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Roman ruins in the middle of town

One of the things I enjoy about walking round cities built on ancient foundations, is that you can turn a corner and find yourself face-to-face with 2000 year old remains, just sitting there in the middle of the street! That was certainly the case with Thessaloniki. There was a large Roman forum, still right in the middle of the city, which surprisingly had escaped being built on. One of the things I particularly liked about it was the Roman baths – but not any old Roman baths like I’m used to seeing all over the empire. This was actually a set of individual bath tubs, set in a circle, so that you could sit and chat while you were soaking. I’ve seen communal latrines before at Roman sites, but never communal bath tubs.

Roman baths - a circle of individual bath tubs!

Another impressive Roman monument was the so-called Rotunda. It was built by the emperor Galerius around AD300, and was possibly intended to be his mausoleum. It certainly looks very like the existing mausoleums of other Roman emperors, particularly that of Diocletian in Split, who was a contemporary. However, Galerius was never actually buried in it, and within 100 years Christianity became officially tolerated in the Roman empire, and the building was subsequently converted into a church through the addition of an apse. A thousand years later, the Ottomans invaded and converted it into a mosque by adding a minaret. When the Ottomans were kicked out in the late 19th century, it reverted to being a church, and today is dedicated to Ayios Georgios, known to us as St George. Although these days it is mostly a museum, it is still a consecrated church, and occasional services are still held inside it.

The Rotunda of Galerius / Church of St George

It was interesting to think about how the same building had been used, maintained and adapted for over 1700 years, though the specific use changed over time from a pagan building, to a church, then to a mosque, and back to a church again. Rather than knocking down a perfectly serviceable building when the official religion changed, the people just added bits on to the side and kept using it.