Northern Greece offers an appealing combination of comparatively unexplored natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. The stunning scenery of places like Mount Olympos holds special appeal to walking enthusiasts, while of the historical interest in the region are several ancient archaeological sites, including Pélla, the birthplace of Alexander the Great. Many of northern Greece’s finest examples of Byzantine architecture and art are to be found on the Athos Peninsula and in the bustling city of Thessaloníki.
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Thessaloníki, also known as Salonica, is Greece’s second city. The capital of the Roman province of Macedonia Prima from 146 BC, it later became part of the Byzantine empire. On the city’s waterfront, stands the White Tower, one of the Thessaloníki’s most famous sights. Built in 1430, this is one of three towers that were added to the city walls by the Turks. Today it houses a permanent exhibition tracing the city’s history. The Arch of Galerius was built in AD 303 by Emperor Galerius to celebrate victory over the Persians and is the principal architectural legacy of Roman rule. Thessaloníki has a number of museums, including the Museum of Byzantine Culture and the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle, which focuses on the centuries of Turkish domination. The star attractions at the city’s Archaeological Museum are the Roman floor mosaics, and the splendid Dervéni Krater, a 4th-century BC bronze wine-mixing bowl.
This small site was once the flourishing capital of Macedonia. This is where Alexander the Great was born in 356 BC and was later tutored by Aristotle. Some sense of the existence of a city can be gained from a plan of the site, which shows where the main street and stores were located. The palace, believed to have been north of the main site, is still being excavated.
Also known as the Holy Mountain, Mount Athos is the highest point on the Athos Peninsula – an autonomous republic, ruled by the 1,700 monks who live in its 20 monasteries. Only adult males may visit the peninsula, but it is possible to see many of the monasteries from a boat trip along the coast. Ouranoúpoli is the main town on Athos and where the boat trips for the peninsula’s west coast start.
The name Mount Olympos refers to a whole range of mountains, 12 miles across. The highest peak in the range is Mytikas. The entire area constitutes the Olympos National Park, an area of outstanding beauty that attracts naturalists and hikers alike.