The area covered by the present Prefecture of Thessaloniki
has been inhabited since the Prehistoric years. After the foundation of Thessaloniki, this region’s history is identical to that of the city’s, which has been especially rich, attracting many conquerors and, at times, reaching enviable peaks of prosperity.
Thessaloniki was founded in 316 BC on the site of the old city of Thermi, which gave its name to the Thermaic Gulf. Kassandros, its founder, gave it the name of his consort, Thessaloniki, half-sister to Alexander the Great.
Thessaloniki, with its quick development and fast growth, due to its ideal geographical position, became the capital of the Macedonian state, thus taking the leadership away from Pella. Pella, the birth city of Macedonian Kings, eventually fell into such obscurity that archaeologists are still uncertain of its actual positioning on the map.
Today the city is best known as a Byzantine city, due to the wealth of art and architectural remains from the centuries when Thessaloniki was second only to Constantinople.
Recent archaeological excavations at Derveni and Vergina (site of King Philip's tomb) have turned up such remarkable artifacts from the Macedonian period that we consider Thessaloniki most notable for its Archaeological Museum and nearby sites:
Vergina: the wealth of gold funerary objects discovered at Vergina can enjoy no appraisal to its merit. The royal tomb and royal palace near the village of Vergina offer a thrilling impression to the visitor, and their archaeological importance is second only to the Acropolis of Athens.
About 80 km from Thessaloniki, at the foot of the magnificent Mt. Olympus, is the village of Dion. Recent excavations have revealed that this was an important religious center for the worship of the gods of the sacred mount. Much progress has been made in the excavations in recent years, filling the new museum with some very fine works of Art.
In history there are few persons who can be termed “Great” and even fewer who deserve to be so called. But Alexander, the son of Philippos, King of Macedonians, was truly great. He did not merely place his stamp on his era. Rather, he has survived - he still "lives and reigns," according to popular belief. Alexander was a cultural reformer, not a militaristic invader. He instituted a multinational state comprised of equally-privileged individuals, for he was a liberator and not an enslaver. The peoples who became part of his empire were not considered minorities, but retained their national identities.
The campaigns of Alexander the Great signalled some momentous events in world history that should be accessed in ways other than with the Hollywood approach! On one hand, Europe was decidedly alleviated from the Asian threat, as the vast Persian superpower met its end for good. On the other hand, the expansion and eventual predomination of the Greek language as the international instrument of communication, with its concomitant knowledge, as well as the opening to Greek philosophy, art, and civilization in general, were extraordinary events of immense consequence for the future course of the entire world.
We have to agree with H. Bengston, that: "Neither the Roman empire, nor the triumphant route of Christianity - whose communities, at the end of ancient times, extended from Ireland to India - nor even the Byzantine Empire nor the Arabian civilization would have been created without Alexander the Great and his cosmogony works." Nevertheless, anyone with rudimentary historical knowledge is aware what Macedonian Hellenism and its genuine representatives Philip, Alexander, and Aristotle stand for. In history and in thought it is high civilization, an inseparable segment of the grand Greek miracle.
Among the numerous monuments of particular interest in the city are those from the Roman period, the Triumphal Arch of Galerius
and the Rotonda. The Byzantine period has bequeathed to the city many churches, whose fine mosaics and wall paintings are representative of various periods of Byzantine art and contribute to the city’s image. They include St. Demetrius
, Panagia Acheiropoietus, the Holy Apostles, St. Sophia
, St. Catherine, Panagia Chalkeon, St. Nicholas the Orphan, the Prophet Elijah, and the Monastery of Vlatadon. Large sections of the city walls are also still standing, together with one of their main bastions, the well-known White Tower
. Noteworthy from a national, spiritual, and artistic viewpoint are also the continuing strong links between the city of Thessaloniki and Mt. Athos
, the so called, among Christians, Agion Oros (=Sacred Mountain).