The city of Salonica lies on a fine bay, and presents an attractive appearance from the harbor, rising up the hill in the form of an amphitheater. On all sides, except the sea, ancient walls surround it, fortified at the angles by large, round towers and crowned in the center, on the hill, by a respectable citadel. I suppose that portions of these walls are of Hellenic, and perhaps, Pelasgic date, but the most are probably of the time of the Latin crusaders’ occupation, patched and re-paired by Saracens and Turks. We had come to Thessalonica on St. Paul’s account, not expecting to see much that would excite us, and we were not disappointed. When we went ashore we found ourselves in a city of perhaps sixty thousand inhabitants, commonplace in aspect, altho its bazaars are well filled with European goods, and a fair display of Oriental stuffs and antiquities, and animated by considerable briskness of trade. I presume there are more Jews here than there were in Paul’s time, but Turks and Greeks, in nearly equal numbers, form the bulk of the population.
In modern Salonica there is not much respect for pagan antiquities, and one sees only the usual fragments of columns and sculptures worked into walls or incorporated in Christian churches. But those curious in early Byzantine architecture will find more to interest them here than in any place in the world except Constantinople. We spent the day wandering about the city, under the guidance of a young Jew, who was without either prejudices or information. On our way to the Mosque of St. Sophia, we passed through the quarter of the Jews, which is much cleaner than is usual with them. These are the descendants of Spanish Jews, who were expelled by Isabella, and they still retain, in a corrupt form, the language of Spain. In the doors and windows were many pretty Jewesses; banishment and vicissitude appear to agree with this elastic race, for in all the countries of Europe Jewish women develop more beauty in form and feature than in Palestine. We saw here and in other parts of the city a novel head-dress, which may commend itself to America in the revolutions of fashion. A great mass of hair, real or assumed, was gathered into a long, slender, green bag, which hung down the back and was terminated by a heavy fringe of silver. Otherwise, the dress of the Jewish women does not differ much from that of the men; the latter wear a fez or turban, and a tunic which reaches to the ankles, and is bound about the waist by a gay sash or shawl.
The Mosque of St. Sophia, once a church, and copied in its proportions and style from its name-sake in Constantinople, is retired, in a delightful court, shaded by gigantic trees and cheered by a fountain. So peaceful a spot we had not seen in many a day; birds sang in the trees without disturbing the calm of the meditative pilgrim. In the portico and also in the interior are noble columns of marble and verd-antique, and in the dome is a wonderfully quaint mosaic of the Transfiguration. We were shown also a magnificent pulpit of the latter beautiful stone cut from a solid block, in which it is said St. Paul preached. As the Apostle, according to his custom, reasoned with the people out of the Scriptures in a synagogue, and this church was not built for centuries after his visit, the statement needs confirmation; but pious ingenuity suggests that the pulpit stood in a subterranean church underneath this. I should like to believe that Paul sanctified this very spot with his presence; but there is little in its quiet seclusion to remind one of him who had the reputation when he was in Thessalonica of one of those who turn the world upside down.