Thessaloniki City Walls

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At one time Thessaloniki was completely surrounded by massive city walls. They ran all along the northern side of the city, descending down the hills on the the eastern and western flanks down to the sea, and continuing along the seafront. They were constructed during the Byzantine era in the 3rd, 4th and 5th centuries AD, with later modifications by the Ottomans.

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As the city grew and expanded, large sections were demolished as part of the Ottoman authorities restructuring of the city. The walls along the sea wall were the first to go at the end of the 19th century, followed by large sections in the lower, flat area of the city. However substantial sections remain along the top of the hill and on the east side of the old city.

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We climbed the steep hill beside the walls up to the Trigonion Tower at the north east corner of the fortifications on a hot afternoon. There were great views down to the bay. I could just about make out the distant mountains, including Mount Olympus, but view was hazy and they don’t show up on my photos.

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The tower was built in the 15th Century on the foundations of a previous, Byzantine structure.

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The walls are constructed of stone with some horizontal bands of brickwork. I reckon that the stonework would have been whitewashed (I saw evidence of this along a more sheltered, less weathered, section) with the brick work forming contrasting bands like the old walls of Constantinople. Caernarfon Castle was constructed like this deliberately to mimic Constantinople.

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There’s a substantial stretch at the top of the old city, which we followed before descending back down towards the sea front,

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The White Tower

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The White Tower, which stands on a prominent spot on the sea front in the city centre is probably the best known sight in Thessaloniki.

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It was built in 15th century as a fort as part of the city’s defences and replaced an older 12th century Byzantine fortification. It was later reconstructed by the Ottomans.

It doesn’t look particularly white these days. It got it’s name when it was whitewashed at the end of the 19th Century, but this has largely worn away leaving the natural honey coloured stone visible. The paint might not have stuck but the name has!

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Originally, it was surrounded by defensive walls that enclosing the tower and which were could support heavy guns, but they were demolished at the beginning of the 20th century. These walls are clearly visible in some old photographs and the foundations can still be seen.

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Today it’s a museum containing a very interesting exhibition about the history of the city and with great views over the city from the top of the tower. Entry was a relatively modest 4 Euros, which included an audio guide.

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Shrewsbury Abbey

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Shrewsbury Abbey is a large Medieval church standing on the opposite side of the English Bridge from the old city centre. As with many old churches it’s been altered and adapted over time and, consequently, displays a mixture of styles – Romanesque, Gothic (the later, Perpendicular style) and Victorian Neo-Gothic.

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It was founded as a Benedictine Monastery by Roger de Montgomery in 1083 although there had been a Saxon church on site before the Conquest.

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The church which survives today was originally part of a complex of buildings which, other than a few remnants, are long gone – some demolished following the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of King Henry VIII and others by Thomas Telford when he built the main road that runs alongside the Abbey.

After the dissolution of the monasteries there were plans for the church to be designated a Cathedral, but that never came to fruition. It continued to serve as a place of worship, though, as a rather grand Parish Church.

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The Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, written by Ellis Peters, are inspired by medieval Shrewsbury. Cadfael is a Welsh Benedictine monk at the Abbey in the first half of the 12th century. He was played by Dereck Jacobi in the TV series of the stories, although it was filmed in Hungary rather than Shrewsbury.

The Abbey used to have a shrine to St Winifride, a 7th Century Welsh saint. In the 12th Century Monastaries wanted to have relics which would attract Pilgrims and earn them ncome so the Abbot had the remains of Winifride brought from her place of burial in Gwytherin in North Wales. The shrine was destroyed and the relics can now be found in Shrewsbury’s Roman Catholic cathedral and Holywell in North Wales. However, there’s a window devoted to the saint in the Abbey, installed in 1992, designed by stained glass artist Jane Gray.

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There’s also a window by the same artist celebrating the fictional monk, Cadfael.

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The Abbey was built in the Romanesque (Norman) style with substantial round pillars supporting rounded arches and a substantial part of the original building still stands in the central section of the Nave.

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It was remodelled in the 14th Century when the tower was built. This required replacing the Romanesque arches at the west end of the nave with bays with stronger pointed Gothic arches supported by slender columns.

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After the dissolution the west end of the Abbey was closed off and fell into ruin. There was a wall at the end of the Romanesque nave. The west end was rebuilt in a Neo- Gothic style during the Victorian era, designed by John Loughborough Pearson.

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IMG_2331A new clerestorey was also created above the Romanesque and Gothic nave.

 

A war memorial tablets close to the west entry of the church includes the name of the First World War  poet Wilfred Owen.

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Outside the Abbey, there are still some remnants of the monastery

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A day in Shrewsbury

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After we’d checked out of our apartment in Arden House, Church Stretton, we drove the 10 miles or so to Shrewsbury to take a look round the historic city. It’s only a few miles from the Welsh Border and so was a major outpost of the Marcher Lords in Medieval times. In the 14th and 15th centuries it was an important commercial centre, mainly due to the wool trade. The city was largely bypassed by the Industrial Revolution due to its isolation from other large manufacturing towns and ports, which probably accounts for the preservation of it’s Medieval centre.

We parked up in the Park and Ride. The centre of the city is still based on the old Medieval street plan and constrained within a loop of the River Severn (almost creating an island), so driving in the city centre is best left to the locals. It’s free to park and the bus fare was very reasonable – a lot cheaper than a city centre car park.

The bus dropped us off in High Street, close to the old Market Hall

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Today the old building has been converted into a cinema showing Art films.

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The town centre is packed with timber-framed black & white buildings, steep narrow streets and alleyways. There are over 660 listed buildings. I probably went rather OTT taking photographs of them!

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There are old buildings from other periods too, particularly Georgian

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After a coffee and a bite to eat, we wandered over to the old castle. It’s a red sandstone building constructed during the reign of Edward I (1239 – 1307). It was built on the site of a Norman timber Castle was built for Roger de Montgomery in about 1070.

Admission to the Castle grounds are free, with a charge to enter the Castle and which houses the Shropshire Regimental Museum.

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Directly across the road from the castle, this building is the city library.

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The building was the home of Shrewsbury Public School from 1550 until 1882 when it was handed over to the Council and converted to a public “Free Library and Museum”, opening in 1885. Charles Darwin was born and educated in Shrewsbury, and attended Shrewsbury School when it was located in the building. There’s a statue of him right in front of it.

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Near to Darwin, there’s a bust of the Shropshire author, Mary Webb.

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Shrewsbury Abbey stands across the English Bridge (one of the two bridges that cross the Severn in the city centre).

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The Abbey was founded as a Benedictine Monastery by Roger de Montgomery in 1083 on the site of an existing Saxon church. After the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of King Henry VIII the part of the Abbey building which survived continued as a Parish Church – as it is to this day. (Abbey web site)

It’s also the “home” of the fictional detective monk, Cadfael.

We arrived just as one of their regular midday concerts was starting. IMG_2325

We decided to sit and enjoy the music before exploring the building.

Afterwards the sun was beginning to shine so we crossed the English Bridge and took a stroll along the river.

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On reaching the Welsh Bridge (with the Theatre Severn Arts complex on the other side of the river) we headed back towards the city centre

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We grabbed a coffee and then wandered round the streets and alley ways ending up at the ruins of Old St Chads church.

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Originally, there was a large medieval church on the site. However

by the end of the 18th century the large but ageing building …….. had fallen into disrepair, and cracks had appeared in the tower. The great engineer, Thomas Telford, advised that it was in danger of collapse, and he was right. One morning in 1788 the parishioners awoke to find they had a pile of rubble but no church. (St Chad’s website)

Today, all that’s left is a side chapel surrounded by a disused churchyard

By now time was getting on, so it was time to catch the bus back to the Park and Ride and set off on the journey back home after a good break in Shropshire.

Howden

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After I’d had a look around the Minster in Howden, I decided to have a mooch around the town starting in the town square, which is immediately in front of the east end of the Minster.

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It was a thriving town in medieval times with a connection to the Bishops of Durham. They would stay in the town when travelling down to London and had a palace built here. The remains, the Bishop’s Manor, is just off the market square and around the corner from the Minster .

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Originally there was a complex range of buildings, inside an irregular walled courtyard. But the majority of these buildings were demolished in the late 16th century. Nevertheless the remaining structure is quite impressive for a small town.

The Minister towers over the buildings in the town centre

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The old streets are narrow and twisty, probably reflecting their medieval origin.

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but many of the buildings are Georgian town houses built for professional men and tradesmen

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With a few grand houses

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This is the town’s war memorial. An ornate Gothic monument.

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During the First World War an airship station was built just to the north of the town, near Spaldington. The airships based here provided protection for ports and shipping along the east coast. After the war the station was closed but the hangers were converted into a manufacturing facility for airships including the R100, designed by Sir Barnes Wallis (who later designed the Vickers Wellington bomber invented the “bouncing bomb” used by the Dambusters).  The author Nevil Shute Norway (better known as Nevil Shute) was part of the team that created the R100 and lived in the town.

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Beverley

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I’m working in East Yorkshire this week, staying in Goole. I had an early start on Monday so had booked to stay over on Sunday evening. Sunday looked a promising day and I didn’t fancy being stuck in front of the telly watching the Wimbledon men’s final (I don’t get tennis I’m afraid) so I decided to drive over the Pennines early afternoon and find something to do. The small, historic town of Beverley is about 30 minutes further east from Goole and as I’ve never been there before (only seen it signposted off the motorway when driving over to Hull) I decided it might be a good bet to keep me occupied. I wasn’t wrong.

The town grew up around a monastery that was founded at the beginning of the 8th Century and there’s been a church here ever since. Today the town’s main attraction is the Minster which was built between 1220 and around 1420.

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Although it has the size and grandeur of a cathedral, it isn’t the seat of a Bishop, and only has the status of a Parish Church.

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The town has an attractive shopping street. Unfortunately it is mainly populated by the main high street chains. There were plenty of pubs and places to eat – a reflection of it being a tourist destination.

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Most of the buildings in the town centre are Georgian and Victorian but there are some traces of the town’s medieval heritage. The North Bar is one of them.

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It’s the last remaining gateway that protected the entrance to the town and at one time had  a drawbridge. There were originally five but the other four are long gone.

A short distance away is another Medieval Gothic church, St Mary’s. Like the Minster, a fine example of Gothic architecture. It dates from the 12th century and so predates the minster. It underwent a major restoration between 1844 and 1876 under the successive supervision of Augustus Welby Pugin, his son E. Welby Pugin, and Sir Gilbert Scott. So it’s appearance probably reflects the Victorian take on Gothic like many other churches (including our own Wigan Parish church)

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There’s a medieval building more or less opposite St Mary’s – now converted into an up-market shopping centre

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Lot’s of attractive Georgian buildings around the town.

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There are also examples of other architectural styles. This is the local library built in the early 20th Century. I’d probably describe it as Edwardian Baroque

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The old Corn Exchange, from the same period.

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And an Art Deco style façade in amongst the Georgian buildings on the corner of the Saturday Market and main shopping street, Toll Gavel.

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An interesting town, well worth the diversion (as the Michelin Guide would put it). It rather reminded me of a smaller scale version of York, minus the medieval walls.

A short, hot visit to Lincoln

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I hardly had time to draw breath after my break at the beginning of July. The first day back I had to drive over to east Lincolnshire as I was delivering some training Tuesday and Wednesday. I then had to drive over to Coventry on Wednesday afternoon, where I was staying overnight before a breakfast meeting the next day. No rest for the wicked as they say!

I set off early afternoon on the hottest day of the year so far (32 C). It’s not a great drive, M61, M60, M62 then a long run down the A1 which was only two lanes for most of the way. I had to cut across country past Lincoln and as I had never visited this historic city decided to stop for a couple of hours to look round. The core of the old city is on the top of a hill, but I managed to find a space on the car park on Westgate, avoiding the need for a steep climb in the sweltering heat.

A short walk and I was in the main square at the top of Castle Hill facing the Tourist Office which is located on the ground floor of this rather grand, well restored 16th century townhouse

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and facing the castle entrance

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and the cathedral

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The streets around the centre, many of them climbing up steeply to the top of the hill, are lined with old buildings – build from the Medieval through to the Georgian period. Most are converted into shops and places to eat and drink to serve the visitors from across the world (including Wigan!).

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The castle was originally built by the Normans after the conquest, occupying the site of a pre-existing Roman fortress. There’s a complete circuit of walls on which, for a fee,  visitors can promenade. Access to the main area within the walls, where there is a large, pleasant lawn, is free, though.

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It was late in the day, though and I had to make a choice between walking round he walls in the harsh sunlight or to have a look round inside the massive Gothic cathedral. So after exploring the castle grounds I decided to tour the cathedral. 

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It’s a massive Gothic structure with some Norman features, particularly the main west entrance. There are three massive towers. Two at the front behind the entrance screen, and a central tower (the largest of the three). At one time these towers were surmounted with steeples and the cathedral was reputably the tallest building in the known world for a time in the Middle Ages

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Given the limited time I had, I only got a taste of the city. You could certainly fill a couple of days looking around, exploring and visiting the sights. I guess I’ll have to go back one day. It’s a pity it’s such a pain of a journey!