The capital of Thessaly, Larissa is a fun-loving university town off the tourist trail. With 8,000 years of history the city rests under an acropolis that has layers of ancient, Byzantine and Ottoman remains.
Hippocrates, the father of medicine spent the last decade of his life in ancient Larissa, and there’s a small monument at the place where his tomb was rediscovered in the 19th century.
In 2015 the many thousands of objects unearthed at Larissa’s ancient sites were put on show at the excellent Diachronic Museum.
Come here before a whirlwind tour through the ages in the city centre, via an Ottoman covered marketplace, a Byzantine basilica and a Hellenistic theatre from the 3rd century BC in almost perfect condition.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Larissa:
1. Diachronic Museum
In 2015 Larissa moved its material history into a brand new museum amid pine trees on the Mezourlo Hill in the south of the city.
The museum was many years in the making, and an initial architectural competition was held way back in 1984. The exhibition begins in the Palaeolithic period and ends when Larissa was liberated from Ottoman rule in 1881. Much of what you see was excavated in Larissa, Karditsa and Trikala in the 20th century and is laid out according to age and geography.
There are building fragments like columns and capitals, steles, Byzantine icons, sumptuous vases and jugs, reliefs, jewellery, funerary art, coins and mosaics.
You could easily pass half a day immersed in Larissa’s ancient, medieval and early modern history.
2. Ancient Theatre “A”
Larissa’s heavyweight monument is a theatre that took shape at the start of the 3rd century BC when Thessaly was under the yoke of the Kingdom of Macedonia.
At the southern foot of Larissa’s acropolis, the theatre is acclaimed as one of the greatest monuments of the period.
It was used for theatrical and musical performances, as well as for religious events and Thessalian political meetings.
The architecture as we see it now is from the Roman period when the theatre was converted into an arena (capacity of 12,000), with ten stairways on eleven tiers and 25 rows of marble seats.
Above some of the seats are inscriptions of names, most likely belonging to the Thessalian representatives.
3. St Achilles Basilica
At the top of Larissa’s acropolis are the remains of a large basilica that went up in the 6th century AD. The basilica was built over the tomb of St Achilles.
Although only the ground floor and foundations have been preserved, there are some things to look out for: On the narthex is beautiful Byzantine mosaic flooring, while below are two vaulted tombs, still decorated with painted crosses.
Due to their lower position, it is believed that these tombs are considerably older than the church above, and the tomb in the tomb in the north aisle once held the remains of St Achilles who died in 330 AD.
4. Monument to Hippocrates
The father of medicine spent the final ten years of his life in Larissa in the middle of the 4th century BC. And in 1826 his tomb was rediscovered purely by chance after a flood, and identified by an inscription in Ancient Greek.
Now there’s a modern monument to the man just next to Alcazar Park on Larissa’s northern outskirts on the road to the village of Giannouli.
This memorial was raised in 1978 and has a sign in Ancient Greek that reads, “The father of medicine, Hippocrates”. Under the statue at the place where the tomb was supposedly found is a small museum with a copy of the slab covering Hippocrates tomb, Hippocratic writings on marble tablets and photos of ancient medical instruments.
5. Alcazar Park
People have been coming to relax at this spot on the banks of the Pineios River for more than a century.
One of the best things about this place is the way the river has a cooling effect in summer.
This land was originally used for horse shows from the late 19th century to 1937, after which time the park became a zoo which stayed open until 1990. Now it’s a well-appointed urban park, with a pond, tree-lined paths, lawns, a cafe, outdoor theatre, children’s playground and a mini-golf course.
Built north of the St Achilles Basilica at the highest point of the acropolis in the late 15th century, the Bezesteni is one of the most enigmatic Ottoman monuments in Greece.
Measuring 20 metres by 30, it was a covered textile market, which once had 21 shops inside, each covered with tiles.
Of the four original portals, only the southern one survives, but it’s not hard to see the intricacy of the stonework in the arch.
It is also believed that marble blocks from the ancient temple to Athena Polias were used in the construction.
Later the Bezesteni doubled as a fort and as the treasury for Ottoman Larissa.
7. Folklore Historical Museum
This museum is all about the folk culture of the Thessaly region from the 16th century to the middle of the 20th century.
Numbering 20,000 pieces, the exhibitions examine pre-industrial life in this part of Greece, documenting skills and crafts like weaving, embroidery, wood carving, pottery and religious and secular silverwork.
The museum also has an extensive archive of black and white photographs, as well as traditional costumes, prints and painted art.
8. Ancient Theatre “B”
West of Ancient Theatre “A” is a theatre from Larissa’s Roman period.
Sadly the theatre’s slope was levelled in the 1950s before the monument was rediscovered in 1978. In its time this would have been an awesome sight, with an orchestra almost 30 metres in diameter and 14 stairways leading up the tiers.
Only the two lowest rows of seat have been restored, but you can see the foundations of the scene, up to 60 centimetres in height.
9. Municipal Art Gallery
In 1981 the high-profile surgeon C.I. Katsigras donated his art collection to the city, so founding the Municipal art Gallery.
Katsigras assembled his collection in the 1950s and 60s, and in it are some of the biggest names from Greek art world of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Just by way of introduction there are pieces by Georgios Jakobides, Nikolaos Gyzis (a member of the Munich School), Konstantinos Volanakis (the father of Greek seascapes), Demetrios Galanis (a close friend of Picasso) and Konstantinos Parthenis, a pioneering modernist.
The museum has a cafeteria and has a calendar of free workshops and lectures.
10. Byzantine Baths
Early Christian bathing complexes have been uncovered in two places in the centre of Larissa.
On Lamprouli Square, northeast of St Achilles Basilica is a set of two baths dating to the 6th century AD and most likely connected to the church.
There’s a slightly older and larger site at Blana Square, made up of three rooms and built in the 400s.
Like the baths on Lamprouli Square these would have been part of an early Christian basilica and would have closed when the Byzantine citadel was completed by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century.
11. Pappas Mill
Well worth a look in summer is this former industrial flourmill established in 1893. Pappas Mill, with its striking four-storey facade burnt down in 1920, but was soon back in business in 1921. Since the 2000s the mill has been regenerated as a cultural centre with art studios, a dance school, theatre and puppet theatre.
The mill is the HQ for Larissa’s philharmonic orchestra and there’s a neat outdoor cinema screening movies in the summer.
If you stop by on an ordinary afternoon you can take a seat at the bar’s outdoor tables and sip a cool drink in this fine old setting.
12. Ottoman Baths
One sight that may pass you by if you don’t know what you’re looking for is Ottoman Larissa’s Great Hammam.
Dating to between the 16th and 18th centuries, it sits on the corner of Venizelos and Filellinon Streets.
Interestingly, the hammam was no longer used for bathing a long time before Larissa was liberated at the end of the 19th century, and is today taken up by shops.
The building has an elongated outline and the thing that catches the eye is the main dome 13 metres in diameter.
13. Votive Stele to Poseidon
East of Larissa’s acropolis at the intersection of Demeter and Nikis Streets is a votive column from the 4th century BC that was found where it stands in an excavation in 1955. The column is fashioned from white marble, measuring 2.63 metres high and half a metre in diameter, and crowned with a pediment.
The simple three-word inscription is in honour of the god Poseidon, who was god of springs in Ancient Thessaly.
In 2010 it was decided that the column was important enough to move it into Larissa’s Diachronic Museum and erect a faithful replica in its place, with information explaining its origins.
14. Yeni Mosque
Larissa’s Archaeological Museum used to be set in this monument dating back to the 19th century, on 31st of August Street.
Distinguished by its minaret and three pointed domes (qubba), the Yeni Mosque conducted religious services up to 1924. From then on it was used as a cultural space, first as the municipal library and after the war as the Archaeological Museum.
As of 2018 there are plans to reconfigure the old mosque as a multimedia museum with exhibitions about Larissa’s monuments and culture.
15. Local Cuisine
If you’re looking for something simple and satisfying, psistaries and souvlatzidika are the way to go.
Psistaries are for grilled meat, priced by weight and served with salad and French fries, while souvlatzidika sell the beloved fast food souvlaki, which is normally grilled pork in a pita wrap with onions, tomatoes and tzatziki.
The regional spirit in Thessaly is tsipouro, which is a kind of brandy distilled from Pomace, the residue left behind in wine presses.
You’ll find it on the menu at tavernas and mezedopoleía (meze restaurants), and it comes in two varieties; pure and infused with aniseed.
Many social gatherings will entail a toast with tsipouro, and in restaurants it will be accompanied by cheese, olives, nuts, dried fruit and halva.