Places to Visit in Thessaloniki: Arch of Galerius and Rotunda

At the beginning of the fourth century, great Roman Empire was ruled by four great emperors, in a new form of government called Tetrarchy. Four emperors ruled over four corners of the Roman Empire. One of them was Galerius, who ruled over Greece and the rest of the Balkans.

Arch of Galerius

Thessaloniki was his crown jewel and his most prosperous city. In Thessaloniki he built a palace for himself. Galerius was a great warrior renowned for defeating the Persians and capturing their capital. To commemorate his triumph, Galerius built a great Arch in Thessaloniki. The Arch of Galerius or Kamara as it is called was adorned with beautiful sculptures representing the famous battles fought in the campaign. Also the Emperor is depicted riding a powerful horse while his enemies surrender before him.

The Arch was comprised of four great columns decorated with statues towered by four powerful arches and a dome, four smaller columns were added to support the structure. Two great columns and one smaller still remain to this day. The sculptures are preserved in a fine condition, keeping the legacy of the Roman period alive. Today the Arch stands on what is now Egnatia & Dimitrios Gounari Street, and it is the main meeting point for the inhabitants of Thessaloniki.

The Arch was just a part of the grand complex Galerius built. It was connected to the Imperial Palace by the main city street colonnade and an archway led to the famous Rotunda. This way the main Imperial buildings were intertwined with the city itself, thus emphasizing the power of the Emperor.

Galerius built Rotunda as his mausoleum, it is an impressive ancient building that withstood the test of time and is enlisted on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Name Rotunda derives from its round foundation and cylindrical shape. It has an impressive dome 30m high where an “Occulus” was implemented — a round opening at the top of the dome letting the light in. It is an impressive feat of Roman engineering also seen on Pantheon in Rome.

During its 1700 year long history its use was changed many times. Originally it was meant to be a mausoleum, although many archaeologists dispute this claim and think it was initially used as a roman temple. From the 400 AD it is a Christian temple decorated with early Christian mosaics, sadly just a few fragments still remain.

After more than a millennium as a Christian church, Rotunda was converted in a mosque during the Ottoman rule in the year 1590 AD. The minaret was then built, and it still stands today as a testimony to Thessaloniki’s multicultural spirit. It was preserved when Rotunda was turned in a Christian Church once more after the liberation of Thessaloniki in 1912.

Today it is a church dedicated to Saint George but the name Rotunda prevailed due to the circular base and the cylindrical shape of the monument.

Rotunda is open on every day except Mondays. Opening hours are 08:30–15:00

This travel guide is brought to you by Hotel Rotonda Thessaloniki