Thessaloníki is a city with a rich history stretching well over two thousand years that has included more than its fair share of disaster and tragedy as well as success and triumph.
It was founded in 315 BC by the king of Macedonia, Kassander, who named it after his wife, Thessaloníki, daughter of Philip of Macedon and half sister of Alexander; she had got her name because she was born at the time of Philip's victory in Thessaly (nike means victory).
The city flourished becoming, in a few decades, one of the most important cities in Northern Greece helped by its position at the head of the Thermaic Gulf and on the Via Egnatia, the main thoroughfare between east and west, running from Constantinople to Rome.
In 146 BC, when Macedonia became a Roman province, Thessaloníki was made the capital.
It was declared a civitas libra (free city) with self government in 42 BC after the battle of Philippi under Augustus.
The emperor Galerius rebuilt a large part of the city at the beginning of the 4th century including the Arch of Triumph ('Kamara'), now known as the arch of Galerius, the Rotonda, the Hippodrome and the palace. He made Thessaloniki the capital of the eastern empire which later became the Byzantine Empire.
In the 6th century the city was raided by the Goths, the Avars, the Huns and the Slavs
Under Justinian, in the 6th century, Thessaloníki became the second city of Byzantium after Constantinople.
In AD 904 the city was captured and plundered by the Saracens who took 22,000 young people as slaves. The Normans sacked the city in 1185, the Franks in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade.
The 14th century was a cultural golden age in Thessaloníki, as in Constantinople and Mistra.
1423 to 1430 the Venetians occupied the city.
1430 saw the start of almost 500 years of Turkish occupation.
The 18th century was a prosperous time with world wide trade by sea and land.
The end of Turkish rule came in 1912 (80 years after the rest of Greece) and Thessaloniki became part of Greece and reverted to its old name.
There was a disastrous fire in 1917 which raged for two weeks because there was no fire brigade destroying 9,500 of the old houses, including the whole Jewish quarter with 32 synagogues, and making 70,000 people homeless.
The 1923 population exchange following the Treaty of Lausanne brought the forced arrival of 400,000 Turks of Greek origin (and the dispatch of one million Greeks of Turkish origin to Turkey).
The city was rebuilt in the 1920's to the design of the Frenchman Hébrard.
Thessaloniki was occupied by the Germans from 1941 to 1944.
In 1978 a serious earthquake damaged many monuments and churches.
The Jews in Thessaloniki: There was a Jewish community here from the 3rd century BC. In the Byzantine period they became Hellenised and took the name 'Romaniotes'.
Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 by Ferdinand and Isabella came here bringing the Jewish community to 80,000, or half the total population, and the largest Jewish community in Europe. They were traders and craftsmen and made an important contribution to the growing prosperity of the city.
At the end of the 16th century there were 80 synagogues, mostly between Egnatia and the sea front.
In 1666 'the long awaited Messiah', Sabbethai Sevi, arrived from Smyrna causing such religious upheaval that he was forced to convert to Islam in order to escape execution. Thousands of his followers also converted, forming a large Jewish-Muslim community.
The plague of 1838 killed half the Jewish population and hastened the end of the carpet and textile industries (already affected by imports of cashmere from England).
The city was known as the 'mother of Israel' until many emigrated to Palestine after World War I.
The Jewish population stood at 60,000 at the outbreak of the Second World War during which almost all were deported to concentration camps, today there are less than 2,000.
In 1948 the university and trade fair grounds were built over the Jewish cemetery.
Christianity in Thessaloniki: In AD 50 & 56 Saint Paul preached here, in the synagogue, (hence his two letters to the Thessalonians) and Thessaloniki became one of the foremost Christian communities in Greece.
In AD 305, during the rule of Galerius, Saint Demetrios was martyred for teaching Christianity and in AD 463 Leontius built the Basilica in thanksgiving for being cured of an incurable disease. Saint Demetrios became the patron saint of the city credited with saving people from sickness and famine and an international festival and trade fair was held every October in his name. This trade fair was reintroduced in 1926 and is today an important annual event in the city's calendar.
The Emperor Theodosius I, converted to Christianity during a severe illness, became a champion of orthodox Christianity; he persecuted the Arians and discouraged pagan practices, reversing the tolerant policy of Julian. In AD 380 he declared the Nicene Creed the one true dogma, however ten years later, he used the promise of games to lure 7,000 rebellious citizens into the city's hippodrome and then massacred them. For this atrocity he was excommunicated by Bishop Ambrose of Milan, who demanded public penance by Theodosius before lifting the ban.
The Ottomans in Thessaloniki: The city was first taken by the Turks in 1387 after a four year siege and was until 1402 part of the Turkish Empire. Then in 1430 began the occupation which was to last until 1912. Thessaloniki was renamed Selanik (or Salonica).
The Turks lived in the upper city, the Greeks and Jews in the poorer districts.
Churches were turned into mosques, markets and baths were built.
By 1519 the population had grown from 7,000 to 29,000.
In 1821 at the start of the War of Independence the Turkish governor, Yusuf Pasha, ordered all Greeks to be executed on sight; those that could fled, leaving only 3-4,000 of 40,000. In 1823 Yusuf was replaced by the more humane Ibrahim Pasha
Kemal Ataturk the founder and first president of the modern state of Turkey was born here in 1881.
The Main Sights
Places to eat and drink
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