Greece’s second largest city has a special flavor of its own, thanks to its location, its fascinating past and its prosperous present. Since its founding in 316 B.C. by King Kassander, it has been a crossroad between East and West, the Balkans and the Aegean. Named after the king’s wife, Alexander the Great’s half-sister, the port city was of strategic importance, military and commercially, both to Rome and Byzantium. Its former authority can still be seen in the numerous Roman monuments and Byzantine churches standing within the old city walls. In fact, a visit to Thessaloniki is a unique opportunity to review a thousand years of Byzantine architecture.
Inevitably, the city’s location also meant that it was under constant threat from would-be conquerors, and as Byzantium declined, it became prey to Saracen attacks and Frankish pillaging and occupation, changing hands several times before it eventually fell under the Turks in 1430. It was not united with the Modern Greek state until 1912 and suffered enormously in the two World Wars, especially the Second.