but was also served as the central gathering place for citizens and traders. In the fifth century CE the Agora was abandoned and in the square was again started to be used for pottery activities with new clay pits. Only the shops continued to be used until the thirteenth-fourteenth century CE.

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Arch of Galerius
The triumphal arch of Maximianus Galerius, also known as kamara, was constructed between 298-305 CE, in commemoration of the emperor's victorious campaign against the Persians. The arch was built at the intersection of the central Roman period road Decumanus maximus (coinciding with the present-day Egnatia street) and the processional road connecting the Rotunda with the palace.

The arch consisted of two parallel rows of four pillars each. There were three arched portals between the piers, the central one being wider and higher than the other two. the four central pillars, which were covered with marble with relief decorations, were larger than the outer pillars and were connected by semi-circular arches supporting a dome. The reliefs depict the victories of Galerius agains the Persians in 297 CE and feature symbolic images praising the power and unity of the Roman rulers of the first Tetrarchy (293-305 CE). Today only three pillars of the western row remain standing, two of which still retain some of the original relief decorations.

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Galerian Complex
The construction of the Galerian complex started in the late third to eary fourth century CE, which in addition to the palace included the rotunda and the triumphal arch (kamara). The apsidal hall was one of the most important building of the palace of Galerius, a part of which is today visible in the Navarinou Square. This apsidal hall was built in the fourth century CE west of the city's hippodrome; it was reconstructed in the fifth to early sixth century CE with the addition of a new hall with mosaic floor, wall paintings, and a wall mosaic. It was used as the palace's banquet hall.

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Rotunda
The Rotunda of Galerius, also known as the Rotunda of Saint George, is a an ancient cylindrical structure built around 306 CE on the orders of the tetrarch Galerius, who was thought to have intended it to be his mausoleum. The structure was converted into a church in the late fourth century and an apsidal choir extension was added as well as a wide ambulatory around the perimeter. It is also known (by its consecration and use) as the Greek Orthodox Church of Agios Georgios, and is informally called the Church of the Rotunda (or simply The Rotunda).

The Rotunda has a diameter of 24.5 meters. Its walls are more than 6 meters thick, which is why it has withstood Thessaloniki's earthquakes. The walls are interrupted by eight rectangular bays, with the west bay forming the entrance. A flat brick dome, 30 meters high at the peak, crowns the cylindrical structure. In its original design, the dome of the Rotunda had an oculus, as does the Pantheon in Rome.

The Rotunda's cupola and the barrel vaults were originally entirely covered in mosaics, many of which are now lost. The surviving mosaics depict many organic forms such as a garland of fruit and evergreen plants that surrounded the lost image of Christ in the cupola.

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Theatre
The forum features a small theater, which was used for gladiatorial games and other spectacles. It is believed that the forum and the theater continued to be used until at least the sixth century CE.

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Ottoman White Tower
The White Tower of Thessaloniki is a standalone monument and museum on the waterfront of the city of Thessaloniki. The present tower-structure replaced an old Byzantine fortification, known to have been mentioned around the twelfth century CE, that the Ottoman Empire reconstructed to fortify the city's fortress some time after Sultan Murad II captured Thessaloniki in 1430 CE. During the period of Ottoman rule, the tower became a notorious prison and the scene of numerous mass executions, most famously of the Janissaries who revolted during the reign of Ottoman Sultan Mahmud II.

Notable Artefacts

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Bust of Augusta Marcia Otacilla Severa
A bust identified belonging to Augusta Marcia Otacilla Severa, the wife of emperor Philip the Arab (244-249 CE), was discovered in the ancient Agora of Thessaloniki.

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See Also

References

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