You … shall … not … pass!

Near the Arch and Palace of Galerius is the Rotonda, built by the Romans in 306 possibly as a temple to Zeus, possibly a temple to the Cabiri (underworld spirits) or as a tomb for Galerius, and converted to a Christian church during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Theodosius (379-395). I didn’t photograph it from outside as the walls of its massive dome were covered in an equally massive plastic blue and yellow safety wrap. Entering through the open double doors, I stepped down into an enormous space, currently covered in scaffolding, but nevertheless awe-inspiring as a feat of architecture.

DSC06536So much conservation work going on in this building alone, including in the dome itself, which is decorated with paintings of temple like buildings, and of course saints, in gold, red and brilliant blue.

DSC06533During my wanderings I came across the Catacomb of Agios Ioannis, Saint John, the Baptist, also known as Prodromos, the Forerunner. It begins in a courtyard five metres below the footpath, which has remains of an ancient nymphaion, a sanctuary for the worship of the nymphs, but also the remains of the oldest baptistry in Christendom. From the hot, dry courtyard I ventured further down by the narrow stone stairs and through underground passages decorated with icons of the saint, while the air became cooler and the walls and floors dripped, to a dank underground chapel, which may or may not have housed mortal remains below the glass floor panel.

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Back up top in the busy streets, I passed an old fashioned cobbler and key cutter’s shop, painted bright red, advertised out front by a simulacrum of a cobbler which slowly brought its wooden hammer down over and over onto a shoe on a last. This quaint advertising isn’t uncommon here. Later I saw a similar advertisement for another key cutter, but as a still life, and another for a bakery, life-size, and holding out a basket of various breads.

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I heard live music (another rehearsal!) and followed the sound, coming to the Ancient Agora, where a band was practising  for one of the August Full Moon concerts. In ancient Greek and Roman times, the agora of any place was the chief market place and administrative centre, where all business, commercial and civic, took place. This one originated from about C2nd BC, and was used right through to the C5th AD, when it was abandoned as an administrative centre and only the shops continued to be used, some right up till C14th AD.

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The article at the link above concludes by calling it an “easily accessible archaeological site.” Ironic really, as apart from the rehearsing musicians, this site, like the Octagon and Palace of Galerius, was closed.

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Thessaloniki – August 2015

I’m having breakfast in the breakfast room at Plaza Hotel, Thessaloniki. Every time I think of the hotel I begin to hear Ian Moss singing the Cold Chisel song. This is a nice hotel though, not like the one in the song. The rooms and furnishings are comfortable, with original paintings. Although the bones of the building are old, the bathroom fittings are new. The staff are kind and sweet. This morning, the waitress handed me my big mug without my asking for one. If you’ve read my blog before you’ll know I can’t be having with the little cups that are ubiquitous in hotels.

I had about €80 with me from my trip in 2013, and I’d forgotten to get cash from the ATM at Athens airport. During the night I’d woken feeling a bit nervous because I had only about €40 left after the taxi and dinner, so I knew it had to be my first priority. That and a SIM card.

DSC06715I got directions in the morning from the receptionist and within five minutes found a plethora of imposing looking banks. Terry Pratchett correctly makes the observation that banks are always built to look like temples.
While all Greek banks don’t necessarily have columns, they frequently resemble Neo-classic type mansions. Happily, there are plenty of ATMs and contrary to what people in Australia believe because of the horror media stories, mine happily dispensed €600 without a blink.

Next for the SIM card. I followed my receptionist’s directions and while she didn’t know the name of the shop, I recognised the Germanos sign from a distance. It’s really cheap in Greece compared to Australian roaming, and definitely the way to go. For a month’s worth of calls, texts and 1.5 Gb of data, as well as the card, it was €17, or about $26.50. I pay $40-50 a month at home, without paying for the SIM card. A tip in case you decide to do this. You must take your passport with you as a security measure to buy a Greek number. Some people may have a problem with this but I don’t.

My fiscal wherewithal and communications sorted, and with them my feelings of security, I set out in search of the ancient architectural beauties of Thessaloniki.

There are churches. Many churches. Grandiose Byzantine structures, massive, beautiful, well kept and still actively used. While looking at them, I saw people of all ages lighting candles and kissing icons. DSC06586While the history of churches can be interesting, if you know me, you’ll know that they’re not nearly old enough to captivate me for long.

I wandered off to look at the triumphal Arch of Galerius, a Roman governor and later Emperor, who died, as many did, prematurely and horribly.

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The arch is illustrated with his defeat of the Persians, and is impressive even now.

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I found the Palace complex, which looked well kept, but was locked, with a sign saying it was open Monday to Thursday. I thought this was odd, as most ancient sites are open Tuesday to Sunday, and only closed on Mondays. I was able to look down on it from the perimeter but I like to read interpretive signs, or even simple labelling of the buildings to fully appreciate a site. The signs were there, but out of reach.

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Nearby are the ruins of the Octagon, part of the palace complex, in which can be seen from the street above the remains of extensive mosaic floors. It too was locked, the province at the moment of only a couple of cats.DSC06517