The Arch of Galerius (Kamara) is perhaps the most distinctive and interesting roman structure of Thessaloniki. It is also one of the most popular destinations of the city along with the White Tower for both locals and tourists.
The arch was commissioned as a triumphal monument by emperor Galerius in order to celebrate the victorious campaign against the Sassanid Persians in 298 A.D. and the capture of their capital Ctesiphon.
A monument that has many stories to tell
As an excellent sample of the roman monumental architecture of the 4th century A.D., it has wonderfully crafted marble panels on each pillar. They have decorative and narrative characteristics.
The sculpted decoration still impresses, while representations of certain events can be easily viewed and studied. While the purpose was to emphasize the triumph of Rome, it is of no surprise that the center of the scenes depicted is the emperor and the imperial family.
Emperor Galerius (Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus Augustus) is presented mounted while attacking, as an eagle bearing a victory wreath approaches him. The panel expresses the power of the Roman Caesar, a basic and crucial element of the Roman political theory.
The Persian soldiers are depicted significantly smaller in size while they can be easily distinguished by their oriental dressing. The emperor’s figure is dominant and the majority of the scenes is reffered to the battles and triumphs of the campaign. The presence of elephants and especially camels in the Northern pillar of the arch is a rather exotic addition that helps the viewer localize the events.
Caesar’s forgiveness and mercifulness (clementia) is also present as a virtue while the emperor is appeared to forgive the defetead enemies.
Discovering Thessaloniki of the Roman period
As part of a larger architectural complex that also included the Palace of Galerius, and the impressive circular structure of Rotonda into one unified entity, it clearly reminds us of the long, rich roman history of the city.
Located near ancient Via Egnatia, it was originally forming a triple arch connecting the above structures with the main street. Today in a similar way it is near the modern Egnatia Street, while it remains in a straight line, next to the palace located in Navarino Square in the South, and the Temple of Rotonda in the North.
In its initial form the Arch had four main pillars and four secondary, two in the North side and two in the South. Today only two of the main pillars and one of the secondaries are still present and restored. What the Roman citizens of Thessaloniki were able to see in Via Regia (the main street of the city), was an identical building like the present Arch into one single architectural entity.
Always keep in mind that Thessaloniki is a city full of treasures! Sometimes popping up in front of us, sometimes remaining hidden, they will be revealed to those who will look closer and feel the whispers that can still be heard…