Every year, the European Union designates one of its member countries as the site of a cultural capital. The member country then selects a city to host a year-long celebration of regional, national, and international art. Thessaloniki, cultural capital of Europe for 1997, is Greece's second city. It was also the second city of Byzantium, after Constantinople. More Balkan than sun-drenched Athens, the city has a unique character, born of an imposing industrial present and a past stretching back to Alexander the Great.
Surely the highlight of Thessaloniki's year has been the "Treasures of Mount Athos" exhibition, which began June 21 and will end Dec. 31. Other cultural events have crowded the calendar almost each day of the year. In May, the Royal National Theatre of London performed "King Lear," with Ian Holm. The Toronto Symphony Orchestra performed in July. Thessaloniki rocked to the sounds of U2 in September.
Since Sept. 23, the Tellogleion Foundation, a large art gallery on the grounds of Aristotle University, has opened its doors to a sumptuous comprehensive exhibition of 120 paintings, tapestries, and sculpture showing the presence of Alexander the Great in European art.