Gawking at Icons and Frescoes in Thessalonika

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You cannot, no matter what all the guide books say, do Thessaloniki in one day.  We were there on a Monday, and therefore none of the museums were open.  All we did was visit the Paleochristian and Byzantine monuments of the city, which were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.

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So we walked and walked around looking at all of the Byzantine Churches dating back to the 13th century.  I’m not sure how many there are, but we visited about five in a few hours.  They are spread throughout the city, and all of them have their own character and personality (along with the caretakers).

There are Byzantine churches all over Greece and Bulgaria, and it doesn’t take long to recognize them.  They are usually not very large, compactly built with brick.  The arches are rounded and above the windows and doors there is some type of brick or glass filigree to decorate it.  Some of the larger churches won’t necessarily follow this design, but almost all the smaller ones do.   (In Bulgaria, the city of Nessebar has many of them strewn around the city as well.)

The first church we visited was the ___ church.  We were welcomed by the caretaker with candy, and she let us take our time and as many photos as possible.  This kind of ruined us for the rest of the day, when the caretakers were a little less than friendly.

One of our favorite churches was what we liked to call the “crooked” church, because it was nestled in between a couple of apartment blocks on the corner of a busy street, and it obviously wasn’t on the same level angle as the buildings around it.  It was the smallest church that we visited and it had only a few gorgeous frescoes and icons.

We also visited the Hagios Demetrios , which has built a special rotunda just to hold the disputed remains of St. Demetrius himself.  The remains are purported to be authenticated after they began to seep myrrh from some of the bones.  People line up single file to enter the chapel where they go in individually to kiss the icons and pray.  St. Demetrius is one of the saints of soldiers and ranks up there with St. George.

Last on the list was the Hagia Sophia, named after her larger and more famous cousin in Istanbul.  Since Thessonaliki was the second most important city in the Byzantine empire, it was only natural to build such a church.  The church does not disappoint.  It has beautiful golden chandeliers molded in the shapes of birds, beautiful frescoes and icons that shine through its dark interior.

Walking to and through all of the churches we could handle in one day was exhausting, but we did find a great little sandwich shop and baker in the center of the city, called Ble, which I would recommend.  I would have written a pretty nice review on it, but they wouldn’t let me take photos, so that was the end of that. (It was located across the street from the crooked church).

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