"Thessaloniki" Top 5 Page for this destination Thessaloniki by StefanosS
Thessaloniki Travel Guide: 545 reviews and 1,537 photos
“And may she be named Thessaloniki", said King of Macedonia Philip II of his first daughter, Αrgο, because on that days he had committed a great victory against Thessaly. Later, Kassandros, Alexander the Great's general who was left back as regent during Alexander’s expedition to the East, succeeded him on the throne of Macedonia, married the young princess, half-sister of Alexander the Great, and gave her name to the city he founded (316-315 BC).
Thessaloniki was founded by joining 26 old prehistoric settlements going back at least to the 3rd millennium BC, Therme being the biggest of them, at the head of the gulf bearing the name Thermaikos. Since then, the city subsequently become the chief city of Macedonia, a commercial centre possessing connections with all the ports of the East, its own coinage and a cultural development equal to that of the other Greek cities.
In 168 BC the Romans made Thessaloniki the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia and the Southern Balkans. A "Free City" during the Roman era, linked to the East and the West by the Via Egnatia (130 BC) it preserved the Greek language and its ethnic integrity, developing into the most populous city in Macedonia with the most important monuments, which continue to adorn it.
It is here that Apostle Paul brought the message of Christianity in 50 AD founding the second Christian church on the European continent and later he sent it his two "Epistles to the Thessalonians". And the Roman emperor Galerius made the city his headquarters building an impressive palace cluster in 300 AD. It is here that Christian Demetrius, a Greek officer of the Roman army, died in martyrdom (303 AD), thus becoming the holy patron of the city.
395 AD was the foundation year of the Byzantine Empire and soon Thessaloniki was proclaimed "co-regent city" next to Constantinople, the new capital. The wealth and glory of Byzantium followed for more than 1000 years, from the 5th until the 15th century AD. The city took on a Byzantine character, ornamented with numerous majestic and glamorous architectural works that display all forms of Byzantine art, which it has partially maintained to the present day, with more (and more significant) Byzantine monuments than any other city in Europe. The artistic, intellectual and religious creations it exerted contributed decisively to the development of the Balkan peoples, who were converted to the Christian faith by the Thessalonians theologians and missionary brothers Cyril and Methodius (863 AD); they invented and used the Cyrillic Alphabet to bring literacy and Christianity to the Slavs. The cult of Saint Demetrius, the city's patron saint, spread all over the Balkans.
Along with a succession of aggressors (Slavs, Avars, Saracens, Crusaders, Normans, Catalans as well as the Zealots uprising in 1342-1349, and its first conquest by the Turks in 1387), but each time, after each invasion, Alexander's Sister survived, clad in the Greek Byzantine garb as guardian of the Greek culture and Christian faith, for which she was predestined.
Mid-Byzantine Thessaloniki flourished in spite of wars in the region. Its population exceeded 100,000 inhabitants in the middle of the 12th century. After the period of the Venetian rule (1423-1430), when the Turks occupied Thessaloniki, generalised looting, massacres, enslavement and deportations occurred, perpetrated by the invading troops. Sultan Murat II was forced to personally intervene, on behalf of the population, in order to put an end to the bloodshed. He personally set free, at his own expenses, many prisoners, and he took measures for the revival and repopulating of Thessaloniki, as its inhabitants were not more than 2,000 people. To that end, he resettled into Thessaloniki Turks as well as Christians to whom he granted certain privileges such as communal autonomy and various tax exemptions.
After the fall of Thessaloniki (1430), Constantinople followed (1453). Despite the unfavourable conditions prevailing during the Turkish occupation, there were Greek schools in Thessaloniki that struggled, successfully to a large degree, to preserve the Greek language and literature.
The first Jews may have arrived in Thessaloniki from Alexandria, Egypt, around 140 BC. In the end of 15th century Thessaloniki became a haven for Jews exiled from Spain. In 1492 a royal edict was forcing all Jews of Spain to either convert to Christianity, or leave the country.
Thus, around 15,000 of the Spanish Jews, the Sephardim, settled in Thessaloniki, which still hadn’t recovered from the destruction incurred during its conquest by the Turks. Maybe they were attracted to the city’s strategic location as a key port in the Eastern Mediterranean commerce. Alternatively, they may have been encouraged by the Sultan Bayazit II, seeking to re-populate the deserted city with a fresh, dynamic, urban population. In 1519, according to Ottoman archives, 6,870 Muslims, 6,635 Christians and 15,715 Jews inhabited Thessaloniki.
With the arrival of the Jews, the deserted city waked up from its torpor and gradually became again a first class financial centre, comparable to that of the Roman and Byzantine years. The Sephardim gave commerce a new push, and exploited the gold mines of Gallikos river and iron mines of Chalkidiki. These immigrants established the first printing shop in Thessaloniki, around 1510.
Thessaloniki became again an important part of the culture, and a period of four hundred years of Jewish influence both socially and economically followed. This period roughly corresponds with the occupation of the city by the Ottoman Turks. After a period of economic and cultural stagnation, the city began to exploit the reforming tendencies of the Ottoman Empire and became once again a commercial and cultural beacon for the peoples of the Balkans. Thessaloniki did not participate in the National Revolution of 1821 in some spectacular way, but supported silently the uprising of other nearby areas. In 1866 the coastal part of the city Walls was demolished. In 1900-1908 the city houses the secret co-ordination centre of the Macedonian Struggle aiming at the support of the ethnic conscience of the Greek inhabitance. In 1908, the “New Turks” launch their coup in Thessaloniki, and, using the city as their base, overthrow Sultan Abdul Hamit II.
Although, during the long period of Turkish rule (1430-1912) Thessaloniki retained its moral and ethnic strength and after constant struggles and sacrifices succeeded in regaining its freedom. In 1912 the Greek army during the First Balkan War liberated Thessaloniki, on the feast day of its patron saint. The Jewish Community leaders were immediately received by King George I, who promised full equality for the Jews, a promise subsequently reconfirmed and proven in practice. The Second Balkan War followed.
In 1914, when the First World War started, the city became target of both sides for its strategic position. The Greek king, who was married to the German Kaiser’s sister, tried to keep the country "neutral", against the feelings of the Greek people, but finally in the end of 1915 Thessaloniki became a huge military camp of any nation fighting by the side of Entente. Its port was made a supply line to the Serbian frontier and later hospitalised a great part of the retreating Serbian army. In July of 1916 152,000 soldiers of Entente were camping around Thessaloniki: Serbs, French, British, Russians, Italians, Australians, Indians... Greek divisions were added, while the king was forced to resign. The final counter-attack in 1918 of the allied forces was successful, but during the war, Thessaloniki had a big accident: In August 1917 a great 2 days fire burned to ashes the centre of the city creating a homeless population of 70,000. After the war, the city centre was rebuilt on new plans.
The population exchanges of 1919-1924 reshaped the contribution of the inhabitants and once again the city was extended and entered a new period of rapid economic and cultural growth.
Second World War was also a big retrogression. Besides the other suffering, almost the whole Jewish community was sent to the concentration camps. Out of the 46,091 Jews that were deported, only 1,950 returned alive, i.e. approximately 4%.
At this point, we should stress the admirable stance of those non-Jewish compatriots, who, at the risk of their own lives, offered sanctuary to many Jews. The Church, the National Resistance movement, and the State Police set the example, followed by ordinary people offering help and shelter whenever possible, revolting in horror to the crime being committed, even though, at that time, nobody -not even its very victims- could grasp its actual magnitude. One cannot forget the repeated initiatives of the Bishop of Thessaloniki, Gennadios, against the deportations, and most of all, the official letter of protest signed in Athens on March 23, 1943, by Archbishop Damaskinos, along with 27 prominent leaders of cultural, academic and professional organizations. The document, written in a very sharp language, refers to unbreakable bonds between Orthodox Christians and Jews, identifying them jointly as Greeks, without differentiation. It is noteworthy that such a document is unique in the whole of occupied Europe, in character, content and purpose. And this unbreakable bond was a reality: The Jews of Thessaloniki fulfilled their duty towards the Greek motherland during the 1940-1941 war: 12,900 Jews served in the Greek armed forces. One of the first high ranked Greek officers killed on the Albanian frontier of WWII was a Jew major from Thessaloniki. Today Thessaloniki numbers no more than 1,200 Jewish people.
Thessaloniki, one of the oldest big cities in Europe and the second largest city in Greece counts now a population of 1,000,000 inhabitants. It stretches over twelve kilometers in a bowl formed by low hills facing a bay that opens into Thermaikos Gulf. It is a thriving city and one of the most important trade and communications centres in the Mediterranean. This is evident from its financial and commercial activities, its port with its special Free Zone, which provides facilities to the other Balkan countries, its international airport, its important industrial complex, its annual International Trade Fair, etc.
- In a nutshell:www.saloniki.org
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