Thessaloniki is the second city of Greece, in terms of population, economy, and culture. However, it’s very different from the rest of Greece, because of its history as a truly major city in the Ottoman Empire. Yes, it was even more major than Athens, because of its proximity to the premier city – Istanbul/Constantinople. Today, it has over one million inhabitants, all of them proud to call this diverse city their home. The city was founded in 315 BC, and since then it’s grown as both an economic and political centre in the region.
Like Greece in general, Thessaloniki boasts plenty of Ancient Greek monuments and historic tales. It began to grow as early as Roman times, but it was in the Byzantine era when the city really came into its own. This era lasted from approximately 300AD to the 15th Century. In the 14th Century, Thessaloniki had an even bigger population than London at that time! Wow, imagine that! The port of the city meant it was a great place to do business, but unfortunately it was quite at risk from outsiders, so the city has had many invasions in the past.
Thessaloniki’s key era was the Ottoman era. This was when the city’s population really diversified – there was now huge Muslim and Jewish communities living in the city, and by the early 1500s, Jews made up more than 50% of the city’s population. After the end of the Ottoman Empire at the turn of the 20th century, Thessaloniki was a hotly contested city. Many different countries were fighting for control of it, but with the help of future Prime Minister Eleftherios Venizelos (if you haven’t already, please check out my “Inspirational People” article about him), the city was brought under Greek control. There was a huge fire in 1917, much like the Great Fire of London, which wiped out a lot of the city. Since the Second World War, Thessaloniki has rebuilt itself, and is now a major business and tourist hub.
It is truly a unique city, and is very well thought of in the Balkan region. Because of its distinct, proud history, the city competes with Athens on many levels. This is true in cuisine, music, but most of all in language! There are many differences in how people from Thessaloniki pronounce their Greek, compared to Athens. Even in the name itself – if you’re from Athens, it’s “Thessa-lon-ee-ki”. If you’re a local, it’s “Thessa-LON-iki”.
Thessaloniki is close to the legendary Mount Olympus, and that part of Northern Greece is very, very beautiful. It’s very easy to get to from the UK, as many airlines now operate direct flights to the city. You can stroll along the famous harbour front, and see the White Tower, an iconic part of the old city’s ramparts. The markets are particularly of note, too, so if you like shopping then Thessaloniki could be the place for you. There are also hundreds of museums related to the city’s rich and unique history. There are trains between Athens and Thessaloniki, too, so if you can’t drive it’s easy to get to. If you fly there, though, it’s much quicker!
I have never been to Thessaloniki, but after this, I think I might book some flights. I’ll tell you what it’s like when I get back… if I come back!
Image from: http://www.mazitravel.com/5F236357.en.aspx