With a history dating back thousands of years, Thessaloniki has some of Greece’s most impressive ancient artefacts. But that doesn’t mean you need a classics degree to enjoy exploring its museums. While there are certainly plenty of ancient Macedonian masterpieces to be found here, contemporary art and Greece’s Olympic history will also vie for your attention.
Thessaloniki’s Archaeological Museum
Every list of museums in Thessaloniki must include the immense Archaeological Museum. Directly across from the Ioannis Vellidis Convention Centre, Thessaloniki’s Archaeological Museum houses one of Greece’s most extensive collections of prehistoric and ancient Macedonian relics. If you’re pressed for time, prioritise visiting the museum’s vast array of gold artefacts on the second floor. For those travelling with kids, be sure to visit the museum’s hi-tech exhibit on mosaics. Please keep in mind the Archaeological Museum reduces its ticket rate to €4 (£3.65) per person between 1 November and 31 March every year.
White Tower Museum
Strategically located by the sea, Thessaloniki’s 34-metre-tall (112ft) White Tower has had many names over the years. First christened the Lion Tower by the Ottomans, this 15th-century structure was later dubbed the Tower of Blood when it served as a prison. It was only after a paint job in the 19th century that it became known as the White Tower. You can learn more about the many roles the White Tower has played in its highly interactive museum and, just like the Archaeological Museum, you can snap up half-priced tickets between November and March.
Thessaloniki’s Water Supply Museum
From ancient marvels to modern engineering, let’s turn our attention now to Thessaloniki’s Water Supply Museum. Opened in the early 2000s, the Water Supply Museum allows visitors to tour the city’s old 19th-century pump house. Check out the boiler rooms and pumps that once served all of Thessaloniki’s water demands. You’ll find the Water Supply Museum in the Sfageia district, which is close to the trendy One Salonica Outlet Mall.
Thessaloniki’s Jewish Museum
Thessaloniki celebrates the many contributions of its Jewish population in a relatively new museum near the Church of Saint Menas. Interestingly, the building that now houses Thessaloniki’s Jewish Museum was once a bustling centre of finance and the headquarters for a prominent Jewish newspaper. “The exhibitions of the Jewish Museum are deeply political,” says Evangelos Hekimoglou, the chief curator of the museum. “Anti-Semitism, which tore apart Thessaloniki’s population during the early-20th century, is a clear political strategy that is formed during specific social circumstances that must be pinpointed.” Once you walk into this museum, you’ll see a startling collection of stone artefacts once part of a nearby Jewish necropolis. As you move up to the second floor, you’ll learn more about the Jewish experience in Thessaloniki with an assortment of photographs and documents.
State Museum of Contemporary Art (MOMus)
In the western portion of Thessaloniki, you’ll find the city’s most significant art museum: the State Museum of Contemporary Art. Interestingly, this museum’s main claim to fame is its massive collection of 20th-century Russian art. “ Thessaloniki is not just a large city in the north of Greece but a Balkan metropolis. Therefore, we want this museum to be worthy of the city it’s located in,” says Andreas Takis, chairman of the museum’s board. While there are dozens of works from Greek-born painters, the main draw here is the collection of canvasses by the likes of Wassily Kandinsky and El Lissitzky. With free admission, there’s no reason not to visit this acclaimed spot.
Thessaloniki’s Museum of Ancient Greek
If you ever wondered how the Ancients got their groove on, then you’ve got to check out Thessaloniki’s Museum of Ancient Greek, Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Musical Instruments. Although the instruments presented here aren’t original, they are all faithful reconstructions based on artworks from their respective eras. Particularly fortunate visitors might get to hear a few of these instruments during a live performance at the museum. You’ll find the Museum of Musical Instruments a short walk from the Jewish Museum of Thessaloniki.
Thessaloniki’s Museum of Ancient Greek
The best way to get a feel for the spirit of the historical region of Macedonia is to visit the Folklore and Ethnological Museum of Macedonia. Housed inside an early 20th-century government building, this museum has thousands of colourful artefacts spread across four floors. “Museums shouldn’t just be a place where we put exhibits on display. Especially with a folklore museum, where the subject in question is very much alive: folk culture should be in constant communication with society and give back to it,” said Vassilis Nitsiakos, chairman of the museum. Viewing all of these costumes, tools and household items will give you a great appreciation for the region’s complex identity. Be sure to check out the crowd-pleasing water-powered mill before finishing your tour. The Folk Life and Ethnological Museum is located close to the waterfront, by the Mediterranean Garden.
Thessaloniki’s super-modern Olympic Museum is the best place on earth to learn about these global games. A short walk from Aristotle University, the Olympic Museum measures almost 4,650 square metres (50,000 square feet) and hosts numerous displays dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Olympics. On top of learning about the Olympics, you might get to test your athleticism at the Olympic Museum’s interactive exhibits.
Museum of Byzantine Culture
We’ll end our list where we began – literally. The Museum of Byzantine Culture is right next to the Archaeological Museum and (surprise, surprise) houses relics from the Byzantine era. Today, there are about 3,000 artefacts arranged in this museum’s 11 rooms. Visitors will travel back to the days when Constantinople was the heart of Orthodox Christianity. “The Museum of Byzantine Culture was founded as a centre of study and preservation of the Byzantine civilisation. With a lifespan of over 1,000 years, this Empire has influenced all of its contemporaries and we still have a lot to learn about it,” archaeologist Andreas Kampanis says of the museum. In addition to elaborate Byzantine mosaics and icons, you’ll get to see weaponry, sculptures and sarcophagi that tell the story of Thessaloniki’s Byzantine era. Keep in mind that the Museum of Byzantine Culture occasionally waives its entrance fee, including on the first Sunday of every month between November and March.
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