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Aristotelous Square, The Jewel of Thessaloniki

Aristotelous Square Thessaloniki
View of the Thermaic Gulf from Aristotelous Square in Thessaloniki. Credit: Eleni Deli/ CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0

Aristotelous Square is the main city square of Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city and the capital of Macedonia.

Located along Nikis Avenue, near the city’s waterfront, or the paralia, Aristotelous is right in the center of it all in Thessaloniki.

The famous square was designed by the French architect Ernest Hébrard in 1918, but most of it was built decades later in the 1950’s following debates and arguments between the local authorities, the residents of the city, and the government.

Questions were continually raised about the funding and size of the project.

Many of the buildings which surround Aristotelous Square today have been renovated, and its northern areas were largely restored in the 2000’s.

But how does the modern look of the famous square compare to its original plans?

The original plans for Aristotelous Square included a massive statue of Alexander the Great and a different name, in fact. Credit: Public Domain

1917 fire in Thessaloniki spurred on construction of Aristotelous Square

The history of Aristotelous Square began just after the immense destruction of the great fire of 1917, which ruined a great deal of the city.

Prior to the fire, Thessaloniki lacked much of what was considered to be essential and characteristic in European architecture, namely large squares and monumental buildings.

During Ottoman occupation, the city grew organically with no comprehensive planning effort, leading to overpopulation within very narrow confinements and streets.

Aristotelous Square Thessaloniki
Aristotelous Square. Credit: Public Domain

Following the unexpected destruction of 1917, the Greek state determined that it would have the famous French architect, Ernest Hébrard, completely re-plan the city center of Thessaloniki. Hébrard accepted the offer.

Hébrard’s original name for the plaza was ”Alexander the Great Square,” with a huge statue of the Macedonian leader being planned for the middle of the open space, something that unfortunately did not come to pass.

Hébrard decided to build imposing facades on buildings, something that had been missing from the pre-fire architecture of the city.

Square plays an essential role in city life

What is known today as Thessaloniki’s Roman Agora was planned to be the Civic Square, the administrative center of the city. Credit: Public Domain

His well-thought plans actually incorporated a mixture of Byzantine and Western European elements, which would give Thessaloniki its totally unique architectural style.

The French architect intended to create another monumental space, the Civic Square, where the administrative center of the city would be located, but during construction, ruins of the Roman Agora were unearthed, leading to the architect’s plans remaining incomplete.

thessaloniki aristotelous square
Thessaloniki’s Roman Agora. Credit: Jean Housen /Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Despite the fact that Hébrard’s plans were never fully implemented, with Aristotelous Square being built to a more modest scale compared to its rather extravagant original ideas, it is still Greece’s most recognizable square.

It is a striking symbol of the city and plays an important role in the country’s cultural and political life.

Massive political rallies during the decades of the 1980’s and 1990’s, along with cultural events such as huge Christmas celebrations and other festivities continue to take place in Aristotelous Square, making it one of the most famous and beloved public spaces of Greece.

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