General Information on Thessaloniki
Thessaloniki is the second largest city of Greece and the administrative centre of the north. The city is an administrative and commercial centre with its own distinctive, intellectual and artistic personality, and it serves as a major cosmopolitan crossroads whose cultural influence is far-reaching. Situated on a naturally amphitheatrical site at the head of the Thermaic Gulf, Thessaloniki is a harbour city, the sea playing an important part in its life. It is divided in the modern and old town. The latter is where most of the sights are located. In the old town visitors may visit Byzantine churches and buildings. You can get glimpses of “Old Salonica” in the walled Kastra quarter of the city, on the hillside beyond the modern grid of streets.
The wealth of its surviving monuments from all periods of its history has made the city a living museum of Byzantine art; as such it has been recognised by UNESCO. The old town was surrounded by a strong wall which ran east, from the harbour, for about 2km before reaching the White Tower. The walls are among the finest surviving examples of city fortification and can be compared only to those of Istanbul. North of the historic part are the exhibition grounds where the city’s popular annual International Trade Fair is held. Except for its numerous historical monuments Thessaloniki is a big city with an almost college town feel. The nightlife is exceptional, restaurants and ouzeries are among the best in Greece, there are many cinemas and theatres and the city boasts one of the biggest high-fashion markets in Greece. In addition, the city is a good starting point to visit the best beaches of Halkidiki and most beautiful spots in the region of Macedonia.
History of Thessaloniki
The city’s history dates back more than 4000 years. It was founded in 315 B.C. by Cassander, king of Macedonia, on the site of old prehistoric settlements dating back to 2300 B.C. The city was named after the king’s wife Thessalonica, sister of Alexander the Great.
The city developed rapidly and soon became a commercial and cultural centre of Macedonia and of the Balkan Peninsula. It was, as all other contemporary Greek cities, an autonomous part of the Kingdom of Macedonia, with its own parliament where the King was represented and could interfere in domestic affairs.
After the fall of the kingdom of Macedonia in 168 BC, the city became the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia and the southern Balkans. It grew into an important trade-hub located on Via Egnatia, a Roman road that connected Byzantium to Dyrrhachium, facilitating trade between Europe and Asia. The city became an early centre of Christianity when Paul of Tarsus, on his second missionary journey, preached in the city’s synagogue and laid the foundations of a church. When the Roman Empire was divided into eastern and western segments, ruled by Byzantium/Constantinople and Rome respectively, Thessaloniki came under the control of the Eastern Roman Empire. Its importance was second only to Constantinople itself.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, repeated barbarian invasions along with a catastrophic earthquake severely damaged the city in 620 AD. In 904, Saracens based in Crete managed to seize the city and after a ten day raze, left with much loot and 22,000 slaves, mostly young people. Despite this, the city quickly recovered, and the gradual recovery of Byzantine power during the 10th, 11th and 12th centuries meant that Thessaloniki entered a new golden age of peace and prosperity. The economic expansion of the city continued through the 12th century as the strong rule of the Komnenoi emperors expanded Byzantine control into Serbia and Hungary, far to the north. The city was lost in 1204, when Constantinople was captured by the Fourth Crusade. Thessaloniki and its surrounding territory became the largest fief of the Latin Empire, covering most of the north and central Greece. The city was recaptured by the Byzantine Empire in 1246 and despite the various invasions Thessaloniki flourished commercially.
The Byzantine Empire, unable to hold it against the Ottoman advance, sold the region of Thessaloniki to Venice, which held it until it was captured by the Ottomans in 1430, after a three-day-long siege. At the start of Turkish rule (1430-1912) Thessaloniki was at the lowest point in its history. The city was almost empty, inhabited only by few thousand Greeks, and the port was dead. Murad II colonized the city with Turks from Gianitsa and later, during the 15th century AD, a new group of people established themselves in Thessaloniki; the Sephardic Jews came here after they had been expelled from Spain, under the strategy of the Ottomans who aimed at preventing the Greek element from dominating the city. The Spanish Jews were the principal agents of the great economic progress of the city, which by the end of the 16th century had many Jewish neighbourhoods and 80 synagogues. During the 17th century the city went through an economic crisis, because the English and French had established regular communication with India. This had weakened the ports of Near East, and economically damaged the Venetians, who ruled the Mediterranean Sea, and the Jews, who were the Venetians’ middlemen.
At the beginning of the 18th century, the economic importance of Thessaloniki increased as it once more developed lively commercial activity. By the end of the century, the Greeks of Thessaloniki steadily improved their economic position. At the same time, many Greeks from other parts of the country migrated to the city, where they were involved in trade. In 1912, the Orthodox Balkan nations Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Montenegro declared war on Turkey. Thus began the First Balkan War (1912-1913), during which the Greeks liberated Thessaloniki. The Treaty of Bucharest formalized the final incorporation of Thessaloniki and Southern Macedonia into the Greek State. But the tribulations of the city were not at an end; in the following years, World War I (1914-1918) broke out and people once more lived in fear. On 18 August 1917, most of the city was destroyed by an accident which was caused by French soldiers camping there. The fire left about 72,000 people homeless.
World War II and the Occupation caused regression in almost every aspect of life in Thessaloniki, social and cultural. However, the darkest point during that period was the persecution and decimation of the population by the occupying force. There were more that 1,500 executions in the city, without including the murders in the areas around Thessaloniki. However, this is nothing compared to the decimation of the Jewish element of the city –more than 40,000 people were deported to the death camps of Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Dachau. Not long after the end of the War in Greece (1940-1944) the Civil War began. The city felt the effects of this new tragedy perhaps more than any other place. The civil conflicts in Macedonia caused waves of refugees to the city, increasing unemployment and chronic difficulties in accommodation and daily life. However, Thessaloniki was rebuilt and recovered fairly quickly after the war. This recovery included both a rapid growth in its population, as well as an impressive development of new, modern infrastructure and industrial enterprises throughout the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Most of the urban development of that period was, however, without a proper plan, causing traffic and zoning problems that remain to this day.
In 1978, the city was hit by a powerful earthquake registering a magnitude of 6.5 on the Richter scale. The tremor caused considerable damage to several buildings and even to some of the city’s Byzantine monuments. Nonetheless, the city quickly recovered from this natural disaster. Early Christian and Byzantine monuments of Thessaloniki were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1988. Today the city is one of the most important university centres in southeastern Europe and it hosts a large and vibrant student population coming from all over the country.
How to Reach Thessaloniki
Air: The airport "Makedonia" serves the city of Thessaloniki, connecting it with regular flights to Athens, Rhodes, Lesvos, Kos, Crete and other domestic destinations. Low-fare and charter flights also operate here, linking the city to major cities in Europe.
Sea: The port of Thessaloniki has regular services to Piraeus, Skiathos, Lesvos, Crete, Santorini, Chios and many more destinations in Greece.
Coach: KTEL coaches connect the city daily to most destinations in Greece, including Athens, Volos, Larisa, Alexandroupolis, Patra etc.
Train: Train services run between Thessaloniki and most major Greek cities, including Athens, Katerini, Larisa, Alexandroupolis, and Volos. There are also services linking Thessaloniki to destinations abroad, such as Istanbul and Bulgaria.
Weather in Thessaloniki
The city has a Mediterranean climate.
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Map of Thessaloniki