In 315 B.C.E. Cassander, king of Macedonia, once a general in the army of Alexander the Great, founded a new city in his kingdom. He named it for his wife, Thessalonike, daughter of Philip II of Macedon and the half sister of Alexander. In the centuries that followed, Thessalonica became the premier city of northern Greece, enduring and flourishing under Hellenistic, Roman, and Greek control. Many famous figures in world history played important roles throughout its lengthy and colorful existence, including Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, Cicero, Pompey, and Sulëyman I the Magnificent, among others. But no resident or visitor to Thessalonica had a greater influence on the city than an obscure Christian missionary who visited there in the first century, Paul of Tarsus. The first New Testament writing is believed to be Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. Modern Thessaloniki (biblical Thessalonica), second only to Athens among the cities of Greece, is easily reached by automobile or by frequent flights from Athens. Although its ancient ruins and monuments are overshadowed by those of Athens, this city is well worth visiting for its fine archaeological museum and as a point of departure for the spectacular Royal Tombs at Vergina, home to the amazing riches of the family of Alexander the Great. Increasingly, more of ancient Thessalonica is being unearthed by archaeologists and made available to public view. According to Strabo, Thessalonica was established at the site of ancient Therme and formed from the incorporation of twenty-five smaller villages. The ancient city was laid out according to the Hippodamian plan, that is, in rectangular blocks. Its development was encouraged by its fine port and, during the Roman period, by being made the capital of Macedonia. When the Romans connected the Via Egnatia, the historic road linking east and west, to Thessalonica, the city prospered even more. The Roman orator Cicero was exiled in Thessalonica (58–57 B.C.E.) and wrote to his friend Atticus on July 21, 57 B.C.E., that he had delayed leaving the city “owing to the constant traffic along the road” (the Via Egnatia; M. Tullius Cicero, Letters 69).
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