The story behind Thessaloniki’s Landmarks; The Arch of Galerius and Rotunda

Chrisa Lepida | Live the World

November 23, 2022

Thessaloniki is the second largest city of Greece and definitely one of the most popular and interesting destinations of the country. Thessaloniki is easy to fall in love with – it has beauty, chaos, history and culture, a remarkable cuisine and of course, wonderful sea views.

Thessaloniki has something for everyone and a visit there will definitely steal your heart! If you’re looking for info as well as for suggestions on what to do and how to spend a day in Thessaloniki as a local would, go ahead and have a look at my previous articles. The upper town, the castles, the vast sea viewthe food, the nightlife, the relaxed lifestyle and of course, its people will no doubt guarantee a wonderful and unforgettable experience upon your visit to the Greek co-capital! 

But what’s the story hidden behind some of the most influential neighborhoods, squares and landmarks of Thessaloniki? In the series of pages that follow, I’ll reveal some secrets and historical facts that will change the way you visit and experience Thessaloniki for the first time. Fasten your seatbelts and here we go! 

The Arch of Galerius, Kamara 

A meeting point as defined by sociologists, is often a landmark which has become popular and is a convenient place for both tourists and citizens to meet; that’s what Kamara is to Thessaloniki. “Let’s meet at Kamara” is the phrase that you’ll most likely hear, upon planning your first day out with a local. Kamara - or officially known as the “Arch of Galerius” - is no doubt the city’s main meeting point and students' point of reference. 

Picture © Credits to iStock/ hdesislava

Located right in the heart of the city and only a few minutes walking from Navarinou Square, the imposing Kamara is located right at the junction of Egnatia and Demetriou Gounari street. Built between 298 and 305 AD to commemorate Galerius’ triumphal victory against the Persians, it is one of the 15 Byzantine Monuments of Thessaloniki that were included in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1988. The arch asserts the glory of the Galerius’ dominance and is an extension to Galerius’ palace, the ruins of which can be admired around the same area.

Picture © Credits to iStock/ AlxeyPnferov

The Rotunda of Galerius

This massive round building is said to be Thessaloniki’s oldest monument; counting 16 centuries of existence, the Rotunda can be found slightly northern of the Arch of Galerius, mentioned** above. The Rotunda of Galerius, has first served as a Roman mausoleum, then as a Christian church, and eventually as a mosque. **

Picture © Credits to iStock/ AlxeyPnferov

Its interior is decorated with early Christian mosaics, while its exterior is the city's only surviving minaret. It was also built by the Roman Galerius as part of the Palatial complex, and it was intended to serve as the emperor’s mausoleum. In the late 4th century, the Rotunda was converted into a Christian church, at the time when Thessaloniki started flourishing by becoming a provincial capital of the West. Later on, when the Ottoman Turks ruled Thessaloniki in 1591, the church was converted into a mosque. Nowadays, newly restored, the Rotunda is a simple space that showcases the structure's ecclesiastical purpose, while its astonishing mosaics and architecture impresses thousands of visitors everyday. 

The location of the Palatial Complex, Kamara and Rotunda in the center of Thessaloniki offers countless possible combinations on where to go and what to see! The White Tower and Nikis Avenue are just minutes away, while heading north you’ll discover Ano Poli (Upper Town), the impressive Byzantine Walls.

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