Thessaloniki to Philippi and Beyond

We began the morning with a driving tour of Thessaloniki.  Thessaloniki is a massive Greek port city on the site of the ancient city of Thessalonica.  It has been constantly inhabited since ancient times passing through the hands of the Byazantine and Ottoman empires.  Today it is the second largest city in Greece and the largest university town in Greece, as well.

A fraction of the city of Thessaloniki with Mt. Olympus hovering far in the background
A fraction of the city of Thessaloniki with Mt. Olympus hovering far in the background

The primary monument is the White Tower, an Ottoman reconstruction of an earlier Byzantine structure.  At one time it was a notorious prison painted white to cover the blood stains running down its walls.  Today it is a modern museum of Thessalonica.  We visited it after a stroll down the seaside walkway that follows an earlier Byzantine sea wall.

The White Tower of Thessaloniki
The White Tower of Thessaloniki

We also drove by the Rotunda, originally the mausoleum for the Roman emperor Galerius, who was notorious for persecuting Christians early in the fourth century.  It was ironically converted to a church some time after.  We concluded the visit of Thessaloniki with a stop in the old town where we could get an overlook of the entire city.

A traditional spot for the baptism of Lydia
A traditional spot for the baptism of Lydia

The next stop was Philippi where we began our visit with a stop at a traditional site for the baptism of Lydia, one of the first converts in Europe after Paul crossed over from Asia Minor (Acts 16:11-15).  We had a short devotion with the running brook in the background.

Theater at Philippi ... with some modern equipment for modern performances
Theater at Philippi … with some modern equipment for modern performances

Our next stop was the site of the ancient city of Philippi, which caught us by surprise.  The site is not nearly as developed as some of the other other sites we visited.  With the exception of a few places cordoned off for active excavation, we were allowed to roam freely across the site.  What is remarkable about ancient Philippi is the number of very large Christian churches built around the fifth century.  The guide introduced us specifically to the octagonal church of St. Paul with its magnificent mosaic floor, complete with the signature of the artist!

Mosaic floor of the fifth century octagonal church of St. Paul ... with artist's signature
Mosaic floor of the fifth century octagonal church of St. Paul … with artist’s signature

The difference between Thessaloniki and Philippi could hardly be more stark.  One has grown into a massive living city; the other is an abandoned ruin.

Samothrace in the distance
Samothrace in the distance

We made a brief stop in Kavala, formerly Neapolis, where Paul disembarked on his way to Philippi, and then we drove a couple of hours to our final stop in the small city of Alexandroupoli.  The hotel is comfortable, though, and outside the rooms in the lawn that leads right up to the shore, we can see the island of Samothrace where Paul stopped briefly on his way from Troas to Philippi (Acts 16:11).  The island’s mountain tops were shrouded in clouds.

Tomorrow will be hard day.  We leave behind the travels of St. Paul for our ultimate destination in Istanbul, the former Constantinople.  But we have an international border to cross, hours of driving to complete, and a long detour to the site of Troy.  Next post from Istanbul.

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