Thessaloniki is surrounded by extraordinary landscapes and locations that can inspire every visitor with their natural beauty.
The north part of the city is covered by woods on the hill slopes, while in the district of Polichni in the North-East, there are six watermills still standing since Byzantine times, reflecting pre-industrial technology. Further on in the same direction, Mount Chortiatis is a wonderful destination for a day outdoors. In the southern part of the city, there is the organized marina of Aretsou, a convenient and pleasant mooring spot for recreational craft, an ideal starting point for a trip to Halkidiki or the quaint islands of the Vories Sporades. Thermaikos Gulf and the picturesque beaches of Perea, Nei Epivates and Agia Triada, are the traditional privileged resorts for holiday- makers from Greece and abroad, as they are easily accessible by road along the gulf coastline, forming indeed two green zones for the city.
In the South-East, along the gulf, stands Mt. Olympus in its divine grandeur, home of the ancient deities, with its unique flora. According to Homer, on the peak of Mt. Olympus stood Zeus’ palace, the roof of which (the sky dome) was made of copper and stretched over the whole of the earth.
At the feet of Mt. Olympus, in the city of Dion, the Macedonians erected their temples to worship their gods.Archaeological excavations unearthed Zeus’ temple, part of the old city, the baths, its theatres, etc. A visit to the site can be combinedwith a relaxing excursion to the white, sandy beaches of Pieria or to other beautiful destinations nearby.
Pella, the ancient capital of the Macedonian state, where Alexander the Great was born and reigned, is another archaeological – and not only – site. The ruins of Alexander the Great’s palace are there, within whichone can admire exquisite mosaics of greathistorical significance.
Vergina, an ancient city of world acclaim due to its famous royal tombs of the 4th century B.C. and its model archaeological museum,is a site where one can admire, next to the remains of King Philip II, precious exhibits reflecting the wealth, grandeur and glory of the Macedonian Kingdom.
To the South-East of Thessaloniki lies Halkidiki, a charming peninsula ending in three fingers, famous for its wonderful beaches, tiny islands and small bays. Visitors can find almost everything they desire there. Of specialinterest is the prehistoric cave of Petralona, replete with stalagmites and stalactites, where the fossilized skull of Archanthropus,dating to 200,000 B.C., was found. Furthermore,one can visit archaeological sites at Olynthos, Potidea, Stagira and Toroni, or any of the local villages. Nightlife in the big resorts is particularly inviting.
An opportunity open only to male visitors is an excursion to the third finger of Halkidiki Peninsula, which for more than a thousand years, has been the territory of the Greek Monastic State of “Mt. Athos”, the residence of monks of various orders. This is a unique land containing invaluable items and treasures of incalculable historical value. There is no doubt that despite its cosmopolitan atmosphere, Halkidiki can well provide moments ofincomparable relaxation.
The capital of the Macedonian state (until about 400 B.C.) was excavated by Manolis Andronikos. The city was surrounded by a triangular wall; today, there are still imposing ruins of the ancient palace and theatre below the acropolis, as well as the foundations of Hellenistic residences and part of the wall.
The Great Tomb
The archaeological museum of the Great Tomb contains the most important finds of the district. This is an underground tomb in the form of a crypt and includes the four most important Macedonian graves: the royal grave or the grave of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, the grave of Persephone with an impressive decoration, the unlooted grave of the prince, with the chariot race painting, and the free column grave, which is almost completely destroyed.
This impressive wealth of finds was recently transferred there from the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki;
it comprises exquisite ancient objects, such as the gold chest, the gold wreaths, gold jewelry, etc.
The coast around Halkidiki is close to 500 kilometres in length. It is come to countless superb beaches, almost all of them blue flag winners. The area also has other hidden gems for you to discover.
• Cosmopolitan Kassándra
According to mythology, Kassándra, the first peninsula of Halkidiki, was the site of the mythical Clash of the Titans. Today, Kassándrais one of Greece’s most modern tourist resorts. You can find some of the largest hotel complexes in the country here, with amenities of the highest quality, such as golf courses, marinas and spas. You can also enjoy gourmet meals prepared by renowned chefs.
• Beautiful Sithonia
The second leg of Halkidiki, Sithonía, is home to the ancient city of Olynthus with its unique mosaics. It also has beaches that will take your breath away! The vegetation on Sithoníais dense. The forests – pine chiefly – reach down to the beaches –a real treat for the senses.
Ancient Pella is situated 44 km West of Thessaloniki (about an hour’s drive). The archaeological site of Pella is considered one of the most important of the Hellenistic period. Itwas the “greatest Macedonian city”, the nativecity of Macedonian kings, such as Philip II and Alexander the Great, and it can take usback to the times of the prime of Macedonian civilization.
The city is built according to the hippodamian system. It is surrounded by a wall and equipped with a sewage network. Visitors can see the cemetery with the carvedout graves, the huge palace on the hilltop, the agora with shops deployed over ten building blocks, the impressive house of Dionyssios, with four exquisite mosaics, the residence of the 5th building block, on the floor of which there is a mosaic depicting a stag hunt, Aphrodite’s and Cybele’s temple in the north part of the agora, and Thesmophorio, the temple of Demeter, which is impressive in its unusual circular floor plan. Finally, the museums houses mosaics from Pella residences, as well as other objects from the broader region.
This is probably one of the best examples of city planning from classical Greece and it only operated for 80 years, so the ruins retained the original town planning web. Big Avenues in the North-South direction are intersected with streets in the East-West direction, thus forming 64 building blocks, 86×36 m. each. Every block contains ten residences, each with its yard, well and altar. In front of the yard, there is the colonnade. An ideal city, according to Hippodamus, shouldn’t have more than 10,000 residents.
They would all reside in these beautiful homes. Cities builtaccording to this system reflect an unusual equality; nobody could have a better or bigger house than their neighbour. Much later,the very rich did erect villas and mansions, but they were situated outside the city planning web. These well-ordered cities designed by Hippodamus were a utopia, especially incomparison to the chaos of modern cities.
Mountaineering on the abode of the Gods
Mount Olympus, Greece’s highest mountain is located in northern Greece comprising the natural boundary between the prefectures of Macedonia and Thessaly. Mount Olympus’ highest point is the summit of Mytikas (2918m).
Mt. Olympus’ wonderful nature of rich flora (over 1700 species, more than 20 of which endemic) and fauna (more than 30 species of mammals, 100 species of birds, 18 species of reptiles) left the modern Greeks with no choice but to proclaim it the first National Forest in 1938.
At 263 km from Athens and 78 from Thessaloniki (Greece’s second biggest city) the area is ideal for the lovers of alternative activities, ranging from trekking to paragliding, canyoning, rafting, climbing, mountain-biking and jeep safari. But you don’t have to go extreme to have your personal Olympian moments. Mountaineering on Olympus is not only a divine experience but also an option covering all levels of difficulty and stamina.
The true grandeur of this ancient city was first discovered in 1973, when Professor Dimitris Pandermalis undertook local excavations. The city, its temples, thermal baths,theatres and cemeteries gradually emergedfrom the mud and oblivion.
The sensitivity and love of Professor Pandermalis and the other archaeologists of his team for the treasures they were unearthing (and continue tounearth) resulted in turning Dion into one ofthe most attractive archaeological sites in Greece, a model site that can be an example for others.
The cave in Petralona is one of the largest and most impressive in the country and hides an interminable past. In 1960, a human skull was discovered in the cave; it is estimated to date back to 200,000 B.C.
Other findings include bones of animals that became extinct thousands of years ago (mammoths, rhinoceri,cave bears and lions).The cave is 2 km. long and it is replete with stalagmites and stalactites.
The most impressive spot is the hall called Cemetery of the Giants. The cave museum projects a clear picture concerning this distant human ancestor and his forgotten era.
Aristotle was born in 384 B.C. in Stagira, a city by the sea. The city was a colony founded by Andros residents around 665 B.C., but Chalkideans settled here (Aristotle’s mother was of Chalkidean descent).
Originally, the city was called Orthagoria. Stagira residents became Athenian allies, but later took the Spartans’ side, which displeased the Athenians, who arrived here under Cleon in 423 B.C., besieged Stagira, but did not manage to conquer the city, which was later conquered by Philip, in 349 B.C., who destroyed all Chalkidiki colonies following the fall of Olynthos.
Archaeologists arrived at this small promontory just in 1990 and started excavating the native city of Aristotle. The most impressive part of the city is the strong wall that can be seen on the top of the first hill (the South one) built during the classical era; we can still see the various manners of construction using such big stones. This wall defines the western limit of the city; the rest of it is surrounded by sea. Beautiful round and square towers and ramparts were connected with heavy staircases to complement the powerful fortification of the city.
Excavators have done a wonderful job so that at the feet of the hills there is a discreet footpath to allow for a comfortable tour of the ancient site.
At the top of the hill, there are visible remnants of the acropolis, but it is all worth visiting the rear part, the neck between the two hills, where we can see well-maintained and relatively restored relics of a beautiful, spacious public edifice, with an arcade and a monumental façade made of pillars, were Stagira residents gathered to philosophise.
At the end of the promontory, we can see what is left of the wall that was built after the city was destroyed by Philip, when Stagira was reinhabited for the sake of Aristotle. Right below, there was the Stagira port named Kapros (just like the little island across the water) to honour the wild Kapros (boar), which was the sacred animal of the city.
Every summer, there are musical and artistic events held on the site; these events, called “Aristotelia”, have been organized since 1996 to revive ancient celebrations and to better use such a lovely spot.
Mount Athos – Agion Oros
The third and eastern-most finger of Halkidiki is the charming peninsula of Mt. Athos, a monastic state. It is the only place in Greece that is exclusively dedicated to prayer and worship; that is why is it also called the Holy Mountain.
Mt. Athos is about 50 km long and 8-12 km wide, covering an area of around 350 km2.
There are some natural sites on the peninsula. Mt. Athos itself is a huge cone, reaching 2,033 m. Its naked peak seems to be piercing the sky and its slopes are covered bycentury-old trees, creating incomparable aesthetic beauty.
Mt. Athos is a self-governed part of the Greek State; politically, it comes under theMinistry of Foreign Affairs and religiously, under the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. Territorially, it is divided into twenty selfgoverned districts. Each district has one ruling monastery and various other monastic settlementsaround it (sketes, cells, huts, hermitages).
All monasteries are Communities (Coenobia),in other words, there is communal mass,prayer, housing, board and labour shared bythe monks. A Father Superior is in charge of each monastery and he is elected by the monks for life.The history of Mt. Athos dates back to the5th century AD, when the first monks settledhere; they had become disappointed with themundanity of lay life and found in this beautiful and desolate place an ideal spot to better