Macedonia, the largest and northrnmost of the 9 Greek Provinces, is bounded on the north by Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Albania. It possesses great fertile plains, many large rivers like the Nestos, the Aliakmon, the Strymon and the Axios, and several lakes. While the climate along the coast is Mediterranean, further inland it is continental. The archaeological digs which have taken place at Olynthos, Servia and elsewhere show that Macedonia was inhabited in the Neolithic period, while the recent discovery of a human skull of the Neanderthal type in the Petralona cave, Halkidiki (see below) indicates that there was a human presence in the area in much earlier times. Macedonia was an important part of ancient Greece, with a history of more than 3,000 years. This is proved by finds from the Mycenean period (before 1100 BC) and the Geometric period (1000 BC), and above all by recent excavations at Vergina, which have brought to light the superb royal tombs of Philip of Macedon (see Veria -Vergina).
The language, religion, customs and way of life of Macedonia were from the very earliest times identical to those of the rest of Greece. Aristotle, the great ancient philosopher, was born and brought up in Macedonia and, of course, spoke Greek. The twelve gods of Olympus, of whom Zeus was the chief, were worshipped by the ancient Macedonians as they were by the Greeks throughout the ancient Greek world. Philip II (357-366 B.C.) founded Macedonian greatness and eventually succeeded in extending his dominion by conquering southern Greece. After his assassination he was succeeded by his son Alexander III, better known as Alexander the Great, a military and political genius who pushed the frontiers of his kingdom deep into Asia, subduing a host of peoples as he went along. After the Romans defeated King Perseus at Pydna (168 B.C.), they became masters of Macedonia and its decline was very rapid. During the Byzantine era, it became one of the most important provinces of the Empire. Unter Turkish rule, after the 15th century, Macedonia retained its importance as a region of agricultural and commercial activities.
During the Turkish occupation the Macedonians often tried to liberate their country. Their efforts intensified in the years of the 1821 Greek Revolution against the Turks. Macedonia was incorporated into Greece after the 1st world war.
Thessaloniki, the capital of Northern Greece, is the second Greek city of importance after Athens. With the establishment in recent years of many factories, it has experienced an amazing economic and industrial growth. Moreover, it is an important cultural centre as well. It possesses one of the biggest Balkan universities, a Teaching Academy, the Ecumenic Institute, two State Schools of Music, and several Cultural Societies. Thessaloniki was founded by Cassander, King of Macedonia (315 B.C.), who named the new city after his wife, Thessaloniki Alexander the Great’s sister. It was the favourite city of the Macedonian Kings, its popularity continuing even after Macedonia became a Roman province in 148 B.C. Much later, in the Byzantine era, it was the second most important city of the Empire, after Constantinople.
Byzantine chronicles refer to it as «the most splendid and proudest city», «the Reigning City», and «the populous City», for Thessaloniki was not only the cultural and political centre of the Byzantine Empire. It also remained for centuries the uncaptured citadel, successfully repulsing wave after wave of attacks by different barbaric hordes. The medieval monuments which remain in Thessaloniki today testify to its former splendour and truly great prosperity. The following are worth visiting: The Archaeological Museum with its numerous interesting exhibits of the Classical and Roman periods, including the «Dervenion Crater». The Church of Saint Demetrius (the city’s patron saint), a five-naved basilica, built over the Saint’s tomb in the 5th century A.D., is one of the most superb monuments of the Greek Orthodox tradition. Besides its architectural worth and the wealth of its carvings, its mosaics, which cover a period dating from the 6th to the 9th century A.D., are especially remarkable. The Rotonda, another noteworthy monument is a circular building erected in 306 A.D. In the reign of Theodossius the Great it was turned into a Christian church. The mosaics embellishing its arches and the imposing dome belong to this later period. Other interesting churches are «Acheiropoietos» (not made by hand), one of the best examples of the ancient Greek Christian basilica style (5tn century); the Church of Panaghia Chalkeon (Holy Virgin of the Coppersmiths, (11th century); the Church of Aghia Sophia, an early domed basilica (6th century) with splendid mosaics; the Church of Twelve Apostles (13th century) with special ornamental brickwork; the Monastery of Vlatadon with a small chapel of cruciform type (14th century). There are also the medieval walls of the town and the triumphal Arch of the Emperor Galerius on the Via Egnatia built in 303 A.D. The Venetian White Tower, the Thessaloniki’s prominent landmark, was built in the 15th century.
Thessaloniki also has a number of country places for rest and leisure: Aghia Triada, 25 km out of town is a wooded seaside district; Nea Mechaniona, a lovely holiday resort offering a fine beach and plenty of fresh fish. Panorama, Asvestohori and Hortiati are mountain resorts.
Katerini, capital of the Prefecture of Pieria, stands on the plain between Mt Olympus of the myths and the Plena mountains, 50 km from Thessaloniki and 6 km from the sea. It is a relatively new town. Nearby are the fine beaches of Methoni, Makriyalos, Olympiaki Aktl, Plaka Litochorou and, best of all, Platamonas.
The outstanding archaeological site of Dion is 20 km from the town and has produced finds of the greatest value. Recent excavations have laid bare sanctuaries, tombs, theatres, a basilica and other buildings covering the period from the early iron Age (1100 BC) to the Byzantine age. Dion, beneath the aweinspiring peaks of Olympus, was an important cult site for the Macedonians – rather along the lines of Delphi and Olympia. To the south of Katerini is Litochoro, a pretty village which is the starting-point for the ascent of Mt Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece
VERIA – VERGINA
Veria, one of the most ancient of Macedonian cities, can boast of several Byzantine churches. Of even greater interest are the tomb of the Macedonian king Philip II, the palace and other archaeological finds recently discovered at the site of ancient Vergina (11 kms south-east of Veria), the most momentous archaeological event in recent years.
Naoussa is a picturesque town at a distance of 94 km from Thessaloniki. It is well- known for the beautiful textiles its factories turn out, and also for its excellent wine. There are annual carnival festivities held there, among them the «Bula» dance, an Interesting local folk event. It has lovely holiday resorts both in summer and in winter, when winter sports enthusiasts meet on Mount Vermion. The village Seli (18 km from Naoussa at an altitude of 1,420 m.) is Mount Vermion’s ski centre, with skiing facilities and hotels.
A crossroads between Western Macedonia, Epirus. Thessaly and Central Macedonia is Kozani, an historic town, and a commercial and industrial centre. Its Library posseses thousands of rare and precious manuscripts and other written documents. It is considered to be the second important library in Greece after the Athens National Library. Siatista (25 km west of Kozani) is a picturesque medieval town with large traditional buildings (“archontika”) and some interesting Byzantine churches.
Edessa, the capital town of the district of Pella, is situated on the foothills of Mount Vermion. It Is known for its beautiful waterfalls and lies in a sea of green orchards. According to one legend, the first capital of the ancient Macedonian kings lay in the district of Edessa, at Aiges. Then In the 5th century B.C., King Archelaos transferred his capital to Pella, whose ruins have been discovered at a distance of 10 kms outside the picturesque town of Yannitsa.
In the archaeological area of Pella, where systematic excavations have been going on in recent years, a few interesting buildings stand out: The most important is that which contains the wonderful mosaic depisting a lion-hunt. That and another mosaic representing a deer are remarkable for the wealth of detail.
Two lakes, the Megali (Great) and the Mikri (Small) Prespa, near Fiorina, form part of the borders between Greece, Albania and Yugoslavia. Its landscape is beautiful. On the small islet of Aghios Achilleios is a very old Byzantine church. Nearby have been discovered remains of an ancient Macedonian settlement.
Kastoria is famous for its fur industry. At one time in its past it was a prominent Byzantine centre and has now a number of beautiful churches dating from the 11th to the 18th century to show for it. The most interesting are the churches of Panaghia Koumbelidiki, Aghioi Anargyroi and Taxiarchai (all of them of the 11th century). Kastoria, also has beautiful old mansions (“Archontika”). The town is built beside the charming Lake Orestias (or Lake of Kastoria).
Fiorina is a commercial centre charming (161 km west of Thessaloniki and only 18 km from the frontier post of Nike on the Yugoslav border. Near Fiorina (22 km) is the mountain refuge of Pissoderi, starting point for skiers and mountaineers.
Serres, one of the largest Macedonian towns centre of the tobacco, cotton and cereals trade preserves many monuments of its long history. The most interesting are the Byzantine City Wall on its acropolis, the Byzantine church of Saint Nikolas, and the old Cathedral – Aghioi Theodoroi. Starting from Serres one can go on an excursion to Amphipolis, with its famous lion; to Kerdylia and its lovely coast, and lastly to Nigrita, with Its famous mineral springs.
Drama is the chief town of the province by the same name. Having abundant waters, its verdure is very lush. The town, spread out on a fertile plain, is a tobacco growing centre.
Philippi is only 25 km away from Drama. An important ancient city, it was built by Philip II, King of Macedonia, in 358 B.C. Some of its remains are the ancient theatre, the Agora, the acropolis, a Sanctuary of Egyptian Deities and others. In 42 B.C. the famous battle between the forces of Brutus and Cassius on the one hand and those of Octavius, later Emperor Augustus, took place here at Philippi. In summer ancient Greek plays are staged at the theatre.