12 October 2013






11 October 2013

Edessa to Vergina
Phillip II tomb

As the bus from Edessa to Veria did not leave until 11am, we could sleep in.  Not that this has ever stopped me in the past.
When we got up, the clouds above were packed in and the sky had opened up.  To top it off, there was a fog almost everywhere that was more rain than mist as well.

V07Making it to the bus station in time, we got our tickets and boarded the bus.  As Edessa is built up on the side of a hill there were sections of the trip right out of town that looked out over the plain.  Yesterday you could see into the far distance.  Today it was a wall of white.  Not that interesting, and the rain chased us all the way to Veria.  This is where we would have to change buses to go out to the archaeological site.  Again the bus wound its way through very small narrow streets filled with too many cars as it made its way to the bus station.  The bus station is an inner courtyard of a 5 story building.  V02It was amazing that they could fit one bus in here let alone the three that were there.  We got our tickets for the bus out to Vergina, but it would not leave for another hour and a half.  This could have been a great time to take a wander through this town, but with the rain and our decrepit shoes, we did not feel up to it.  Instead finding a small coffee shop to while away the time.  It felt as if an age had gone past before it was time to go back to the station, but we got there.  Now, after almost a year and a half of travelling, waiting for buses is almost a form of torture, as we seem to spend most of our time waiting for this bus or that.

V08Still, we got our bus.  This was a bit funny for us.  None of the buses had any signs up, and one of the buses parked against the back wall started up at the right time, so we wandered over to it, as we had done with some others to ask if it was the right one.  Turns out it was, and we thought we were the only people catching it.  The bus backed itself to where the ticket office was and stopped.  Then the destination went out over the loud speaker and everyone that was waiting rushed towards it.  We felt a bit like idiots, but we had also managed to snag the front two seats, so it was not all that bad.


This trip was only about 14km or so, and we still didn’t have much of a view, what with the fog and rain.  It did ease off in places and once we saw a patch of blue sky.  So there was hope.  There is always hope.

V11Arriving at Vergina, we exited the bus in what we thought was the main square.  There was a sign straight ahead for the royal tombs and palace, but the bus was turning right.  Thinking we could find the station later and it would cut down on our walk.  As we got started, someone called out to us.  Stopping to see what they wanted, we were happy to find that he just wanted to give us directions.  It is a bit sad to say, but we have seen more beggars in Greece than the last 5 countries put together.  Granted that things are not good here, but it is still shocking.

V06The directions our kind man gave us were contrary to the signs, but he lives here right?  We followed the direction he pointed down a walking street.  It turns out to not be a walking street, just supposed to be.  A few cars whizzed past us as we were walking.  At the other end we saw a sign pointing to the tombs in the opposite direction as before?  We decided to follow this one (it was still in the direction we had been told) even if it was now going backwards…  Turns out this one is right, and we came across the museum shop.  This does not mean anything, as the museum shop at Pella was at least 2km from the museum, but just a bit further was the ticket office.  We paid our 8 Euro each to get in and approached the funeral mound.  We had a person to scan in our tickets, and another half dozen hanging around doing nothing.  It even took 5 minutes to get some one to put our bags in the cloak room.  Maybe Greece should get rid of the dead weight here, and put one or two of them in the Tourist Information offices.  Could be more useful this way..

V15The museum is under the tumulous hill that was created for the royal tombs.  When excavating they probably removed the entire hill before building this structure and recovering it.  The museum deals exclusively with the goods recovered from two tombs.  One that had been raided in antiquity with very little left, and the other supposedly from King Phillip II, father of Alexander the Great.  I say supposedly, as they never presented any proof that it was his tomb, however fine, and nothing was recorded on the walls of the tomb itself that we were told of.  It probably is Phillip’s tomb, but we would have liked to know how they identified it.

V09My biggest grip is that it is so dark in the whole museum.  It made reading the text very strenuous on the eyes, and hard to make out the details on the intricate and well preserved artefacts.  We were also not allowed to take photos.  Still, there is an amazing trove of items on display.  We got to learn that the King was cremated along with a lot of pieces, animals and other goods then stored in a little gold box put into a sarcophagus that we could not see.  The armour was fantastic.  The iron was oxidating a lot and causing it to come apart in large flakes,but still very well preserved, and then there were the grave goods that were buried with him.  V04These were mostly in perfect condition, except for the wood that had rotted away.  We took our time in wandering around the exhibition.  There was some amazing silverware that even today would be the centrepiece of any royal collection.  The gold was fantastic.  The details immaculate and even more so when you think that it is all from around 300BC! before going down the stairs to see his tomb.  Here we were a little disappointed as you can only go down to the closed doors and all you see is the outside of the tomb.  Then we went to Tomb IV (There are four tombs under the hill).  Again, you can only see the closed entry door.  Even the Thracian tomb in Kazanluk Bulgaria had a reconstruction you could visit.
V18We then found a video room that we thought would shed more light on this.  IT basically went over all the things we had been reading about, without adding any extra details.  Disappointed and thinking we were done, we headed out.  Trying to get our bags back took a while, as all the staff were now holed up in a room out back talking.  There must have been 15 people in there, and no one was willing to get up to give us our bags.  When we finally got them, we started out, wondering where the other two tombs were.  Finding a map, we saw that we had taken a wrong turn in the complex and skipped the left hand side.  Heading back in, we found tomb 1.  This had been destroyed a long time ago, and only four pillars were left.  Then there was tomb 2.  They think this was raided when the hill was being built over Phillips tomb.  There was also the remains of a small shrine here.  That was it.  The only reason to go back was so that we did not feel as if we had missed anything.

Back outside we followed the path around the hill.  So disappointed that we didn’t even take a photo of it!  The path ended at one of the domed graves that would have made up the bulk of the necropolis the hill was the centre of.

This is our only photo of the place:


Stopping at the ticket office to find out about the Royal Palace.  This is currently closed for excavations.  It gave us the perfect excuse not to go.  Even in the rain, we probably would have gone if it was open.  There are other things to see in the area, but these were all closed as well, so we headed back to where we were dropped off to catch a bus back.  It was only a two hour wait.  V19One bus did go past, but as we were at the cafe instead of the broken and not waterproof bus stand, it did not stop for us.  Learning our lesson, we went over to the stand.  Its roof was cracked and mostly missing, but there was a small section where we could remain dryish.  We got the bus finally.  At Veria we went to buy our ticket back to Thessaloniki, to find out they don’t sell them, and that we had to go to a ticket office at a different section of the building.  Even though the bus stops there.  It was only a five minute wait for this one at least.  Back in Thessaloniki we managed to catch the bus into town with only another small wait as well.  We were shafted on the tickets though!  The ticket selling guy was closed for the night, so we had to use the machine on the bus.  The tickets are only 90 cents each (10c tax for getting it here) from a machine on the bus.  I only had 2 Euro coins, so thought I would be able to get two tickets.  Turns out you can only get one at a time.  And the machine does not give change!
So we are back where we started.  Warmer after a shower and a hot meal.


10 October 2013

From Thessaloniki to Pella
Archaeological site
Dyonisus House
Helen’s House
Museum Shop
Bus to Edessa
Pretty town?

We are going to try and do an overnighter.  Leaving our bags at the hotel in Thessaloniki, before we went to the bus station.  Last night was spent looking up Pella and Regina. The two old capitals of the Macedon Kingdom.  Having heard so much about this kingdom from FYROM (Macedonia the country) we wanted to see where all the action happened in Macedonia the Province.  Without your own car it is not possible to do both as a day trip, but we found one person that had done Pella, stayed in the beautiful town of Edessa and then gone to Vergina the next day by bus.  Sounded good and simple.  Nothing is what it seems though.

At the bus station we worked out why Greece is in dire straights.  K.T.E.L. is the major bus company here, and their ticketing system is all computerised.  Sounds good?  Well, at the station every three destinations has their own counter and ticket person!  There are at least 20 different counters.  As a tourist this is very confusing.  Sure, a lot of people are using this station to go all over the country, but with so many counters, which one do we go to?  Asking at the first, we were sent to the last, then one a couple of numbers before that.  As it is all done by computer, why not just have a bank of five or so, rather than a lot of people sitting around playing on facebook?  They were nice enough however, and we got our tickets.  The bus time was only slightly different to that posted online, so we didn’t have too long to wait.
Within the circular bus station we could admire the building, whilst choking on all the fumes.

On the bus, we drove out of the city. It is a bit strange, as you cannot tell where one city or town ends and the next starts, as most of it is built up along the road.  Houses gave way eventually to industry, which in turn gave way to cotton fields.  An hour or so later the bus pulled off the highway to an intersection and dropped us off.  The driver was pretty cool, and for the last few minutes we had been chatting.  He had a relative in Australia, as have a lot of others we have met, but instead of it being Sydney or Melbourne, his were in Coober Pedy of all places.  Pretty close to where we last worked.
His parting words were to see Greek history of Macedonia and not FYROM’s!
The intersection we had been dropped at went to the town of Pella in one direction and the old city in another.  Skipping town for now we wandered straight to the archaeological site.  Getting our tickets (6 Euro each including museum) we wandered in.  There are no columns of columns, other than a small group of about 5 pillars.  Most of the site was levelled in a massive earthquake in the 1st century BC.  So all that is left are the foundations.  It is an archaeologists dream however due to this.  Most houses were simply abandoned with everything in place.  No fires, pillaging or similar destruction to change the site.  The city is laid out in a simple grid pattern and is apparently the oldest uncovered to have this style.  Each block was a couple of houses.  The size of these is pretty big ranging from a couple of hundred square metres to a couple of thousand.  In the centre is the Agora at about 70,000m2!  Being close to the centre of town, these houses are for the richer people and were full of mosaics.  Most of these have been removed and are in museums over the place, but a few have been left in situ.  Being from around 300BC, the mosaics are made from river stones, selected for their smoothness and colour.  Well done, although the first that we saw were geometric patterns.  Looking around, we got to see ancient drainage systems (does not sound that interesting, but when you look at how modern cities deal with rain water, fresh and grey water you can see how important it is) roads and house sizes.  The old bath house with its individual bathtubs set out in a circular pattern and much more.  Towards the bottom of the complex we saw a group of buildings and headed over thinking it is the museum.  It turns out not to be.  I think it is the old entrance from before they moved the highway, and all that is now used is the museum shop.  They have directions to the museum at the other end of the complex, so we made our way up past the Agora, where there is still a lot of work going on.  Sections of this have been reconstructed to about a metre high, showing the thick double stone outer walls, and the wells that nearly every store ringing the complex had.  We learnt later that these have been a trove of finds.  Originally used for fresh water into the shops, they ended up being used as garbage dumps, so a lot of small bits and pieces ended up at the bottom of these wells giving a good idea on daily life.

At the back, we found no way to get to the museum, but got to see all the work that was going on.  From cutting stone for the reconstructions to digging new trenches and sifting the rubble.  Massive collections of old stones and new pipes.  Apart from clay shards everywhere, there was little of interest for us here though.  Going back to the entrance, we found out that you have to leave the site and walk up through town to get to the museum, which we duly did.  It is a fair hike, and although not steep, buy the time you get there, you appreciate the walk!
The people at the museum were pretty cool.  There were at least 5 people hanging around waiting for interested tourists to turn up (and more that we didn’t see).  The first checked our tickets, the second took our bags and told us we could take photos without flash, and the third guided us to watch a video about the history of Pella.  The others ran to take their places as room security.  To make sure we don’t do something stupid, like break of a finger of a stature when comparing palm size!  Personally, with Greek statues, I would be worried about Americans breaking off a different part..

Pella was the second capital of Macedonia and inhabited for a long time.  Brought to its peak under Phillip II.  He moved here from Vergina as it was on the waters edge at the time.  With the earthquake, Roman and barbarian invasions, coupled with the bay silting up, it lost its importance and became deserted and forgotten.  There were small towns on either side that survived, but overall it was left to be covered up for people to unearth now.  Even though only a small section of the city has been excavated, they have been able to work out a lot.
After the movie we walked through the exhibits.  This is well done, and the building is set up in such a way so as to guide you through the rooms.  We got to see some of the mosaics that have been taken from the houses of Dionisus and Helen, as well as seeing what one of the potters workshops looked like when it was excavated.  All the wares around the corners of the room, and a lot still in perfect condition.  On top of this, due to the sudden emptying of the city, we got to see all the household goods from children’s toys to the statues of gods kept in household shrines.  This is remarkably similar to today.  Even though we do not have the symphony of gods that the Macedonians had, most houses here still have a small imitation church shrine somewhere around the house, with the icons of their favourite saint stuck inside.  As much as Christianity may have wanted to stamp it out, it only changed the names!  One thing that was an overall theme for us though was a child riding a rooster.  They had a lot of these little statues, ranging from rough clay to fine bronze.  We have no idea why it was important, we just thought it was a bit of fun.

Having had our fill of the museum, we went back through town to catch a bus to Edessa.  All that we know of this place is that it is a pretty town with waterfalls.  Catching the bus was fairly easy, but time consuming.  we had to go to the intersection we had been dropped off at, then go to the highway, as the bus is direct.  Sitting at the traffic lights, flagging down every bus that went past to see if it was the right one (In the few hours we were there, only three buses went past anyway).  They do stop for you, and most drivers are pretty helpful.  Two girls went past as we were waiting.  They were trying to hitch-hike back to Thessaloniki, and were still trying when our bus finally came.  This confirmed our suspicions that it is not an easy country to hitch in.

At Edessa the driver showed his skills, as he negotiated the small crowded streets within the town to take the bus to the station.  Getting out and looking around, we were wondering where the pretty town was, as it could be almost anywhere.  Walking on, we did find channels of water flowing through the city and off over the edge of the mountain the town is perched on.  The lookout points were under reconstruction though, and you could not see anything, but with the amount of water it would not have been that impressive anyway.  Finding a hotel, we checked the prices, and then moved on.  Following the stream to a few terraced cafes and a man made waterfall all of a metre high, we were very unimpressed.  This was not worth the effort.  Still needing a place to stay we continued walking.  Eventually ending up in the old section of town.  This is much more to our liking, as the buildings are more Ottoman style (or Bulgarian Revival, depending on who you listen to) with a lot of them done up, but others peacefully turning back into the earth they were made from.  I hate to see this happening to old houses, but what can you do about it?  From here, we saw some signs with waterfall written on them, and as it happens,we were not too far away.  There is a larger stream here, and the waterfall is pretty impressive.  Flowing rapidly towards the cliff and disappearing over the edge. Taking the stairs down, you can see it in its glory.  There is even a path behind it.  There is a cave here, although it is now locked tight, and a carved section that we could have explored if we had a torch.  As we had no light, I would like to think it ends about a metre into the dark!

Back up the hill and on  the other side is another stream that splits in two before suffering the same churning fate.  We could not see this from below though without a long walk, and night was falling.  Taking the time to appreciate a beer, before we have to walk back to the first hotel (we had checked others but they were more expensive or closed).  After dark, we took a last look at the water, only to find out that the streams had been lit by coloured lights.  The effect is great, so we even went back down the hill to look at the waterfall again.  Blue, yellow, pink and orange as the light cycled through its colours.  Even strobe effects were used.  It is a pretty good thing to see, and did make it worth while to come here.

So back to our first hotel.  The guy was not surprised to see us,and probably knows he is the cheapest in town.  The room was not even that bad.


09 October 2013

More walking
Finding the Agora
Churches again
Byzantine Museum
Modern art – Biennale
Discussions on what art is
Food at Galerius’s Palace
A bit more walking

Well yesterday we did a lot of walking.  Today would not be that much different.  We are not planning on spending too long in Thessaloniki, so there was no point in trying to work out the bus schedules.  To start the day, we will try and find the Agora.  TT31postagoraThis is the old central market area of the city, and should not be hard.  It is on our pathetic little map and so well prepared, we set off.  Turns out our map is wrong as well as pathetic.  We ended up well out of down town and in desperate need of directions.  The first couple of people we stopped had no interest in helping us, the next pointed us back the way we had come.  Going that way we stopped and asked directions again.  This time we got some proper ones.  Following these we made it to a large hole in the ground.  The Agora does not have much left any more.  The outline of a few foundations, some cellars and an old amphitheatre.  Walking around it, we could see everything there, including a strange bath complex to the side.  Then there was the ticket office.  As you can see everything from street level, we felt no need to wander through the complex and continued on.

TT32postchurch1One of the benefits of our getting lost was that on the way to the Agora we passed by this small church.  It looked a little old on the outside so we went to investigate.  Turns out that it is a famous one.  The Church of the Agioi Apostoli.  Dating from the 14th century or so.  We were allowed to go inside, and I must say it was a pleasure.  The church is small and simple with mosaics on the upper sections.  Although very damaged, you can still see the effort that has gone into creating them, and it is easy to imagine what the entire church would have looked like back in the day when they were all still perfect.  It was only a little saddening to see the deterioration caused by time and neglect.  Even if it is unintentional.

TT33postchurch2After the Agora we came across the Church of Agios Dimitrios.  Again an old one, but this time much larger.  In fact I would call it a cathedral.  A lot of this has been reconstructed, and we were not sure if it was new or old.  The answer was both.  It had been almost destroyed in the 1917 fire.  Archways mostly intact but reconstructed centres and roof.  Plain decorations and a very spacious feel.  We could take our time looking at the relics and icons before finding a little doorway leading down to the crypt.  Masses are still held down here occasionally, and the space is quite large considering.  At first we thought it might be a small warren of different passageways and chambers, but it opens up to being one large room with a few pillars and arches for support.  Not much is left down here except for an entrance to the church shop.  A bit strange, but the complex was built on a hill, and what is below ground at the church is ground level on the side.

TT35postmuseumTime was getting on, and we still had to go to the Museum of Byzantine history.  This is right beside the Archaeological Museum, but we had not felt up to it yesterday.  I won’t say much about this, as it is a little disappointing for us.  It is more about Christianity under the Byzantines than Byzantine history, or even a general view of history for the period.  We got to see how churches were built on churches and Pagan Gods became saints.  Lots of Icons and gravestones and funeral goods.  It was still interesting, just misappropriately named.  They did have one weird documentary screening at the end.  It traced a block of Marble from China as it was cut out, loaded onto a ship and carved into a pillar.  This took long enough, so we did not see the ending where it probably ended up inside a bank or as a replacement on one of the sites here in Greece.  Considering the amount of marble quarries in Greece and the Balkans, I wonder why they are getting it all the way from China.  Or why it was the only block on a massive container ship.TT37postpano1

TT30postartOutside, we crossed the road, and went to the convention centre.  There is a Biennial on at the moment of contemporary art, so we had to look at that.  There are some nice pieces here, some confusing, and some we wonder why it would be classified as contemporary art.  The had a series of photos that were about tobacco.  The bales, harvest and drying.  All every nice, and I would love to be able to take photos of that quality consistently, but not what I would consider contemporary art.  Where is the statement and what is the point?  Others such as a video piece of the outline of the European countries in trouble with the economic crisis burning may not be as artistic, but are more in line with what I would expect.  Still.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  This lead to a long conversation about what is art, and how you define it.  Just one of those conversations you have as you are walking along to your next destination.  Hungry by now, we stopped at the ruins of Galerious’s Palace and had a bite, overlooking the remains of his 1700 year old house.  How times change.  The banquet hall of kings is now below fast food joints for everyday people.  That also makes you wonder.  And I suppose, appreciate that we could be there to do it.


More walking around the city, more admiring the graffiti and seeing people going about their daily lives.  Watching the sun go down and the neon lights light up.  The hustle and bustle never letting up for a second.  It is a city.  That is for sure, and a busy one at that.


Street art

Some of the art from the back alleys




08 October 2013

Walking for 10 hours
White Tower
Tourist Info in a tourist country
Archaeological museum
Galerius’s Arch
Following the wall
Trigoniou Tower
Walking down funky streets and graffiti
Intermittent Churches and ruins

This is our first proper day in Greece.  Yesterday does not really count, as it was travelling.
We were up pretty early to check out the town.  Having looked on line there seems to be plenty of things to see in town, and we are looking forward to it.
However our first job is to find tourist information.  Having had a few problems elsewhere, we had even tracked down the address online and were all set.  We just needed a map to find the right street.  Hopefully we can get one from tourist info 😉
Our street is almost smack down town, and at night a multi coloured neon glow lights everything from all the hotel signs and shop fronts. During the day it is a busy place with people and cars everywhere. We had been shielded from a lot of this as our hotel room is on the rear of the building and very quiet, but opening the front door we were blasted with the sound, sight and smells of a big city.  We must have been lucky with other places that it was tourist season, and everyone was on holidays.  Now Uni and work is back in there are people everywhere.  Jostled backwards and forwards until we could take the first street off towards the water.  Here it got a little quieter.  Probably similar to the main street in Sofia!  And it is only a little side street!  It was only a few blocks to the ocean front.  These are big blocks with many one way streets within them, so you could say that Thessaloniki is made up of very large blocks of buildings, if you use bigger roads as the markers, or lots and lots of small blocks if you use all the little alley ways.  T33postcoffeeWe found a nice place to have a morning coffee,and realised that I may have to cut my caffeine addiction in Greece.  True, this place roasted their own coffee, and were in an old dock building that is quite small at only two stories. It has been well renovated and tastefully decorated, but it was only a little more expensive than anywhere else we had seen.  The coffee was good though.

My addiction fixed for the time being, we went down to get our first proper look at the Agean Sea.  There is no beach.  Oh well.  There is a pedestrian strip to walk along though.  Then a busy road, although in this city I think all roads are busy, and 6+ story buildings.  It is an interesting look as you gaze down along the water, but not what I would call appealing.  Still, we walked along this for a while, marvelling at the cleanliness of the water.  T32postboatIt was not until we were passed by a modified tug boat that had a garbage collector attached at the bow that we worked out how the water was so clean.  They trawl backwards and forwards all day collecting the garbage that has made it into the water.  Anything that misses its gaping maw is picked up by men with nets on the side.  I almost felt like I had to tell them they missed a bit when I saw a piece of paper floating just past their wake.

T37postwhitetowerIn this way we made it to the White tower.  This marks the western point on the ocean of the old town fortifications.  Now a small museum.  The tower has had an interesting past and a lot of names.  It got its current name from when it was a prison, and one of the inmates whitewashed it to gain his freedom.  He didn’t do the best of jobs, as it is now back to the original stonework.  Either that, or another convict needs to redo it.
We are lucky to see this, as at one stage they wanted to demolish the tower to have a few more waterfront buildings, but some bright person stood up and said that it was not a good idea to do this, as the city would have no history left.  Considering other parts of the ancient city that have been systematically destroyed in the name of progress it was a brave move.

It is an impressive structure, and although dwarfed now by the buildings around it, it would have made a good vantage point out over the water.

After looking at the tower, and the waterfront a bit more, we moved on.  Stumbling over the street that tourist information is located was a bit of luck.  There are street signs occasionally, and even numbers rarely so we could work out the direction to go in.  It turned out to be pretty close.  It was closed.  Indefinitely!  Apparently due to the Austerity measures they have decided to close the office.  T34posttownThis is an interesting thing for us, as I thought Greece’s number one industry was tourism, and any way to convince tourists to stay longer and spend more money would be welcome.  We do have a slightly sinister thought about this though.  Greece has closed tourist information in its second biggest city, stopped all inter country rail links and closed a lot of sites.  Possibly because they are costing too much money, but to us it seems to be making a point for foreign tourists. (They have borrowed over 720 BILLION Euros.  Hence the Austerity measures.  Oh, Woe is us, we cannot even afford to tell you about our fine country…).

So, it could be a very short stay in Greece before we go to Turkey.  We had planned on staying here until a few days before our flight, but might just skip through instead.  Mostly because we cannot find out what to see in the area and eastern part of the country.

So, we are relying now on a pathetic sketch map that has three streets listed, and a few bits to see from an old brochure we picked up in the hotel!  Great.

T38postmuseumStill, we can at least find the archaeological museum.  We hope.
Find it we did.  The museum is well set out, and traces the history of the city and Macedonia fairly well in a concise way.  Not over doing the pottery and without the masses and masses of artefacts that make you want to fall asleep.  Guiding you through the different periods from Macedon to Roman to Byzantine and stopping.  No Ottoman history is mentioned unfortunately.  Still, we got to learn a little about the region and its importance.
Spending a long while wandering through the exhibitions looking at recreated sections of the old city, and where they are located under the new.  It gave us an idea on what we want to see here, but most of these areas have either been destroyed in the expansion of the city, or are still underground.

T35postarchFrom the museum, we went to Galerius’s Arch.  This is interesting to us, having seen his retirement home/villa/mansion/palace/town in Serbia.  It is no Triumphal arch, but made mostly from brick with a marble facade.  This is still very impressive, even considering the amount of damage to it. We had passed the remains of the Eastern Gate to get to it.  When I say remains, I mean the spot where it used to exist, but is now a very large round about for traffic.  Progress.  Cars are more important than history.

T36postrotundaOne of the wide streets from the arch revealed an older looking building to the north, so we headed towards it.  This is the Rotunda.  There are a few things about this place.  Firstly it is large and round.  It was probably built as a temple to Zeus, but some think it could have been built by Galerius as his mausoleum.  We had seen his burial mound, so think the former is likely.  They think it was constructed in around 306 AD.  It has served many purposes.  Mostly religious from church to mosque to church again.  Now it is being restored.  The main entrance was closed, but a side entrance was open with a truck parked in it.  Asking if we could walk around, we were waved in. T39postchurchIt is a beautiful building, and the only thing marring its simplicity is a latter addition of a naive added when it was converted to a church.  There is also a minaret to one side.  Lots of old pillars are stacked behind it.
We were even allowed inside.  OK, so the site is still open to the public, and the door was open.  Inside it is covered with scaffolding, but if you look through it…  You see brickwork.  Until you look up.  Then you can see the most detailed and intricate mosaics.  These have been cleaned in places and show geometric patterns, fruit and animals.  The central dome had buildings and city scapes.  What was left of it.  Nothing overtly Christian that we could make out, and could be part of the original structure (but what do we know)

Back outside, we started making our way up the hill.  This is a fair climb, and took a while.  Stopping in for a detour through one of the graveyards, we could compare how the Thessalonikians revere their dead compared to other places.  The graves are all white marble.  Well made and forgotten.  Similar to the rest of the city, the place is well maintained, but there are no wreaths, flowers or candles for the deceased, and it seems that after they are buried they can be forgotten about for most of the year.  In stark contrast to the Balkans.  T43postbigWe started following the old city wall after this (In the past it was illegal to have graves within the city walls, so it was located just outside).  A steep climb through a small park area and we made it to Trigoniou Tower.  This had been built in the 15th century by the Ottomans, around an old Byzantine tower that was built over an old Roman tower. It marks the eastern end of the Acropolis.  In the 1920’s this was in the middle of nowhere, but now the city completely surrounds it.  Apparently it is UNESCO listed, and when we found this out, we were worried on what the bill would be.  Its FREE!  So, wandering inside we were faced with small narrow tunnels with fluoro blue lighting.  T42postcastleThe tower is pretty solid with rooms riddled throughout.  Only two sections come out from the tower itself.  One is a gun emplacement and the other is a latrine with squat toilet still installed.  Small rooms within for storage and troops.  On reaching the roof, we were greeted with views out over the city.  Above us we could see the fortress, and although it was too late to try and make it there, we were happy to at least see it.  Below was the wall we had followed, the city built up all around it.  The east provided a view out over the city again, and how far it had expanded, and the west was a wall that separated the old Agora from the original city.  Again it is all totally consumed by buildings.  Non of the big sites were visible except the Rotunda.  And that was only because we knew where to look.
The sun was creeping towards the horizon by now, so we decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel.  We knew it would take a while, as we could see approximately where it was.  A long way away.

T41postmarketFollowing the wall that separated the Agora from town through another nice park, we stopped off for a couple of take away beers to enjoy at the walls.  Contemplating how the city has expanded from the twenties to now.  OK, it is almost 100 years, but still.  The population has boomed for sure.  Then we went down the hill. This was a lot steeper.  Through small winding roads with cars flying around blind corners and no footpaths.  It is a different side of the city to the lower flat streets.  One thing of particular note is the Graffiti.  There are some very talented artists here.  There is not as much tagging as Serbia and Macedonia, but still quite a lot,yet in more than a few places are actual artworks.  Intermixed with stencilling and political statements.  It is almost refreshing to see.  If you are going to splash paint all over a wall, at least make it look good!

That’s about it for the day.  It was a lot of walking, and although we have not mentioned the churches we have gone into, they are very different to the Serbian and Bulgarian Orthodox churches, almost seeming to be a mix of Catholic and Orthodox.  They are plain on the outside and the inside can range from plain to extravagant.