A Walk Through Ancient and Modern History in Northern Greece


By Marni Patterson

ON BIG BLEND RADIO: Travel writer Marni Patterson talks about her experiences in historic Northern Greece. Watch here in the YouTube player or download the podcast on Podbean.

In The Odyssey, Homer describes Odysseus’ adventures during his 10-year journey home after the Trojan War. My trip through Northern Greece was much shorter—10 days, but I traveled through centuries of history.

I walked in the footsteps of Alexander the Great and Paul the Apostle, saw monasteries that date back to the 11th century, monuments to World War I, met revolutionary heroes, and saw tragic reminders of Nazi occupation.

Veria, The “Cradle of Christianity” In Greece
My “odyssey” began in Veria, the third most important city in the Byzantine Empire from the 11th to the 14th century (i.e., after Constantinople and Thessaloniki). My friend Ioannis, a longtime resident, explained that Veria is often called the “cradle of Christianity” in Greece.

The Apostle Paul visited Veria in 50 AD and 57 AD when he traveled from Asia Minor to Greece. He wasn’t well received in Thessaloniki, but the residents of Veria were very receptive to his teachings about Christianity. We saw the Tribune of Apostle Paul and stood where he preached the teachings of Jesus Christ. 

Vergina, Home Of Alexander The Great
My next stop was a few miles away in Vergina (Aigai in ancient times). It’s the original capital of Macedonia, where Philip II (Phillip of Macedonia), father of Alexander the Great, ruled.

In 1977, archaeologists discovered the burial site of the family of Alexander the Great. Sculptures and treasures from the tombs are on display at the underground Royal Tombs of Aigai Museum.

King Philip II’s tomb is impressive because of its size. You descend a staircase to see it up close. Several people were standing at the bottom while I was at the top, and his tomb was three times as tall as they were.

Royal burial vaults were large because they included furniture, dishes, silver, jewels, and other items they’d need in the “afterlife.” Philip’s tomb included a gold larnax containing his ashes and a gold oak crown.

Ouranoupolis, The Gateway To Mt Athos
I drove east to Halkidiki, where three peninsulas jut into the Aegean Sea: Kassandra, Sithonia, and Mt. Athos (from west to east). My destination was Ouranoupolis (“City of Heaven”) on the Mt Athos (easternmost) peninsula.

Ouranoupolis is the launch point for boat tours of the monasteries on Mount Athos. On my Mount Athos Cruise, I saw monasteries perched on cliffs high above the Aegean Sea on the remote west side of the Mt. Athos peninsula.

The only way to see them is by boat because few men and no women are allowed on Mt Athos. Boats are allowed as long as they stay 1,500 feet offshore.

Thessaloniki, Where Ancient History Meets The Present
My historical journey ended in Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in Greece and the capital of Macedonia. I visited the White Tower, the Archaeological Museum, and the Museum of Byzantine Culture. However, my best memories are learning about the “hidden” history of the city with my friend Sofia, a lifelong resident.

Ancient History Collides With Modern Needs
Thessaloniki city managers started building a badly needed metro system in 2006. It’s now 16 years later, and there’s still no metro. The reason why is what’s fascinating.

Workers uncovered Byzantine and Roman ruins that date back to the 4th century and architectural remains of 15th- to 17th-century buildings constructed on top of the remains of Hellenistic and Roman buildings.

Construction stopped while archaeologists worked with the city to decide how to build the metro while preserving the ruins. They decided to create an underground museum showcasing the ruins in the metro.

Tribute to World War I Heroes
At the Zeitenlik Allied Military Cemetery, we paid tribute to over 20,000 World War I soldiers from France, Serbia, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Italy. Many Serbs come on or near Remembrance Day (November 11th), and a group was holding a memorial service when we visited.

After the service, they visit the grave of Katherine M. Harley, a nurse with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals. She established a motorized ambulance unit attached to the Royal Serbian Army that operated near the front line and was killed in action.

Serbian officers created a special gravesite to thank her for the work she did for the Serbian people during the war. Her gravestone reads in English and Serbo-Croat, “On your tomb instead of flowers, the gratitude of the Serbs shall blossom there. For your wonderful acts, your name shall be known from generation to generation.”

  • Jewish Headstones
    Jewish Headstones



Thessaloniki’s Heartbreaking World War II Legacy

Around 65,000 people lived in Thessaloniki’s thriving Jewish community at the beginning of World War II. In 1943, the Nazis herded them into ghettos and deported them to concentration and labor camps.

The Germans also tried to wipe out all traces of Judaism throughout the city. The Jewish Cemetery in Thessaloniki was one of the largest in Europe. The Nazis dismantled it, scattered the remains of the bodies, and used the headstones to construct buildings and repair roads.

Throughout the city, blocks of stone with Hebrew writing are embedded in buildings and walls that were originally headstones in the Jewish Cemetery. 

War Museum of Thessaloniki
The War Museum of Thessaloniki commemorates modern Greek military history from the turn of the 20th century through the end of World War II. One of the more interesting exhibits explained why Greece is almost exclusively Christian Orthodox, even though it was part of the Ottoman Empire for 400 years.

After World War I, attacks on the Christian Orthodox minority in Turkey and the Muslim minority in Greece increased. In 1923, the Treaty of Lausanne created the Republic of Turkey from the former Ottoman Empire. One provision was the forced relocation of 500,000 Muslims from Greece to Turkey and 1.5 million Orthodox Christians from Turkey to Greece—a situation similar to the India-Pakistan partition in 1947.

Robert Frost said, “I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” If you ignore the travel guides and go “off the beaten path,” you’ll be amazed at what you learn.

Plan your visit at https://visitnorthgreece.com/en

Marni Patterson is a freelance travel writer, photographer and videographer in Phoenix, AZ who writes about destination travel, local customs and cultures, and history. She’s a member of SATW (Society of American Travel Writers, IFWTWA (International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association) and Travel Writers University. Visit https://mptravelwriting.com.



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About the Author:

Marni Patterson is a freelance travel writer, photographer and videographer in Phoenix, AZ who writes about destination travel, local customs and cultures, and history.

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