The Alaja Imaret is one of Thessaloniki’s most glorious secret sights.

Off a shabby street above Agios Dimitrios that most visitors never find is one of Thessaloniki’s most mysterious and beautiful monuments. Even if you were looking for it, it feels like you stumble on the Alaja Imaret by accident, tucked in a courtyard between some apartment buildings from the 1960’s. When you find it, you’ll wonder why you took the trouble. It’s large, with a long porch across the front. The facade is crumbling, the columns look bare. It’s dirty.

Alaja Imaret

Nothing distinguishes it from a church on the outside at first. But there is no cross. Through the layers of dust in time you spot something more exotic- a muqarnas. Above the door is an ornate stalactite vault. The door itself is small, weathered. It makes you curious to go in.

Alaja Imaret- corner of dome
Arabesques and tromp l’oeil features, Alaja Imaret

The interior

It’s a fantastic surprise. The height of the domes. Then, the painting. There are ornate arabesques. There is tromp l’oeil drapery, and framed “views” of long forgotten forests. Patches along the walls are inscribed in Arabic calligraphy.

Calligraphy on the walls of the Alaja Imaret

The Alaja Imaret in the Past

The name Alaja comes from the multi-colored stones that decorated the minaret that once was here. An Imaret is a House of Charity. The mosque also gave shelter and food. Many Christian churches were repurposed as mosques, so there were relatively few mosques built during the Ottoman period. This was one, built in 1487 by Ishak Pasha.

Alaja Imaret

The Alaja Imaret in the Present

The Alaja Imaret is under the joint auspice of the Ministry of Culture and the Municipal Art Gallery of Thessaloniki, who make excellent use of the space. Exhibitions in the space often take unique advantage of the aesthetic, spiritual, and historical setting. One in particular- Techniques of the Body (Constantine Giannaris and Mark Mazower)- encompassed aspects of the immigrant experience. The Imaret’s walls presented a moving physical context. It also continues to have spiritual relevance- although this is no longer a mosque, it’s visited with reverence by many Muslim travelers.

Alaja Imaret-  Above Kassandrou, between Sofokleous and Agiou Nikolaou Streets (just up from Agiou Dimitriou Church)

Tuesdays – Saturdays, 11:00 – 18:00

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