The story of the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki is similar to the city's recent history. The Ephorate of Antiquities "by the General Directorate of Macedonia" was the first service to be founded, on November 1912, only a fortnight after the city was incorporated into the Greek State. Until 1925, all antiquities found in Macedonia were gathered at the Residency (Διοικητήριο - the modern-day building of the Secretariat of Macedonia-Thrace) as well as the Ottoman Idadie School, which housed the Faculty of Philosophy of the Aristotle University. During World War I, the French Army (Armee Francaise d’ Orient) was gathering antiquities initially at Karabournaki and later on at Rotonda, while the British Army would gather the antiquities they uncovered at the White Tower.
In 1925, the Yeni Cami, the new mosque, the centre of worship for the Donmeh population of the Ottoman-occupied Thessaloniki, was given to the Archaeological Service. The Yeni Cami would become the city's first Museum, as the inscription still in place on its facade indicates. In 1940 many antiquities, mainly sculptures, were buried in trenches in order to be protected from war raids. They were unearthed in 1951 and displayed for the first time in the main hall of the Archaeological Museum (Yeni Cami) in 1953.
In 1950 a large plot was designated for the erection of a new Museum, in the heart of the city, on Y.M.C.A. Square, next to the grounds of the International Fair. The project was assigned to Patroklos Karantinos, an notable Greek modernist architect.
The new Museum was inaugurated in 1962 in a grand ceremony, as part of the celebrations for the completion of 50 years since Thessaloniki's liberation, exhibiting the impressive finds from the Derveni tombs, which had been found in the same year. An exhibition of sculptures from the Archaic to the Roman era followed, designed by Giorgos Despinis, professor of Archaeology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
The marvellous finds of the Royal Tombs at Vergina revealed by professor Manolis Andronikos, which were transferred to the Museum for storage and conservation as soon as they were found, necessitated a new display pattern and required the construction of a building extension. In 1982 a new exhibition was designed to display the finds from the cemetery of Sindos. The ephor of antiquities, Aikaterini Despini was responsible for both the excavation and the exhibition. In 1985, with the completion of 2300 years since the foundation of Thessaloniki by Cassander in 315 BC, the then director of the Museum, Julia Vokotopoulou organised the first major exhibition dedicated to the city's history and archaeology.
In 1996 the first extensive exhibition on Prehistoric Macedonia took place at the Museum, below the Vergina Hall, at the new building extension (by Vogiatzis) completed in 1980. This exhibition was organised by the then director Dimitrios Grammenos and the archaeologist Maria Pappa. In 1998, when the Vergina finds were transferred back to their place of discovery to be displayed at a new museum that simulated the large burial mound of the Royal Tombs, a new exhibition was organised at the Museum of Thessaloniki, entitled "The Gold of Macedon" by Dimitrios Grammenos and the archaeologists Betina Tsigarida and Despina Ignatiadou, in order to fill the gap of the remarkable royal burial assemblages.
In 2002, through a Presidential Decree (164/2002), the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki became a separate Special Regional Service of the Ministry of Culture. At the dawn of the 21st century, modern museological needs led to an extensive renovation of the building. The Museum became accessible to the public again in 2004 with new permanent exhibitions. On September, 2006, the renovated Archaeological Museum was officially reopened with five new thematic exhibitions, under D.Grammenos and a large team of specialists. The new exhibitions, completely anthropocentric, bypassing the thread of time, has acquired a strong didactic character.
After a long period of work for the renovation of the exhibition, storage, preservation and management spaces, the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki opened for the public on September 2006. In the time before the opening, apart from the expansion of the building, the most important and vital part of our efforts was completed: the exhibitions of the museum were redesigned in a way that responds to the needs of the modern visitor.
It was our intention to shed light on the different sides of the culture that was created in Macedonia, mainly in Thessaloniki and the adjacent municipalities: from the beginning of prehistoric times up until the late antiquity, meaning the beginning of the Christian era.