Thessaloniki Upper Town Walking Tour, Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki Upper Town Walking Tour (Self Guided), Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki's Upper Town (Ano Poli) is the most ancient part of the city, aged approximately 2,300 years. Being also the highest part of Thessaloniki, dominated by the Acropolis with the Byzantine-/Ottoman-era fort known as Heptapyrgion (Eptapyrgio), from here on a clear day you can see way across the gulf, as far as Mount Olympus, some 80 km (50 miles) away, towering over the horizon in all its splendor.

During the Ottoman rule, Ano Poli was predominantly inhabited by the Turks (Muslims), while the Greeks, western Europeans, and Jews resided in the lower part of the city, around the port. Nowadays, this neighborhood is known for its well-preserved ancient heritage, largely destroyed elsewhere in the city by the Great Fire of 1917, and as such is much favored by intellectuals and bohemian elite. Enclosed within the ancient walls, the charming Ano Poli features a maze of narrow, winding, cobblestone streets lined with traditional Greek and Ottoman-style houses, old squares, quaint alfresco tavernas, and plethora of historic monuments.

World Heritage sites here include the 5th-century Church of Osios David, the 14th-century Vlatadon Monastery, and the 15th-century Trigoniou Tower. Also distinguished for their architectural value are the churches of Profitis (Prophet) Elias, Saint Nicholas Orphanos, and Saint Catherine, as well as the Alaca Imaret Mosque and the Byzantine bath. Still, a standalone attraction in the neighborhood is the Atatürk Museum, showcasing the birthplace of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

To see what else is Thessaloniki's Upper Town famous for and to explore these and other remnants of great civilizations in the city, take our self-guided walking tour and expand your horizons!
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Thessaloniki Upper Town Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Thessaloniki Upper Town Walking Tour
Guide Location: Greece » Thessaloniki (See other walking tours in Thessaloniki)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.0 Km or 2.5 Miles
Author: vickyc
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Heptapyrgion Fortress
  • Portara (Main Gate) and Byzantine Walls of Thessaloniki
  • Trigoniou Tower
  • Vlatadon Monastery
  • Church of Hosios David
  • Byzantine Bath
  • Church of Saint Nicholas Orphanos
  • Atatürk Museum
  • Alaca Imaret Mosque
  • Church of Prophet Elias
  • Ayia Katerini (Church of Saint Catherine)
1
Heptapyrgion Fortress

1) Heptapyrgion Fortress

The Heptapyrgion Fortress is an imposing ancient structure with a long history. The fortress is also known as Yedi Kule. While the name translates to "Fortress of Seven Towers," the fortress actually features ten towers that were built at different times.

The Heptapyrgion's northern towers were either built during the fourth century with Thessaloniki's original walls or during the ninth century. The southern towers were probably built during the 12th century.

The Ottomans conquered Thessaloniki in the 15th century and rebuilt the fortress. Under Ottoman rule, the fort served as the city's military governor's residence.

During the later 19th century, the fortress was converted into a prison. The prison held political prisoners during World War II. In 1989, the prison facilities were relocated.

The Ministry of Culture took over the Heptapyrgion Fortress and began restoration work. Visitors are welcome to explore the eerie fortress and enjoy the fabulous views.
2
Portara (Main Gate) and Byzantine Walls of Thessaloniki

2) Portara (Main Gate) and Byzantine Walls of Thessaloniki

The Walls of Thessaloniki are the fortification structure that once surrounded the city, starting from the Middle Ages through 1874, when large segments of the walls, including the entire seaward section, were demolished as part of the Ottoman restructuring of Thessaloniki's urban fabric.

The preserved part of the Walls date back to the early Byzantine period, ca. 390, and incorporate parts of an earlier, late 3rd-century construction. These consist of the typical late Roman ashlar masonry mixed with bands of brick.

Today the Walls stand about 4 km long, which is half of their original perimeter (8 km), and are up to 10-12 meters high and 4.5 meters wide. On the northeastern side they ascend to the hills and adjoin the Acropolis with the Heptapyrgion (Eptapyrgio) Fortress.

In 1355 Byzantine Empress Anna Palaiologina modified part of the Walls by creating two gates. Commonly referred to as Doors to the Walls, these two gates located in the Northern section of the Walls, and a third one to the West, leading out of the city and known as "Portara", i.e. Great Gate, in case of an attack or siege of the city provided safe passage for the citizens into the Acropolis and mainly to the Heptapyrgion, the ultimate refuge to escape the fury of the enemy.

The Portara (main gate) has been preserved in a very good condition. Here you can see different layers of brickwork where the walls have been repaired over the centuries.

There are about 50 towers incorporated in the Walls altogether, including those from the Byzantine era, such as the Klaudianos, the Relief, the Ormisda and the Andronikos Lapardas towers; and those from the Ottoman period – the White Tower and the Chain/Triangle Tower.

Today the Walls of Thessaloniki are officially recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
3
Trigoniou Tower

3) Trigoniou Tower

The Trigonion Tower is the Byzantine city wall's most famous tower. It is part of Thessaloniki's UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built to reinforce an artillery tower after the Turkish occupation began in 1430. The tower's location was strategically important as this portion of the wall when Thessaloniki faced heavy attacks.

During Ottoman rule, the tower was also called Chain Tower or Belted Tower due to a relief in the central section that looks like a belt. It was used as an artillery tower and an armory. The tower is 22 meters (72.2 feet) tall and 24 meters (78.7 feet) in diameter.

The Trigonion Tower is also known as Thessaloniki's balcony. It provides an excellent view of the city's acropolis. In addition, visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of the old city and the Gulf of Thermaikos. On clear days, visitors can see Mount Olympus 150 kilometers away. Visitors and locals alike often gather here to watch the sunset.

Visitors can stop at a nearby cafe for refreshments before continuing their walk.
4
Vlatadon Monastery

4) Vlatadon Monastery

Vlatadon Monastery is part of the Ano Poli Upper Town. Its also known as the Monastery of the Vlatades. When it was founded, it was called the Monastery of the Pantocrator. It was built during the 14th century during the end of the Byzantine Empire. It's part of Thessaloniki's UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Dorotheus and Markus Vlatadon founded the monastery in 1351. Historians believe the monastery was built on the same site that the Apostle Paul preached in AD 51. In 1351, Empress Anna Palaiologos retired to Thessalonica and gave the monastery its royal status.

Ottoman Turks began occupying the monastery in 1387. The main church was converted into a mosque, and the Turks plastered over the interior frescoes. Turkish troops billeted in the monastery during this time. When the Turks left in 1403, the monastery was returned to its original purpose. The Turks returned in 1430 but did not sequester the monastery again.

The monastery was renovated throughout the 20th century. The Patriarchal Institute for Patristic Studies operates in the monastery.

Several of the monastery's arches, semi-columns, and pediments are original. Most of the frescoes date to the 14th century. The monastery houses an extensive collection of Byzantine religious icons, scripts, codecs, patriarchal sigillum, and imperial golden seals.

The monastery is 120 meters (394 feet) above sea level and offers beautiful city and sea views.
5
Church of Hosios David

5) Church of Hosios David

The Church of Hosios David was built in the 5th century. It was part of the Latomos Monastery during Byzantine times. The church was built in a cross pattern with square bays in the corners.

The Church of Hosios David was converted into a mosque during Ottoman rule. The Ottomans added a minaret to the converted mosque. Today, only the minaret's base and spiral staircase remain. In 1921, it was reconsecrated as a Greek Orthodox Church. The Church of Hosios David is part of Thessaloniki's UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Many of the frescoes and decorations have been damaged by earthquakes and the plaster coverings used during Ottoman rule. However, many beautiful mosaics and frescoes remain. For example, the stunning Theophany mosaic features Christ holding a text, surrounded by Evangelists.

Murals from the 12th and 13th centuries depict the nativity, Christ's baptism, our lady of the passion, Christ's entry into Jerusalem, and many decorative panels.
6
Byzantine Bath

6) Byzantine Bath

Thessaloniki's Byzantine Bath is the city's only surviving bath and one of Greece's best-preserved ancient baths.

It was built in the late 12th/early 13th century and functioned continuously until 1940, when it was shut down probably due to World War II and the German occupation of Greece. Originally, the Bath likely formed part of a monastery complex. During Ottoman times, it was known as Kule Hammam, i.e. "Bath of the Citadel".

Its original architecture followed Roman conventions. The entrance in the south leads to the frigidarium (dressing rooms). There are also two tepidarium (warm rooms) with vaulted ceilings, and two caldarium (hot rooms). Both the tepidarium and caldarium rooms had hypocaust (underfloor heating). To the north of the Bath was a cistern, heated with a hearth underneath it, to provide hot water.

The Bath's long use led to numerous alterations of the original structure over time. In Byzantine period the building was used alternately by men and women, but under the Ottoman rule the Bath was divided into exclusively male and female sections, by blocking off each pair of rooms from one another.

Closed since 1940, the Bath was subject to neglect and damage during the 1978 earthquakes, and only survived thanks to the support from the 9th Ephorate of Byzantine Antiquities and the protection offered by an external metal sheet covering. In 1988 it was included, among other Paleochristian and Byzantine monuments of Thessaloniki, on the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.

After four years of restoration work, the Bath was re-opened to the public as a museum and cultural space in June 2015.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
7
Church of Saint Nicholas Orphanos

7) Church of Saint Nicholas Orphanos

The Church of Saint Nicholas Orphanos was originally built in the early 14th century as part of a monastery.

Serbian king Stephen Uros II Milutin sponsored several churches in Thessaloniki and might have sponsored the Church of Saint Nicholas Orphanos. Milutin's patron saint, Saint George Gorgos, is depicted in a fresco in the church's main aisle. Another fresco features St. Clemens of Ohrid, who was often depicted in Serbian churches.

The Church of Saint Nicholas Orphanos avoided conversion during Ottoman rule. This is probably because the church is relatively small, humble, and out of the way.

The small, simple church originally had a wooded gabled roof. The exterior features brick and stone in irregular layers. A small walled garden provides a delightful place for contemplation.

The interior features the church's original marble templon. The church's most impressive feature is its original frescoes covering the walls. The frescoes show various narrative scenes showing Christ's life and miracles. The frescoes also feature scenes from the life of Saint Nicholas.
8
Atatürk Museum

8) Atatürk Museum

The Atatürk Museum in Thessaloniki is a historic house – the birthplace of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The founder of modern Turkey was born here in 1881. The three-floor property with a courtyard was built sometime before 1870.

In 1935 the Thessaloniki City Council gave it to the Turkish State, which decided to convert it into a museum. In September 1955 a bomb exploded close to the nearby Turkish consulate, also damaging the building. The damage, albeit minimal, marked the outset of an anti-Greek pogrom in Istanbul. Six years later, the Turkish Prime Minister Adnan Menderes was deposed and a Turkish court found his government guilty of ordering the bombing. Menderes apologized and offered compensation but was sentenced to death, charged, among other wrongdoings, with promoting the Istanbul pogrom. Following the pogrom, the Kemal Ataturk street in front of the house was renamed.

The building was restored in 1981 and repainted its original pink color. Most of the furniture inside is authentic. The first floor features a reception room, a sitting room, Kemal's mother's room, and the kitchen. On the second floor, visitors will find the actual room where Kemal was born. Another room on the second floor features some of Kemal's personal effects: his formal dress, smoking requisites, cutlery, cups, and other items.

All the documents relating to Kemal's schooldays are hung on the walls. Also there are photographs of him at various periods of life. A pomegranate tree planted by Kemal's father still grows in the courtyard.

As such, this fascinating museum offers an interesting glimpse into the life of one of Turkey's most influential personalities. In 1981 a replica of the house was built in Ankara.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
9
Alaca Imaret Mosque

9) Alaca Imaret Mosque

The Alaca Imaret (aka Ishak Pasha) Mosque, literally the "Colorful Asylum", is a 15th-century Ottoman mosque. According to an inscription at the entrance, the mosque was founded in February 1484 by order of Inogiolou Ishak Pasha, Grand Vizier during the reign of Mohammed II and later during the reign of Bayezid II.

In addition to being a place of worship, the building also housed an imaret (public charity kitchen) and medrese (priestly school). By the 17th century Alatza Imaret had become one of the most prominent institutions in the city.

The mosque has an inverted T-shape, quite typical of the early Ottoman architecture, with a central space, two large domes, side apartments on the west side and a colonnaded portico with five smaller domes. Back in the day, the central area of the building was reserved for prayer, while the four sides were used for teaching and meals. Internally, a large arch divides the space into two square sections, each of which is covered with a dome.

The once lavish interior decoration featured murals in the domes, especially in the second dome, and on the walls, as well as quotations from the Koran.

The name Alaja Imaret is due to the colorful, rhomboid-shaped stones (alaça) that once adorned the mosque's minaret. The latter was destroyed after the Greeks re-captured Thessaloniki in 1912; only its base has survived.

In 1970, a year after the collapse of the northern part of the portico, maintenance works got underway for the first time, which were then repeated in 1993-1996, seeing, among other things, the restoration of the elaborate external masonry.

The building is now owned by the municipality of Thessaloniki and no longer functions as a mosque, but instead serves as an exhibition space.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
10
Church of Prophet Elias

10) Church of Prophet Elias

The Church of Prophet Elijah was built in the 14th century. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The church's architecture is unique for Thessaloniki. The church's floor plan is laid out in a cross-in-square style. The exterior features alternating layers of brick and white ashlar. The east side of the church has intricate decorative brickwork. The architecture is similar to Constantinopolitan designs rather than typical Thessaloniki designs.

The church was designed to let in natural light. The windows are specifically oriented to light the church from sunrise to sunset and provide beautiful illumination for the church's wall paintings.

The interior features several preserved wall paintings dating to the 14th century. Scenes show Christ's childhood and miracles. Other scenes depict Saint Anne and the Virgin and the Christ and the Virgin.

During Ottoman rule, the church was converted to a mosque known as Sarayli Mosque. The church underwent restoration work in the 1950s.
11
Ayia Katerini (Church of Saint Catherine)

11) Ayia Katerini (Church of Saint Catherine)

The Church of Saint Catherine is a late Byzantine church built in the 14th century. This beautiful church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Church of Saint Catherine has a tetrastyle cross-in-square floorplan. The church features an ascending series of roofs. It features a seven-sided central dome with four small cupolas. The elegant church has blind arcades, half-columns, and decorative brickwork. A marble cornice divides the church vertically.

Like many of Thessaloniki's churches, the Church of Saint Catherine was converted into a mosque during Ottoman rule. The mosque was known as Yakup Pasha Mosque. Unfortunately, historians have not uncovered the church's original name before Ottoman rule.

The church has fragments of original wall paintings from the 14th century. The paintings feature vibrant colors and are similar to the Church of Hagios Nikolaos Orphanos. The wall paintings depict the Communion of the Apostles, prophets, angels, and the Miracles of Christ.

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