Discovering a hidden gem
Thessaloniki Greece (or Salonica), the capital of Macedonia Prefecture, is the second largest city in Greece, after Athens. In fact, the town is honorarily called co-capital, for its historical and administrative importance. The history of the town started in ancient times and due to its strategic location, it played an important economic and political role in the wider region of the Balkans.
The town was founded in 315 BC by King Cassander of Macedonia on the site of a former settlement named Therma. He named it after his wife Thessalonike, the half-sister of Alexander the Great. The name actually means “victory of the Thessalians” and it is believed that the woman was named like that because her birth coincided with a victory of the Macedonians with the help of the Thessalians.
In Roman times, Thessaloniki was an important trade center to transport goods between the East and the West. Its economic expansion continued all through the Byzantine Times and it became one of the most important centers of the empire. Many public buildings and churches were built that period all over the town. Many of these early Christian and Byzantine churches survive till today and they have been declared as World Heritage Monuments by Unesco.
Because of its economic power, the town received the attack of many Balkan tribes, including the Slavs and the Bulgarians, and of the Crusaders as well. In 1423, while the Byzantine Empire was coming to its end, Thessaloniki was sold to Venice, which held it until it was captured by the Ottomans in 1430.
During the Ottoman rule, the city’s population of Muslims and Jews grew. In fact, the Ottomans had invited the expelled Jews from Spain to reside Thessaloniki in their effort to prevent the Orthodox population to grow. Also, many Orthodox churches were converted into mosques.
Thessaloniki was set free from the Turks on October 26th, 1912, during the First Balkan Wars. That day, it was the feast of Agios Dimitrios (Saint Demetrius) and since then, the locals celebrate it as the patron saint of the town. In August 1917, a fire burnt down most of the Old Town of Thessaloniki and left almost 1/4 of the population homeless.
In the Second World War, bombing destroyed many parts of the town, while most of the Jewish population was sent to the gas chambers and concentration camps by the Nazi.
Today, Thessaloniki is a modern town that has restored most of its wounds and receives millions of visitors every year. As it serves as a transportation hub for northern Greece, it has a railway system that connects the town to Turkey and the Balkans, a busy port and an international airport. With a population of about 800,000 people, Thessaloniki is famous for its ancient monuments, the vivid nightlife, and its shopping options.
The trademark of Thessaloniki is the White Tower, right in the waterfront. It was built in the 16th century by the Ottomans and along with its history, it has been used as a fort, a prison, a meteorology laboratory and today it houses the Byzantine Museum of the town.
Thessaloniki is also famous for the International Trade Fair that takes place every September and for the International Film Festival in autumn. Such cultural events and many others give the town a glamorous style.