Thessaloniki

Thessaloniki is a lively city, filled with magnificent monuments that bear witness to its creativity, expression and belief in ideals, visions and gods, throughout its age-old history. All of the city’s historical periods have their importance and attract the interest of historical researchers, archaeologists and ethnologists. Thessaloniki was named after Thessalonike, a half-sister of Alexander the Great and the wife of the city’s founder. The city was founded around 315 BC by the King Cassander of Macedon, on or near the site of the ancient town of Therma and 26 other local villages (Thessalo-nikē means the “Thessalian victory”).

 

 

 

Thessaloniki History / Roman Rule

Since its founding and up to 168 BC, Thessaloniki played a minor role, as it was overshadowed by the city of Pella, the then capital of Macedonia. But after Perseus’ defeat in Pydna, the Romans divided Macedonia into four districts. Thessaloniki became the capital of the second. The overthrow of the Antigonid Kingdom by the Roman troops of General Lucius Aemilius Paullus in 168 BC brought Thessaloniki to the forefront of the Roman Republic. A little later, the Romans built Via Egnatia, which passed through the city and connected Constantinople to Rome. Via Egnatia was a major military and commercial road, which helped to promote the strategic importance of the city and gave it a protagonist role in the fast-growing state. So Thessaloniki began to rapidly grow, thus acquiring the title of Civitas Libera (=free city). It earned many privileges, especially following the assassination of Julius Caesar (44 BC) and the civil conflict between the democrats and the imperialists, which led to the overwhelming victory of Emperors Antony and Octavian and the defeat of Brutus and Cassius in 42 BC.

 

 

 

With the rise of Christianity, a large number of Christians moved to Thessaloniki. This is where Paul the Apostle declared the Christian Faith in 54 AD, and where shortly afterwards he wrote his two “Epistles to the Corinthians”. In 238 AD, Thessaloniki was honoured with the title “sacrist” (neokoros), that is to say with the supervision of an imperial temple, and in 250 AD was declared a Roman Colonia (=province). In 305 AD, Galerius moved to Thessaloniki, which he declared his capital. It was during this time that the Rotunda, the Hippodrome, the Arch and the Palace were built. A few years later, in 306 AD, St. Demetrius became a martyr in Thessaloniki, further enhancing the Christian character of the city.

Thessaloniki History / Byzantine years – Thessaloniki the “co-regent city”

Constantine the Great turned the Roman Empire into the longest-lasting Christian Kingdom. In 324 AD, he used Thessaloniki as the base for his offence against Licinius. In the battle of Chrysopolis, Constantine won an overwhelming victory and Licinius was imprisoned in the Acropolis of Thessaloniki. Because of Thessaloniki’s vital geographical and strategic importance and the major works that were built in the city at that time, it was proclaimed co-regent with Constantinople.

 

 

 

In 379 AD, Theodosius the Great marched from Thessaloniki against the Goths. He built the city walls (380 AD) and converted to Christianity, which he declared as the empire’s official religion with an imperial decree.

In 390 AD, Theodosius the Great ordered the massacre of thousands of Thessaloniki’s inhabitants in the Hippodrome (392 AD), as retaliation for the murder of Butheric, the military commander of the Goth garrison and ruler of the city. In 582, the first Slav raids took place. Thessaloniki was confronted with five sieges, but between 687 and 688 AD, Justinian II removed the risk. In 860 AD, the brothersSaints Cyril and Methodius created the Cyrillic alphabet, translated the Gospels and helped spread Christianity amongst the Slavic nations. In 904 AD, Thessaloniki was besieged and looted by the Saracens. In 976 AD, Basil the Bulgar-Slayer marched from Thessaloniki against the Bulgarian Tsar Simeon.

Thessaloniki History / The Norman Conquest and the Movement of the Zealots

In 1185, Thessaloniki was destroyed by the Normans, which were expelled the year after by Emperor Isaac II. During the Fourth Crusade (1204), Boniface Montferrat founded the Kingdom of Thessaloniki, which was seized by Theodore Komnenos in 1222. In 1246, John Vatatzes of Epirus was declared King of Thessaloniki. During the Zealots’ revolt (1341-1349), the population rose against the nobility. In 1943, Andronicus handed the city over to the Republic of Venice.

The Ottoman Period and the Young Turks Movement

On 29 March 1430, Murad II took over Thessaloniki with a brutal massacre and the Turkish occupation began. In 1942, around 30,000 Sephardic Jews, expelled from Spain, moved into the city. In 1571, the Turks massacred around 30,000 inhabitants in retaliation for their defeat in the Battle of Lepanto (Nafpaktos). On the eve of the Greek Revolution, many locals, such as Mesthaneus, Balanos, Menexes, Tattis, etc., joined the secretive “Society of Friends” (Filiki Eteria).

In 1835, the first Greek school was established. In 1865, Thessaloniki numbered 50,000 residents and in 1875, the city’s first newspaper, “Ermis”, circulated. The Ottomans destroyed its coastal (1866) and eastern (1889) walls that linked the White Tower to the Eptapyrgio (the castle of Thessaloniki).

 

 

 

A major fire destroyed around 2,000 houses in 1890. In 1892, Papafis founded the “Meliteus” orphanage and in 1897, a French company built the first artificial port. In 1903, Bulgarian guerrillas launched a series of explosions in the city and the Macedonian Struggle broke out (1904-1908). In 1908, the Young Turks imprisoned the sultan in the Allatini mansion.

In July of the same year, they had enough power to force Sultan Abdul Hamid II to return to constitutional rule. Therefore the Ottoman Army in Thessaloniki began its march to Constantinople, the seat of the House of Osman, and on 24 July 1908 the constitution was restored. The last major event of Ottoman Rule in Thessaloniki was Sultan Mehmed V Reshad’s visit to the city on 31 May 1911, as part of his tour of the most distant European parts of his empire. The highlight of the visit was the parade of nations before the monarch and his impressive pilgrimage to the Hagia Sophia Mosque, in accordance with the typical Friday prayer style implemented at the Al Hamidiyah Mosque in Constantinople.

Thessaloniki History / Liberation

Thessaloniki was liberated from Turkish dominion in 1912 (26 October) and a new age began for the city. In 1915, General Sarrail of the Allied Forces landed in Thessaloniki, followed (in 1916) by Venizelos, making the city “the entrenched camp of the Allies”. Another major fire destroyed the city centre in 1917. In 1916, the University was established, the International Trade Fair was organized and the restoration of the Church of Agios Dimitrios began.

 

 

In 1914, German occupation began. Greece did not participate in WWI from the beginning, despite the calls for alliance by both rival factions. However, under the pretext of aiding Serbia and indifferent to the national sovereignty of Greece, the Entente landed troops in the city in October of 1915 in order to force Greece to join the war. The Macedonian Front, composed of tens of thousands of men, was created with the aim of offering support to Serbia and Russia.

The National Rift, which erupted between Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos and King Constantine, when the latter did not allow the former to bring Greece into the conflict on the side of the Entente, led to the setting-up of a second Greek state in Thessaloniki under Venizelos. The “Interim National Defense Government” was composed of Venizelos, Daglis and Kountouriotis, the so-called “Triumvirate”. So Greece entered the war on the Entente’s side, forcing King Constantine I to abdicate in favour of his son Alexandros. In 1943, the Germans deported 50,000 of Thessaloniki’s Jews to concentration camps in Poland. In 1944, the Germans left and in 1948, Agios Dimitrios Church was inaugurated.

 

 

Throughout its long history, Thessaloniki was a widely-populated and wealthy city reaching its peak during the Byzantine years. It was always filled with merchants that came from every corner of Greece, as well as from Serbia, Bulgaria, etc. According to the authors of that time, it was easier to measure the sand from the sea than the merchants in Thessaloniki. Increased wealth boosted the city’s social life. Residents could find entertainment at affordable prices in squares, theatres and marketplaces. The most important celebration, however, was the feast of the city’s patron saint, Agios Dimitrios, which was similar in magnificence to the “Panathenian Festival” of ancient Athens. This material prosperity was also matched by the city’s intellectual prosperity, leading to an increase in movements created by philosophers, orators and scholars. Thessaloniki was only equal to Constantinople, surpassing any other city in wisdom. Its proximity to the Holy Mount Athos also contributed to the development of religious literature and art.

Modern Thessaloniki

Modern Thessaloniki, the country’s co-capital, the “bride of the Thermaic Gulf”, as it is called, is a European, cosmopolitan city. It extends in a semi-circle along the shore and is amphitheatrically built with an inland depth of 2-4 km.

 

 

Only its northern districts have preserved some of their old lore. After the Great Fire of 1917, the city was rebuilt according to the French architect Hébrard’s plan. However, the plan was only perfectly implemented in Aristotelous Street, which featured Byzantine edifices, cloisters and arcades, and in Eleftheria, Doikitirio and Aristotelous squares.

Today, after the fire, the amphitheatrically-built city with the green hills, beautiful buildings, modern shops and movie theatres dazzles its visitors. It is studded with large avenues, gardens, parks and fascinating squares. The street plan, based on which the city had been built, is aimed mainly at facilitating and speeding people’s movement. Although there are still some graphic narrow alleyways, the city is mainly characterized by the perpendicular or parallel design of its streets up to the sea (mainly in the new city). In this way, it is very difficult to get lost, even if visiting the city for the first time.