GAGAN RISM discovers that there’s more to Greece than Athens.
That archaeological sites could employ someone specially to let children connect with their ancient heritage was something I had not imagined. My recent trip to Thessaloniki in Greece changed my perception.
Thessaloniki is the second largest city of Greece after its capital Athens. Like Athens, Thessaloniki or Salonika too is replete with ancient ruins. Roman Agora or the ancient market place on Filipou Street is one largest of such sites. Stepan, whom I thought was a guide, showed me around the place. Later I learnt that his job was to educate school-children about their heritage through these sites. With a doctorate in Archaeology, Stepan’s job includes devising games in cyberspace as well.
Social hub era
The Roman Agora or market square, which flourished under Roman rule in 3** century BC, was a kind of modern day plaza which people used to visit for shopping, dining, debating on political matters, enjoying a steam spa in a public bath, watching musical performances, poetry recitals… all in one area. It was thus a hub of political, social as well as economic life.
The entire site is painstakingly excavated and preserved. A walk behind rows of shops leads to a closed passage-way meant for warehouses. Later, citizens started using it as reservoir for storing water, which had become almost a scarcity during Turkish invasion in the 15th century. From small ducts on the upper side of the wall water used to be poured inside. To the right of the passage outside is a large ground with an open air auditorium in one corner where plays and poetry recitals were performed. The auditorium is still functioning and used for the same purpose. The performers use the same Green Room that their counterparts used in 3** century BC. The only change is the introduction of lights and mikes.
Rotunda, to the west of Melenikou Street, is yet another 4** century BC structure built by Roman emperor Galerius who intended it to be tomb but later converted into a church and then a mosque under Turkish invasion. The dome is unique for the golden mosaic work from inside.
Of the Byzantine churches scattered around the city, the St. Dmitrios and the Metropolis Church stand out for their beautiful mosaics. At St. Dmitrios’ Church at Ag. Dmitriou one can find candles 3-4 meters long priced at €7, €10 or €15 per candle depending on the length and width. The Metropolis Church on Mitropoleos Street is a feast for the eyes. Huge paintings depicting stories from the Bible cover its walls, pillars and ceiling.
White Tower or Lefkos Pyrgos on Nikiforis Street was actually a prison built by the Turkish invaders in the15** century. Located at waterfront, to its right is the sea and on the left the sprawling city. The walkway connecting White Tower is accessible from any square or by lane.
The experience of being a tourist was great. People are friendly and supportive. The only thing was the language; not many people speak English.
But most shops had *Made in China’ labels on everything from jewellery to electronics! Looking for something Greek in Greece was the biggest pain! The biggest surprise was Nargis: the only Indian restaurant in the town. Nargis was Google’s gift to me. Snuggled quietly at the back of A. Svolou Street, it feels like home! The ambience is Indian; from curtains to decoration, brass utensils, icon of Hanuman, Amar Chitra Katha books and, surprisingly, pictures of Nargis. The owner is a Greek who seems to be great fan of Nargis whose pictures are in every nook and corner. A Bangladeshi cook and Indonesian waitress serve spicy Indian food in a restaurant owned by a Greek! The food was good and affordable!
Gagan is a Research Scholar, IIT Bombay, and a freelance writer.
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