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The mainland of Northern Greece isn't quite as popular with foreign tourists as are the islands in the Aegean. Most of northern Greece is the ancient region of Macedonia, birthplace of Alexander the Great. It's a great place to sail, very green, unlike many of the islands, with protected harbors and many resort areas, especially for Greeks who don't need to leave the mainland for beaches and blue Aegean.


Alexander the Great is the leader most associated with Hellenistic Greece and the spread of classical Greek culture. He was the son of Philip II of Macedonia, born in 356 BC. Tutored by Aristotle, Alexander developed an interest in philosophy, science and medicine.

An extraordinary military commander, it was Alexander's dream to fulfill his father's desire to conquer the Persian army. He succeeded and created an empire that stretched from India in the east to Egypt in the south. He accomplished all this in a reign of less than thirteen years; he died at age thirty-three.

His legacy was the spread of the Greek language and Greece's cultural advances in government, science, and the arts throughout his empire.

There was no rightful heir. Rule of his kingdom was planned to be shared between a mentally incapable, illegitimate son of his father's and a posthumously-born son of Alexander himself. His generals began to rule in the absence of a leader, but they didn't get along, and the empire crumbled, just in time to be swept up by the Roman Empire in the second century BC.

Thessaloniki is the second largest city in Greece. At left is the tower that often symbolizes the city, now called the White Tower. Originally, this harborfront tower (along with one other that remains) was part of a large medieval system of city fortifications on the site of earlier walls.

You can see that the tower was actually originally stone, not white. During the eighteenth century it was called the Bloody Tower, owing to the many executions that took place there while it was a prison. Eventually, the ruling Turks whitewashed the tower literally, and its infamous history figuratively. Now it's a place to climb to a view of the harbor and the clean, vibrant boulevards and parks of Thessaloniki's waterfront.

Agios Ioannis, or Saint John's Day, occurs on June 24. The holiday celebrates the birth of Saint John the Baptist. On the night before the holiday, there's a celebration, like the one shown at right. Children, mostly teenagers, built these bonfires, about half a dozen of them, about ten feet apart. Then for hours, the kids take a running start and jump over each bonfire, the flames of which are at least half their own height. Sometimes, when they lose their rhythm, the kids walk around a fire and dash toward the next one. The parents stand around on the edges of this burning mess, chatting and barely noticing the embers floating off of their children.

At this celebration, there was a second set of bonfires, slightly smaller, for the ten-and-under children to jump.